The Videogum Movie Club: Inception

Holy smokes! Now THAT is how you make a summer movie. What a fun time I had watching this thing! Sure, there were some plot loopholes, as one might expect from a movie about shared dream-state espionage. (“What do you mean, the logic wasn’t airtight every single step of the way? Wasn’t it a movie about shared dream-state espionage?”) And I also had a really big problem with Leonardo DiCaprio’s dream elevator. Your dream elevator is a piece of shit, dude! It’s a dream, you can have any kind of elevator you want in there. Get yourself a nice, functional, reliable dream elevator, not some rusted-out William S. Burroughs heading upstairs to shoot his wife death trap. But, Leonardo DiCaprio’s piece of shit dream elevator aside, this was a real treat, from beginning to end. Even Joseph Gordon-Levitt was great in it, if you can believe that. And I didn’t even mind Ellen Page. Wowwowowow. It was the first time in a couple of years (YEARS!) that I have had such fun just watching a movie. Yay!

Not that everyone agrees. My friend Rich FourFour, for example, hated it. Whoa. Whuuuuut?! And so, please lie down somewhere soft and enjoy this SHARED CHAT-STATE about Inception:

Gabe: OK, so, inception, i loved it! you hated it!
Rich: Hated! I’m dumbfounded at the rapturous response. I feel like maybe I didn’t get it? I have to be missing something.
Gabe: i will say that my love of it is pretty base and simplistic? i loved it? i loved watching it? the end? it’s not an impressive reaction or very complicated.
Rich: I guess what bugged me most was how arbitrary everything seemed.
Gabe: it was flawed, as is everything
Gabe: the ending was very College Junior Film Student who just read a bunch of O. Henry stories
Rich: Ha! At best.
Rich: That’s the thing about dream logic: it’s fundamentally paradoxical, so you can just make things up as they go along.
Gabe: i give this movie a lot of credit in that regard, because at one point when Leo’s teaching ellen page how to build dreams, he explains that you can’t change too much too quickly or the person realizes they’re dreaming, which is a relatively sophisticated narrative rule to give yourself. i could have easily seen them dreaming deus ex machinas all over the place, which would have REALLY been annoying. it was arbitrary, yes, but once the arbitrary thing was selected, they stuck with it. which i think is about as much as you could expect from a movie about dream manipulation.
Rich: I was impressed that Nolan worked with the idea of creating and perceiving simultaneously, because that is exactly what happens when you dream. But then there was, “But there’s something you still don’t know about inception!” and “Oh, well, this is different because of all the layers so: LIMBO.” And it was just like…OK?
Gabe: But that was just raising the stakes, because as soon as they enter this big job
if they can just get killed and wake up then who cares?
Rich: I mean, I still felt like who cares, since the finality of limbo was ambiguous anyway AS IT’S LIMBO. There are worse things than limbo, by definition.
Gabe: It was a tricky moment, i will give you that. Constantly changing the rules is pretty standard in sci-fi stuff, and it’s always annoying
Rich: Yes, and that’s kind of why I’m surprised by the response, because Inception ultimately doesn’t transcend.
Gabe: Transcend what?
Rich: The genre’s conventions. I feel like people want this to be a GREAT FILM and it isn’t. Hated the script. Ahem. Ariadne: Are those projections part of his subconscious? Cobb: Yes. Ariadne: Are you destroying those parts of his mind? Cobb: No, they’re just projections.
Gabe: Haha.
Rich: “Mal is bursting through your subconscious!”
Gabe: the line of dialog that actually made me laugh the hardest was at the beginning: “What don’t you want me to know, that you’re trying to steal my secrets, or that we are still DREAMING” or whatever it was. I also did not like when joseph gordon-levitt was like, “paradox!” when he threw the guy off the hotel stairs. come on joseph gordon-levitt, back to work. you have things to do! here comes the kick!
Rich: And what about the safe symbolism? A SAFE? A SAFE HOLDS THE SECRETS?!? I found the constant abstraction/literalism binding really jarring.
Gabe: The thing is, getting the actual secret was the least of the pleasures the movie had to offer. i did not care whether or not they got the secret. so sure, put it in a mind-safe. i’m still busy thinking about the HALLWAY FLOATING FIGHT SCENE.

