Monday, 19 July 2010


Inception is a very good film but it's not a great film.  Inception could have been a truly awful film. 

You can easily imagine the production process setting out to tick as many boxes as possible.  Love story? Tick.  Car chase? Tick  Cool special effects? Tick.  Psychological drama? Tick?  Dash of James Bond?  Tick.  Leading man who can be relied upon to provide a solid performance?  Tick.  Cameo from loveable old English actor for added likeability? Tick.  Cameo from much respected senior English actor for a bit of added gravitas?  Tick.  Sexy female lead?  Tick.  Youthful central character for the younger audience to identify with?  Tick.

The astounding thing is that despite this, the film worked on so many levels (no pun intended) all at once.  It could have been a complete mess.  I could so easily have been left wondering, "Why on earth didn't you make your mind up what kind of film you want to be."  Could have, but wasn't.  Thriller, action movie, special effects fest, love story.  Yes, yes, yes and yes.  All of these in one very effective and coherent package just148 minutes long.  Top notch directing. 

So why not great?  The central theme of the subconscious. 

While the film plays around with dreams and the virtually inaccessible depths of the human mind in an intriguing way it doesn't seem to me to present any particularly new big ideas.  Some people have made comparisons with the Matrix.  The Matrix was better.  Whereas both films examine issues of perception and reality the Matrix was far more zeitgeisty.  The notion of the subconscious has indeed been a world view shifter.  But it's a concept that's been around for yonks and has probably already done most of the shifting it's going to do.  Artificial intelligence and the relationship between humanity technology, truth and reality on the other hand; loads more mileage.

Then there's the film's particular vision of the subconscious.  Seems to me that most people's mental nether regions are probably considerably darker and weirder than the film allows.  It's nowhere near as dark as The Dark Night.  Perhaps Terry Gilliam should be given the sequel - and told to forget the 12A rating.

So, while I found the film entertaining, moving and intriguing - not quite the full five stars.  Still the best film I've seen this year though.


Anonymous said...

I have yet to see Inception but am very much looking forward to it having been a fan of Christopher Nolan's since the wonderful Memento.

I may have misunderstood but you seem to be inferring that a film can't be considered great unless it comes up with a new big idea.

I don't agree that a film has to be original to be great. In fact, bearing in mind there's a finite number of stories in the world (some would argue there's only 1)most great films are unoriginal.


Glen Marshall said...

That's not quite what I'm saying.

I guess in part it depends on how high you set the bar of greatness. A bit like footballers - Best definitely, Rooney not quite.

My point though was more a combination of two observations. 1) The idea is not especially zeitgeisty. So the idea doesn't have to be original as such but does have to have a kind of current potency. This is largely down to the nature of the medium as popular entertainment. As such a big part of its identity is related to the moment in cultural time when it is released. 2) The WAY in which the idea under discussion is dealt with is also important - is the representation / treatment of that idea "true"? This is where I think Nolan / the whole production team missed a trick. There was some exploration of how the subconscious works but this seemed to be quite superficial, and as I say in the post not nearly dark or bizarre enough. In the end I felt that the the subconscious was treated primarily as a plot device - a very effective and well executed plot device - rather than being examined as a notion in its own right.

Simon Hall said...

Just seen it last night.

I think I agree with you. I was most struck by how little I felt (compared to something like Solaris, which covers similar ground), and that Anna and I spent more time discussing the brilliant construction of the film rather than any of the ideas that might have been on offer. Also, I got a bit bored in the final action sequence...

But a good film.

Glen Marshall said...

Not seen Solaris. Would you recommend it? I found the love story bit of inception quite moving. Not an actual blubber but certainly a fair bit of welling up.

Simon Hall said...

There's a Russian one that's so long it's on 2 DVDs, which was Tarkovsky's response/homage to 2001. The Clooney/Soderbergh version is more accessible, being in English!

I'd definitely give it a go, although it's like Inception would be if you took all the bangs away. Same feel as Moon, if you saw that.

tim f said...

Was disappointed by Inception. Nolan is getting too formulaic - everything from the rhythm of the dialogue, to the way the plot worked out, to the pacing of the film was too predictable. Although I thought it was better than the Matrix in that the explanation sections were more natural, the whole concept was too linear and meant there was only ever one direction Nolan could go.

Glen Marshall said...

Tim, did you anticipate the very final scene? I thought it was nicely judged.

tim f said...

It was certainly well-judged, although a little cliched. I wasn't surprised that Nolan wanted to leave the question of whether he was still dreaming hanging.

Anonymous said...

Have finally seen Inception. Have to agree with some of the posters in that I didn't care enough about the characters. I liked them all but was not bothered about whether Leo would get to see his kids or not.

What I did like was the ideas involved. Dreams inside dreams inside dreams etc, different people's sub-concious coming to life in the dreams, the planting of ideas, the stealing of ideas, not being quite sure what was dream and what was reality. (In fact a friend of mine has argued quite cogently that the whole film was a dream. His wife was correct - she has woken up and he is still in the dream).

I have to disagree with Tim that it was all too linear with only one way to go. I was frequently off balance in the film and had to keep reminding myself that the minibus sequence was the 1st level of the dream and not reality.

Yes, if someone like Terry Gilliam had it, it would be more fanciful and in keeping with dreams. However, I feel that Nolan judged the surreal/realism balance pefectly to create a tense thriller. Maybe people are losing sight of the fact that it wasn't just an art film.

Also Tim, formulas are there becuase they work. Yes, great artists can break the rules but not all the time because they recognise they would be left with a mess. Mozart was ahead of his time, frequently broke the rules but still followed the basic tenets of music composition. (I'm sure Glen can come up with a few Jazz musicians to back this up)


tim f said...

Not a fan of Mozart either, sorry!

There's a difference between having a recognisable style with an authorial imprint and repeating yourself within self-imposed constraints. Shostakovich (who I like, but who could've been much greater if he hadn't got stuck in a join-the-dots method of composing) and Quentin Tarantino (whose aim these days seems to be to write Tarantino-esque dialogue, not just good dialogue) spring to mind. I don't want Nolan to fall into the same rut.