Sunday, July 18, 2010

nolan's brilliant crackpot of a movie

Some movies have a little subtext. Christopher Nolan's challenging and quite bracing new film, "Inception," is all subtext. Gloriously so.

Structured as a state-of-the-art noir,"Inception" has something to do with a small band of intellectual adventurers who invade - and often share - the dreams of clients with lofty problems that need to be solved.

They are provocateurs who suggest ideas to their clients, manipulating their thought and dream patterns, and particularly astute viewers might sense that Nolan is using dream manipulation here as an allegory for filmmaking itself and that his chief protagonist is an auteur of sorts.

Arcane wordplay is used to explain everything and simply listening to it can lull one into a seductive dreamworld that is not unlike a movie.

And that is not at all unpleasurable.

A commanding Leonardo DiCaprio, Nolan's on-screen surrogate, is physically even a dead-ringer for Nolan here as he leads a world-class supporting cast through an intimidating maze of rushing action and melancholy moods. The latter is driven by DiCaprio's relentless pursuit of his late wife (the magnetic Marion Cotillard) in a dreamworld that he would like to share with her but, for apparent reasons, can't.

Their "relationship" is the core of "Inception" and it's clear that Nolan shrewdly used Alfred Hitchcock's woozy, iconic "Veritgo" (1958) - the last word in a man hopelessly stalking a woman - as his template.

This most audacious film tackles remarkably serious matters - loss and the fear and sense of exclusion that come with it - and, in the end, despite its willfully confusing vision, "Inception" is astonishingly simple.

It is that rare modern movie that has a moral conscience.

25 comments:

Judy said...

Really astute analysis of a difficult film. You explained it perfectly.

david b. said...

This is the most singular take on the film that I've read so far. Well done! Being somewhat extreme, I think anybody who doesn’t like this movie, doesn’t like cinema in general. It has everything one could want in a film. What struck me is that as large and hulking the film may seem, it is also something of a triumph of understatement. I hate to use this word, but I think it's a masterpiece.

joe baltake said...

Judy & David- I'm humbled by your generous words. While I've enjoyed all the reviews of the film that I've read so far, I'm a bit surprised that no one else has picked up on the film's movie analogy. (Of course, I haven't seen all of the reviews.)

Jeff said...

I also took DiCaprio to be Nolan's stand-in, but isn't that the case in many films? Nevertheless, Nolan certainly seems to embrace, and even romanticize, his hero’s obsessive, irresponsible behavior - the way filmmakers justify/rationalize what they have to do to get a film made.

Hunter said...

I apprecicate that "Inception" is stripped of all ambivalence and ambiguity. It's pretty much out there. And Nolan's hero is a madman much like the male leads in his other films and is posited in the only way he feels is effective.

Anonymous said...

well now I want to see it.

snookie said...

sounds cool!

Susie said...

I adored INCEPTION…the only thing that bugged me was Ellen Page…I think she was miss cast.

I just don’t feel she stands up to the acting caliber in this film.

She’s a perfect Juno, but not sure I believed her in this film…and like I said – not sure she was up to par with the rest of the cast/film.

But, I adored the film…pretty remarkable what Nolan did.

joe baltake said...

Hi, Susie- I understand and appreciate your reservation about Ellen Page in "Inception." Here's my take on the situation: Step back a little and one can see that she serves as an important function to the film. Page is supposed to be the audience's surrogate on screen, her character coming to the material in much the same way that we do. Namely, ininformed. It's all new to us - and this is what's reflected in her character. With this in mind, it was important for Nolan to cast a certain type in the role - someone very young, slightly unformed and not too experienced. He couldn't cast a more commanding actress in the role because it just would not have worked. He needed someone small, ordinary and a little inconsequential - someone with whom his audience could identify. -J

Barry said...

Good review except you got one thing wrong. You said their job is to suggest ideas and such but that's not so. In the film their job is extraction - to find secrets and excract secrets from the subconscious of the persons' dreams they entered. The film does obviously center around inception but within the movie world here, it's never been done before. And you are witnessing the first inception ever performed, minus the one that Leo's character did.

joe baltake said...

Barry- I'm aware that the film is largely about extractions. I singled out the dream manipulation aspect - or inception - because I felt it was Nolan's way of commenting on the filmmaking process. His movie underlines the similarities.

Jonathon said...

Joe, I believe barry is trying to communicate that while the film's focus is undoubtably the act of inception, you are nonetheless misstating the plot when you suggest the team specializes in unconscious suggestion and have done so in the past. The phrasing you've used is misleading and leaves out the change from extraction to inception that is central to the film's plot and could fit handily into your filmmaking analogy, i'm sure. Well chosen words about the film otherwise, and a valid and interesting interpretatioin. well done.