Rich: OK, I have a question about that, too: they’re falling off a bridge in the layer above it, so their weightlessness means he’s floating in that layer.
Gabe: right, and so is your question why aren’t they falling in the third layer?
Rich: Yes! They aren’t affected at all.
Gabe: i’m sure that is a logic loophole to be upset about if you want, but a) supposedly everything is less/reduced/slower in the next layer, and b) each layer needed its own kick. so, one could argue that one kick only effects the layer below it?
Rich: I don’t want to be upset. I just can’t be bothered to care about something that doesn’t care about itself enough to make sense in its own constructed reality. And don’t even get me started on the slow mo of the van being way too fast…
Gabe: All of your issues re: dream-safes and falling and floating and time: THIS IS AN ACTION-ADVENTURE MOVIE ABOUT DREAM MANIPULATION. i mean, i’m not saying that it is excluded from criticism (obviously), i’m just saying that it is like time travel movies: a nonsense concept that falls apart as soon as you start thinking about it at all.
Rich: It really does want to make itself plausible, though. I’m trying to go by its intentions.
Gabe: i didn’t feel that way. i really didn’t feel like this movie was trying to prove any point about dreams or anything. it just used this loose sci-fi-y concept to make something that was VERY VERY fun to watch.
Rich: If it had nothing to say/prove there would be no explanation re: the nature of dreams and that creating/perceiving reality thing that I mentioned. There’d be no need for the attempt at gravitas that the Mal subplot provided. But you know what was really disappointing? Everything worked out the way they thought it would. They said, “We’ll get him to think his father wants him to do his own thing,” they did and it worked. Really? You know him like that?
Gabe: As far as the issue of how come cillian murphy’s character was not more complicated in the dream world, and did not throw up more psychological obstacles…
Rich: He was an open book that merely needed some filling in.
Gabe: …i will just point out that we are, again, talking about a 2.5 hour movie that already has its work cut out for it even explaining what the fuck it is about
Rich: You shouldn’t tell a story if you can’t.
Gabe: but as soon as you accept the idea that people can actually go into a shared dream state that they designed themselves, which i would understand not being willing to accept, but if you ARE, then saying “cillian murphy was an open book in the pre-fabricated shared dream that five people entered in order to plant an idea in his secret mind-safe”
Gabe: i mean, who knows what someone’s psychology is in this nonsense thing that hollywood made up
Gabe: and again, i totally understand how those things might be bothersome, but i actually had the out loud (in my head) thought, “this is the most fun i have had at a movie in years, and i am really enjoying myself.”
Rich: I understand and embrace the fact that sci fi requires the suspension of disbelief.
Gabe: it requires a lot of it, and if it is done well, it is clever in sort of closing off the obvious questions (i.e. time travel is already ridiculous, so time travel paradoxes are also ridiculous), and when Inception didn’t it was so visually arresting and exciting to watch that who cares (you) (you care).
Rich: I did NOT find it visually arresting. I was disappointed by how drab and unimaginative everything looked. I blame the flatness of Ellen Page’s hair and osmosis. There’s plenty of sci-fi with big ideas to get used to that I enjoy, but the holes were too great here and, again, everything falling into place aside from a hiccup or two killed the suspense for me. “I really hope Mal doesn’t find her way through the ducts!” Oh look, there’s Mal…coming out of a duct…
Gabe: well, all the foreshadowing was pretty thick
Rich: Yes! OK, and Mal/the love theme: You were supposed to take that with as much suspension of disbelief as the sci fi stuff. What a shell of a cliche of a bond that we were presented! Has Nolan ever done love well?
Gabe: Mal was my least favorite part of the movie
Rich: Ugh! First of all, Marion Cotillard was atrocious.
Gabe: yes i have no defense for Mal.
Rich: OK I accept that. Because she is indefensible.
Gabe: i mean, on top of her character being thin and mildly insufferable and not finding Cotillard attractive, which is kind of key as the romantic/sexual object of a movie, and also the logic of her not making sense, i do not care about love plotlines. i dont’ care whether or not two make believe characters are make believe reunited to continue their make believe relationship. i’m an adult now and i know what adult love looks like and i have no patience or time for make believe love. that being said, i love romantic comedies? i contain boring multitudes.
Rich: But isn’t the love thing set up to be the crux of this movie? Like, isn’t that Leo’s big job? Not incepting but, getting over the past?
Gabe: i think that the love thing is set to be the crux of this movie, but it is easy to not allow it to be? i never liked Mal and did not give a shit about what happened to her and did not give a shit about what happened to leonardo dicaprio. i hope he spends all of eternity rotting in his dreamscape beach. who cares?
Rich: Haha, stupid height-patterned skyscrapers. “She had herself declared sane by three different psychologists. That made it impossible for me to describe the nature of her madness.”
Gabe: hahahha
Gabe: also, why did they have to lay their heads on train tracks: “there’s got to be an easier way!” That is my dream infomercial for them about killing themselves: “trains trains trains, there’s got to be a better way!”

