Ten Thoughts on Inception
2. Partly for being drowsy and partly for my own inadequacies, I was one of the people who didn't follow Inception all that well the first time out. So, when I would read in reviews, "Anyone complaining that Inception is impossible to follow has just given up on any willingness to think at the movies," etc., I was both sheepish and defensive about feeling, "Well, I love thinking at the movies, and I was frigging lost." I don't know if I was more awake this time, or just had so much more of a leg up having seen it once, but the plot didn't feel any tougher to follow than, say, last year's twisty caper comedy Duplicity. Just without any of that film's delicious fizziness.
3. I still think way too much of Inception is given over to shoot-outs, explosions, and rote, Greengrassy chases through mazelike cities, when the script is going to such ambitious and laudable lengths, however tortuous, to stake out a new form of intellectual thriller.
4. God bless costume designer Jeffrey Kurland. I loved the duds the first time out, but they are just as natty and pleasurable the second time out. Excepting the fact that Ellen Page is just never going to look comfortable in a short-skirted business suit, high heels, and a French twist, every single "look" in this movie is a grabber without being a show-offy spectacle.
5. God bless cinematographer Wally Pfister and his team of camera operators. No question a Pfister-Nolan visual style is starting to feel a mite too predictable. Still, there are moments where (for example) just by making a sudden, jittery, handheld circle around Marion Cotillard, as she and Ken Watanabe advance toward a huge mahogany table, the image itself quivers with tensile, nightmarish energy that feels more "dreamlike" than do many of the ornate spectacles in the film.
6. It still feels profoundly naïve of the film to pretend that planting an idea in someone's head, even with the added task of making them feel it's their own idea, is actually harder than removing an idea that already resides in someone's head. Anyone who teaches already knows the reverse to be true: exterminating a misconception or a prior belief is much tougher than introducing a new thought. If any doubt remained, the 30% of Americans who still claim that Obama is not a U.S. citizen live and breathe so as to prove how ideas can be externally implanted but privately cultivated as if based on autonomous inspiration and real knowledge, rather than propagandistically induced, and experienced very much as one's "own" conviction. Hilariously, the same film that tells us how hard it is to import a single idea into someone else's head nonetheless depends on our accepting that someone else's brain will recognize an entire, city-sized mindscape, boutique-designed by Ellen Page, as a plausible product of its own subconscious.
7. I think the film might have worked better if we spent the first while in Leo and Marion's shared dream state, which she's still enjoying and which he's starting to feel itchy about inhabiting indefinitely. Watching him attempt his first, duplicitous act of inceptionso as to trick her into thinking the world isn't real, and that suicide is necessarywould provide a story-driven rather than a fussily expository means of explaining how inception actually works. It would also start us distrusting or disliking Leo and feeling sorry for Marion, so that the turning of those identificatory tables felt more complex over the rest of the film. As it is, he's way too much the self-pitying hero, and she's way too much the evil, recriminating haint. The revelation of how he made her that way comes far too late, and is structured too much like the rest of this hyper-edited film, to land the immense moral and psychological blow that it's probably meant to.
8. The exploding-café scene between Leo and Ellen, which looked weirdly fake and unfinished in the cinema, still looks weirdly fake and unfinished on DVD. Both actors look like they've been uncomfortably forced to sit in front of a green screen, while being assured that something digital and awesome will be happening around them. The CGI here is way too shoddy, too Tempestesque, and neither of them looks remotely sold on the moment. But then, even in the hurtling van, Leo falls well short of, say, Joseph Gordon-Levitt in the simple act of looking plausibly asleep. Leo just looks like he has his eyes closed and is waiting for someone to say "cut."
9. Part of what confused me about Inception the first time was understanding exactly whose "dream" we are in during the interstate-chase, the zero-gravity, and the Antarctic sequences. I am the first to concede, this doesn't seem quite so difficult now. Still, I have a hard time seeing the first or third of those realms as anything Ariadne would designthere's no linking stamp of personality between her characterization and her work, and she gives up much too easily and quickly on the elaborate conceits of her first, Paris-as-origami experiments. Her brilliance and her impetuousness are the first things we learn about her (she can't say no to this assignment, even when her ethics and reason tell her she should), so Ellen Page's soft-spoken playing of the character already feels like a bit of a letdown. More than that, though, such a free-thinking upstart would never have designed that boring Antarctic planet or the snowbound fortress therein, which are no easier to connect with Eames, the dapper, muscular, puckish, effetely virile "forger." The links between dreamer and dream-state, or architect and dream-state, are entirely notions of the script, without enough substantiating hooks into personality.
10. Still, Inception tries to do a lot, and takes a big risk on the cognitive stamina of its audience, which I ought to have appreciated more than I did the first time out. I still find the film heartless and overthought, with almost chillingly stock images of romantic, filial, and parental love, but I can at least work up a bit more enthusiasm for its palimpsestic gambits and its elegant visual surfaces than I did last July.
Revised Grade: C to C+