Bob said...

The theme of the movie was very interesting and captivating, but I thought that the action sequences on the different dream levels were too confusing. It was not at all easy to know who were the bad guys and who were the good guys and just exactly what they were fighting for. pBob

Matt P. said...

Hey, great analysis of the film. I enjoyed it so much that I am still thinking about it even after a week. One thing that made me go from "loving the film" to "addicted" was the dream scenes specifically the times when Nolan tells us we are in a dream. I got this euphoric feeling every time because I felt free. In a way, we were kind of in a POV of Ellen Page as she was rookie to the world and he relationship of Leo created a relationship with the audience. Every time those dream scenes began, my mind went free and allowed anything to happen. And Christopher Nolan takes advantage and persuades us with his visuals and ideas to make it feel real. Nolan is a genius and for me, Inception tops Memento, and The Dark Knight because of its stunning visuals, plot build up, and complex characters. So far best picture of the year.

John Kaiser said...

I went into this movie expecting something complicated and twisty in the way of a house of cars. What I was given instead was a very emotionally complex love story set within the dreamscape and told in a very straightforward manor. I loved it. Best ending to a movie I have seen since John Sayles's "Limbo".

John Kaiser said...

"house of cards" not "house of cars". That's what I get for trying to play on "manor" and "manner". Ugh.

The Disexists said...

Ironically, in countering Barry's observation that you've misstated the role of the team ("They are provocateurs who suggest ideas to their clients"), you've then gone and misstated again by claiming that the film is about extractions ("I'm aware that the film is largely about extractions"). Let's get this right - the film is largely about inception, while the team's job is largely about extraction. :)

joe baltake said...

"The film is largely about inception, while the team's job is largely about extraction." That's a convoluted, but accurate, description that I'm sure would titillate the provocateur luring inside Nolan.

I wasn't "countering" Barry's observation but merely restating my observation that the film is an allegory for the filmmaking process. From where I sat, the "extractions" in the film played as big a part in its narrative as the compelling idea of "inception."

joe baltake said...

Ooops. Disexists' final comment inadvertently got lost. He wrote:

"The parallels you draw between Nolan/Cobb would be interesting to read about if explored with deeper analysis."

Actually, deeper analysis of my observations - that DiCaprio strongly resembles Nolan in "Inception" and that he's playing an auteur not unlike Nolan - would have been unnecessary, not to mention pretentious and self-indulgent. There's nothing to analyze.

My intent was to keep my take on the film brief and to the point. This is a blog, after all. If you want length, A.O. Scott's review in the NY Times more than fulfills that requirement.

Ken said...

Disexists,, I’m curious – have you read any critique of "Inception" that is as terse yet as thorough as the one here? JOe brings up complex aesthetic observations within very few graphs. I’m sure there are many ways to expound on this film at length. But longer isn't better. And I’m curious about your opposition to an analysis that doesn't go on and on.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Baltake,

You used to write reviews for my local paper quite some time ago. While they were thorough, I could always sense an undertone of disgust for some of our modern "films" that I have recently come to understand. However, this movie, along with your magnificent commentary, has spawned a renewed sense of hope for both the film industry, and some of those who review their work.

Thank you, Mr. Baltake, for sharing your insight.

dagstar said...

"They are provocateurs who suggest ideas to their clients"

I think this is right, because while the Team's Job might be about extracting, there has to be an Architect there, the Dreamworld is not created by the Mark, but by the Architecht. The Mark (target of Extraction) fills it with projections of his subconscious then.

I also find the movie allegory very strong. Think about, extraction, when a director makes a movie and we take ideas out of that movie... thats already strong. But when a director can lure us so deep into the plot of his movie, that it makes us think and come up with our "own" ideas out of it... thats art, and a kind of inception ;)!

Gogoli said...

yeah, a short but potent review. baboom!

elinore+uri said...

Excellent, thank you. I really needed someone to "talk" to about the movie after seeing it: and now I want to see it again. Oddly, I found parts of the dreams too violent--I avoid seeing violent movies because they come up in my dreams! As a visual artist, I was aware of many connections to the creative process.
(not for public comment, but see my site, www.elinoreart.com, particularly "Reflections".)

Mel said...

I thought it was very well done, but frankly was hard to follow especially the last half hour. Understood the premise but spent most of the movies saying "Wait. What's going on?" Wish DVD had commentary on it.