Friday, July 30, 2010

On the Mind-Numbing Movie of the Summer: Inception

Normally, I would never bother going to a film like Inception. I am not particularly a science fiction enthusiast, nor an action film fan, and this one smacked of both. However, I sometimes like thrillers, and being the product of Christopher Nolan (Memento) it promised to appeal to the thinking person. In addition, I was “down the shore” (New Jersey), and going to the movies is something we do on a hot summer afternoon.

The basic premise is that the Leonardo DiCaprio character, whose specialty is extracting information from people’s dreams, must try a reversal of his skill (i.e., planting an idea into someone’s head) in order to gain the right to return to the USA, where his young children live. His client is a powerful businessman who wants to break up the conglomerate of his nearest competitor. To achieve this goal Leo assembles a hot shot team, including Ellen Page, who will create the dream’s “architecture.” Another twist was Leo’s inability to let go of his past, in particular his relationship with his dead wife whom he calls up in his dreams. Sometimes, she is loving; at other times, she threatens to kill him. His obsession with her is his almost tragic flaw.

After two and half mind boggling hours, my poor head hurt. Although the general plot is clear (and the subplot involving his wife), the route to the disappointingly predictable ending was excrutiating—endless shoot-em-up scenes that seemed to serve no purpose except to attract a young, male audience. We are meant to believe that something original is happening. Much of the action consists of scenes happening simultaneously—dreams within dreams. These were nightmares—unidentifiable snow-suited men (and maybe women—who could tell), chasing each other over a hilly white landscape, weightless bodies floating around (and also killing each other), and a van crashing into the river in very slow motion. The gimmick was that in a normal dream, your subconscious won’t let you die, but because of the particular drug used to induce deep sleep, dream death means a life in limbo. So as the Inception team is trying to control the dreamscape, it must also stay alive within someone else’s dream.

Spoiler alert: His wife believes that her reality is the right one, and that if he lets himself “die,” he will join her in the real reality. He is torn. His wife claims that his children will be in this alternative reality. But he is rational and takes the chance that she is wrong, even though he almost strays from the task at hand. Guess what? The kids are just where he left them, sans dead wife, but otherwise, a happy ending and all. Might it not have been more interesting if the wife had been right, and that she was living in this alternative universe? We wouldn’t have seen that coming. And this is science fiction, after all.

I think the movie could have worked without all the confusing action. My mind would have been more satisfyingly bent without the distraction of the guns and the fights. Let this be a true psychological thriller. The threat of death looming is okay, but how about the threat of losing one’s sanity? Come to think of it, how about a movie about someone who almost loses their sanity watching a confusing movie that purports to be something it’s not. Now that I could get into.

For a delightful and far more entertaining alternative, go see City Island, a small scale, independent film. You want psychological? It’s about what happens when we lie. Oh, and it’s under two hours.

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