Sunday, July 25, 2010

We're Goin' Deep

Tonight's movie: writer-director Christopher Nolan's latest, Inception.

I confess to being predisposed to dislike this movie, partly because I am prejudiced against the Big Summer Blockbuster, but mostly because I have so little patience for stories which are not at least tenuously anchored in reality. Raw, untethered fantasy just tends to shut me down. Nolan's last movie, The Dark Knight, certainly meets the criteria to trigger my ennui, but that movie at least had an established underpinning in the form of a decades-old comic book character. But I didn't care much for The Dark Knight either, mostly because the whole superhero business bores me to sobs (excepting The Incredibles, of course). I only went to see what was promised to be the spooky genius of Heath Ledger's final role (finally, a cartoon villain to actually fear).

But Inception has been generating a lot of buzz, and Nolan had assembled an all-star cast for this film, including Leo DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ken Watanabe, Ellen Page, Marion Cotillard, Michael Caine, Tom Berenger and the very creepy Cillian Murphy (whom I always confuse with his older partner-in-creepy, Eric Roberts). Plus, it was outpolling my other option, Salt.

I can't figure out how to summarize the story, not because it will give things away but because none of it makes much sense--except for me to say so and you to say "OK." The premise is that the mind has a certain openness and vulnerability during sleep and this condition can be taken advantage of to extract (erm, "steal") information. Of course, there's special machinery involved and the "extractors" are a crack team of highly-trained specialists. Once we've granted this premise, the story takes a further twist in that our team of extractors is suddenly required to do that which has not yet been done, the insertion of an idea into someone's subconscious (*gasp!*)--called an inception. After accepting the dangerous and daring assignment, the team quickly determines what would need to happen to accomplish this feat, a planning session which includes a flurry of terms and concepts brazenly bandied about, none of which makes any actual sense. The film sets up its own world with its own lingo and logic and the characters blaze confidently ahead trying to keep all of us in tow without actually being so specific that the illusion falls.

And it almost works. Almost. Because we're dealing with a realm where things don't strictly need to make sense, the filmmaker is granted license to play with reality. But I'm just not sure that's a strong enough peg on which to hang all the baggage in this film.

I don't mean to be such a stickler that I cannot enjoy any story which involves fantastic elements. But there is a limit to how much of an important premise can be fantastic before the magic falls apart for me, like the facade of a building needing a realistic, physics-obeying structure beneath it. And this objection leads me to question the difference between conventional fiction and fantasy and science fiction. Inception is not technically science fiction since there is no attempt (pseudo-science lingo notwithstanding) to tap into any real science to make the story plausible. But most sci-fi relies on some plausible unknown at its core to anchor the fantasy. I just didn't feel that here.

High marks for the film technically. The movie looks great, and the whole cast seems to spout their lingo with gusto. DiCaprio carries most of the emotional weight of the story, and he impresses me more and more as he ages. He just seems able to pull off most any script that's put in front of him. Much as I enjoy Ellen Page, I was appreciative that Inception does not have a romantic element, at least among the main characters. The story attempts to tackle quite enough without another layer gumming up the works.

I think whether one will enjoy the film depends quite upon one's stomach for action films and one's ability to suspend disbelief. For me, there was just too much that didn't work.

Grade: C+

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