If you imagine in a dream some sort of bank vault, your subconscious will instinctively shove all your secrets in there, typed single-spaced on resume paper with “confidential” stamped across the top in red ink.That’s how it works in Inception, anyway.This is your brain: an empty dining room with sliding doors and paper lanterns.This is your brain with secrets: a combination safe behind a painting on said dining room wall.My, aren’t you clever?My brain, however, keeps its secrets in a hollowed-out coconut guarded by Gilligan. Or is it Mary Anne?I’m not telling!

But where would your subconscious tuck all things sentimental?Let me rephrase that – all things surpassing sentimental and entering obsessive adoration?My subconscious favors an eight-year-old’s diary, the sort that you can pop the lock off of with a pencil, the kind that invites puffy stickers and haiku about the boy who broke his arm rollerskating over trashcan lids.And my subconscious would naturally keep this diary in a ruffled gingham pillowcase.This is where you’ll now find Inception filed away in my mind, but it hasn’t found its home there for the usual reasons.

Just as Inception’s Cobbs determines the best way to make an idea stick is to match it with an emotional catharsis, so it is with an obsession-worthy movie.  Platoon, for example.Platoon is in the gingham-pillowcase diary for this reason, the usual reason.When I was sixteen I saw Platoon so many times my family huddled around the kitchen counter and wondered, “What if she starts having flashbacks at school?”I didn’t just re-watch it.I’d re-watch certain moments.Elias’ splayed-arm death in the field to “Adagio for Strings,” for example.I wrote my every term paper on Vietnam that year, each one ending with, “And that’s why they should never have let Sergeant Barnes be in charge of anyone.Bastards!”

One of the big complaints by critics, however, is that Inception lacks emotional weight despite Cobbs’ emotional back-story.I would agree that there isn’t enough, in an already long movie, between Cobbs and his wife and kids to hook me.Maybe because we only ever saw his projection of Mal, never the real Mal, and his projection of her was a bitch.Maybe because the characters were upstaged by the special effects and the ideas of Inception.I mean, check the famous rotating hallway scene.Do you even care which characters are in peril here?Or do you just care that there’s a rotating hallway smack-down for the ages going on?

Yet even without an emotional wallop able to deliver dead-on Inception is in my gingham-pillowcase diary, and to date I’ve seen it three times.At first I thought it was because Christopher Nolan cracked into my subconscious, found the coconut, and scrawled in the margins of my balled-up secrets: “Buy another ticket to Inception.” Actually, I can’t say for sure that he didn’t in some way, but by trip to the cinema number three I figured out Inception’s real obsessive allure for me.

[Fair warning.  Spoilers from here on out]

When Nolan cuts to black on the spinning top, this is his big wallop.It says whatever it is you thought you knew about what’s going on might be completely wrong.What’s real?What’s not?Then the theorizing begins.The reality and the dream are inverted (the children haven’t aged, haven’t changed clothes, haven’t moved an inch since he left!).Cobbs and Mal are literally “two halves of the same person” (he uses her token; the room behind the ledge she jumps from is a mirror image of the room across the street Cobbs stands in, and instead of motioning her back into her room, he motions toward himself!).Everyone, including the team, is a projection of Cobbs along with Mal and we are never in a “real” world (the real world and the dream world are equally maze-like and generically presented – do you ever see legitimizing details of, say, his passport when it opens?A license plate?No!).I could go on with the theories.You probably have a few more of your own.But here’s the wallop within the wallop.I’m willing to wager that for every theory you have, you’ve also encountered too many snags to be certain you’ve followed the right thread.I’m willing to wager that every theory dead ends somewhere.Every single one.

Don’t get me wrong.I love movies that leave the audience to solve all of the film’s riddles, but I’ve always strongly believed that if a writer is going to create a riddle the writer should know the solution, even when that solution is never provided for anyone else.It’s cheating otherwise, isn’t it?It’s like writing crossword questions without knowing all of the answers or how they’ll fit together on the grid.I’ve always thought the writer who doesn’t intimately know the story beyond what’s written on the page is a lazy writer.It’s a writer who uses the riddle to cover for sloppy thinking.What?I didn’t explain how the machine could possibly enable everyone to share the dream?Hmm.Well, maybe that’s because the machine possibly isn’t real … because possibly none of it’s real.Possibly.I’ve become convinced that Nolan doesn’t know the answer to Inception’s riddles.I’ve also become convinced of something else that potentially renders Nolan less “sloppy” and more “brilliant.”