Rich: Maybe Inception is STILL HAPPENING.
Gabe: well, the ending was ambiguous, obviously
Rich: In the worst way!
Gabe: i’m very sympathetic to endings, which is not to say that i will not get so mad at them. if i have had a really good time for almost all of something, i will cut the ending some slack.
Rich: Sure. But really, the way it was cut was just short of Nolan coming on and winking into the camera.
Gabe: i mean, the ending was really for dummies
Rich: Tops for Dummies.
Gabe: it was for dummies to be like “oh my god, what happened? IS HE IN A DREAM OR ISN’T HE I DON’T KNOW WHAT HAPPENED!” Throughout, there were so many people in my movie theater who were shouting “WHAT?!” out loud
Rich: Oh god.
Gabe: and the movie really wasn’t that hard to follow at all. it was pretty clear what was going on at all times. but my point is making a movie that is somewhat complicated both understandable for dummies and still enjoyable for non-dummies is a nearly impossible task. and personally, i think he succeeded very well.
Rich: I just think that’s a dumb thing to set out to do in the first place.
Gabe: oh, i don’t know, i don’t know if i agree with that at all. every time someone makes a thing that appeals to the dummies and also appeals to the smarts it helps the smarts because the dummies are more willing to try smart stuff. it’s a victory.
Rich: Inception is activism, really, is what it is.
Gabe: well, i do think you are making a disingenuous argument
Rich: Where?
Gabe: i do not believe that you have such a strong belief in the sharp division
between smart and dumb entertainment
Rich: Well…
Gabe: i mean, you are teasing me with the “activism” line, but i do believe that the world becomes a better place if people can slip smart stuff under the dumb radar and while this movie had lots of dumb stuff in it, in terms of narrative construction it was smart. this movie is not going to change the world. Paul Fart Mall Fart 2 comes out next year as planned
Rich: I don’t believe in rejecting dumb things because they are dumb and embracing smart things just because they are smart. But I also don’t like things that try to have it all ways or that are trying to be something they aren’t. it just seems pretentious to me. And I hate that kind of pretension, regardless of its IQ. Also, I don’t agree that this was particularly smart.
Gabe: perhaps in this instance you would prefer the word “sophisticated”? because no matter what, this movie’s construction is VERY sophisticated.
Rich: Sure. I will give you that. Impressive construction, with dubious structural soundness.
Gabe: in many ways, for me, this comes down to a “did you like watching it” argument, which is very much an intractable stand-off. my enjoyment of it was genuinely in the moment of watching it. i’ve thought about it a lot over the weekend and i don’t care about what happened? it didn’t leave me with any interesting ideas and yet at the time that i was watching, it did that special movie thing.
Rich: And THAT’S what a summer blockbuster is all about.
Gabe: but i’m super sorry for you, and i feel BAD for you, that it didn’t happen. i pity you.
Rich: I think I’m coping well. I’m glad we had this discussion, because I feel more justified. That’s not to say that I think you didn’t support your points. I just don’t feel like I missed something now. You pinched me and I wasn’t dreaming. The end.
Gabe: Or is it?

Team Jacob!