I have to tell you right off the bat that I don’t have normal taste in movies. I don’t like movies that take place in cold climates. I don’t like movies that make you feel like shit. I go to movies to escape. To see worlds that don’t exist. A handful of my favorite movies: Donnie Darko, Pleasantville, Dark City, Jurassic Park, Aliens, Abyss, Iron Giant. Sufficient geek cred, I’d say. I also have to tell you that if you haven’t seen Inception then you should stop reading. I think it’s a solid 8/10 [edit: bumping this up to 8.5/10 for all the good discussion down below], but more than that it’s a theater film. Go see it on the best screen, with the best projector, and best sound.
Ok, with that out of the way, I HATED Inception. Kidding. I just want to be realistic about it. Around my office (definitely a movie geek crowd if ever there was one—an internet company targeted to guys 18-34) people are frothing at the mouth over Inception like it’s the greatest thing since sliced bread. Is it the best of the year? Probably. But that’s not a huge accomplishment. It hasn’t been a great year for movies (sorry Toy Story 3, you were good, but the Pixar playbook is showing its age). And if I had to sum up my problem with Inception it’s that I feel like it could have been more. Here’s what I felt it was missing:
- Where’s the imagination? Ok, admittedly that’s inflammatory. The mechanics of the dream world are amazing—the time dilation, how it gets magnifies with each layer, how you get people out of the dreams, the subconscious, prying out secrets—that’s good stuff. That’s great stuff. But here you get a chance to build worlds that cannot and will never exist in the real world. I understand that if you’re trying to extract a secret you need to keep the dream world really realistic. Fine. But once the subconscious is onto you, why not start changing the world? They do this a little bit with the MC Escher stairs, but why not have the architect start throwing up walls? Change gravity around, mess with the weather, etc. You could even have a rule where the subconscious resists these changes and so there’s a constant back-and-forth as the architect bends the world and reshapes it as the subconscious seeks to maintain “reality”. All the while the other team members are fighting off angry strangers. Exciting!
Another missed opportunity is Cobb and his wife’s world. They lived there for 50 years. How cool if they had made something totally insane and totally beautiful. Impossible gardens and architecture. Starry skies that mix with sunny skies. Permanent storms in the distance. Just crazy shit. And it would off-set the forced reality of the dreams they normally operate in. What a great excuse to build something totally unique and Nolan gives us giant gray buildings.
- Where’s the joy? They hint at this once when Ariadne leaves and Cobb says she’ll be back because you can’t experience dreams like that and not want to do it again. Exactly! How awesome. She comes back and enjoys exactly none of it. In fact, she does nothing creative after that first exercise with Cobb (which was pretty cool—folding city! Wow! She’ll do really cool stuff later in this movie I bet! No? Oh.). Eames (the kick-ass Brit) also shows a bit of enjoying himself times, but it’s just not enough. Not when we’re saddled with…
- Sad sac Cobb. I get it. You feel guilty. You need to get to your kids. Ugh. Having to follow this character’s life is like hanging out in an old folks’ home. After about 5 minutes you’re like, get me the fuck out of here before I slit my wrists. When was the last time Leonardo DiCaprio even played someone that enjoyed life? Catch Me If You Can? Go look at his IMDb page. Full of depressing Oscar bait.
- Cobb’s wife is kind of a bitch. They show a bit of him happy with her in their dream world but not much. She spends most the movie just fucking his shit up. Back in my first bullet point where I say that their dream world should have been impossibly beautiful, how cool if Cobb admits to Ariadne that his wife was responsible for all the beauty in it. Like her mind is so unique and creative that you see what someone who builds dreams sees in her.
- Fleshed out secondary characters. Tom Hardy (as Eames) does the best here with what little he’s got. Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and Ariadne have a lot to do in terms of the plot, but get zero help on the character front (pretty much zombies the entire time). They have no emotional arc. They hardly even seem to care. Why not develop a connection between Ariadne and Arthur and have that build over the course of the movie? I will say that Fischer has a decent arc with his father, and Cillian Murphy does a great job with the role.
Alright, so those are my gripes. Seems like I’m dumping on it, I know, but remember, 8/10 [now 8.5/10] isn’t bad (especially on a REAL 1-10 scale, where 5 is still “average”). So what are some of my favorite things?
- The zero gravity scene. From the fight, to having to wrangle unconscious bodies into an elevator, wow. WOW. Still not sure how they pulled off such realistic zero-g but it looks great and it’s exactly what I would expect from this movie (or would have expected from a Matrix sequel).
- The sand castle scene, where the building in the back gets destroyed as Cobb knocks over the sand castle. Sweet!
- Time dilation and it’s exponential magnification as you go deeper into dreams.
- Using the standard heist flick framework to present a really complex idea. Brilliant. Use a plot technique we’re very used to (almost bored with) as a life vest for some heady stuff.
- Ariadne’s “training.” The city folding up is really cool. Watch how the cars go through tunnels instead of just crashing into a now 90-degree street.
So what did I miss? How lame am I for not thinking this is teh best movie evar!!!11!1! I still liked it. Hit me up in the comments. What did you love? What did you hate?