You know that scene in which Cobbs asks Ariadne to create a maze in one minute that can’t possibly be solved in two?She fails the first few times and then, bingo, she sketches the circular one that Cobbs can’t beat the clock on.Maybe she simply creates a maze that cannot be solved at all.Maybe every turn of the pen in Cobbs’ grip would have eventually led to a dead end.Maybe Inception is Nolan’s unsolvable riddle, not by the hapless accident of a lazy writer but by the willful design of a shrewd one.He purposefully plants clues that both lead you down the corridor of a new theory and cause another one to dead end, and he does so until every theory is nixed.Nolan is holding you over the widening gap of a pinwheel staircase and saying, “Paradox.”  That smart-ass!

As I walked out of the theater after the third viewing, squinting in the full summer sun and feeling around for my car handle, my husband asked me why I’d wanted to see it again.“Because,” I said, “I’m trying to decide whether or not I appreciate being messed with.”But more importantly, I’m trying to decide if I’m right about Nolan.Maybe he does know the riddle’s answer.Maybe there is one to know after all.Maybe I’ve missed something.Maybe I just need to see it again ….

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TNB Arts and Culture Editor CYNTHIA HAWKINS teaches creative writing at the University of Texas at San Antonio. Most of what she thinks she knows comes from movies, including how to tango, how to take someone down with a ballpoint pen, how to curse in French, and how to catch a moving train. Her work, on movies and otherwise, has appeared in literary journals and magazines such as ESPN the Magazine, Parent:Wise Magazine, The Good Men Project, New World Writing, Strange Horizons, and numerous alternative weeklies and anthologies. You can find Cynthia on Twitter and at cynthiahawkins.net.

54 responses to “Can We Still Talk About Inception?”

  1. Dreams are enigmas. While for many dreams can mean or symbolize something, the reality of dreamscapes is there is no beginning and no end. They start in medias res. Inception means beginning. So, right away there is an enigma. A beginning to something that seems to have no beginning possibly can’t be explained using the logic you’re seeking: that riddles must have answers.

    Just my take on it.

    • Cynthia Hawkins says:

      I like your take on it! Though, I’m okay with there being no answers to the riddles if that is by design and not by accident, laziness, or a lack of thinking it through on behalf of the writer. I’m certain in this case it’s by design, and your eloquent explanation makes me less inclined to be irked with Nolan for “messing with me” and more appreciative of the story’s inherent enigma.

  2. Nathaniel Missildine says:

    I’m on my way to see this film tonight. I’ve faithfully stopped reading at the spoiler alert (with maybe minor peeking). With all the critical gushing this movie has received I’m expecting nothing less than a complete dismantling of my psyche or, at least, for Levitt to start having onscreen flashbacks to bad 3rd Rock from the Sun one-liners. Just based on the previews though I’m suspicious of whether Nolan is simply going to be guilty of a lot of intellectual pyrotechnics. Will check back later. That is, unless I’ve dreamed reading this post.

    • Cynthia Hawkins says:

      Ooh, do check back. I’d love to hear your reaction. I have to give it to The Rumpus reviewer who went against the critical gushing to say: “Christopher Nolan does not shit gold. Like most people he shits shit. Inception for example.” Ha! But I disagree with him wholeheartedly. I think Nolan really does shit gold.

      • Nathaniel Missildine says:

        Back from the movie. I even slept on it to see if maybe I’d encounter a bank vault or hollowed-out coconut with a secret message placed there by Hollywood rising stars with nice hair. Did not, but I did enjoy the movie, despite flaws.

        First, I was impressed that he managed not to lose viewers with a complicated plot, or add meandering complications that are so easy with these kinds of alternate reality spectacles, i.e. Matrix. Having read reviews beforehand like I can never help doing, the convoluted synopsis nearly made me want to pass on the whole thing. But I was surprised at how fluidly and clearly he told the story. Plus, there’s no denying that it’s one of the coolest movies in a while, the look, the effects and the idea. What else are movies if not to show us a dream within a dream within a dream.

        My nagging gripe was what you and Richard have also said, none of it felt like a freaking dream particularly. Sure the Paris streets fold over on themselves or people float mid-air, but I couldn’t help feeling like it was more daydreaming while playing with a Mac. We all sleep dream uniquely, but more accurate, richer visualizations of a dream world would have helped. David Lynch has already planted the architecture in our movie-going brains, after all.

        Another small question I had was if Nolan was making his own knowing wink to our cinematic subconscious by using an Edith Piaf song as a “kick” in a movie where Marion Cotillard, who played her, had such a key role. I’ve since read up on this and apparently it was a coincidence that Nolan tried to remove initially, but kept after being persuaded otherwise. A little more deliberate meta like this though could have been put to good use as our own kind of moviegoer totem. But maybe I’m just getting distracted.

      • I disagreed with that review as well. I mean, Nolan does good stuff. It may not all be No Country For Old Men, but it’s good. The Dark Knight – which I think he also said was bad – was excellent.

    • Cynthia Hawkins says:

      Glad you enjoyed it! I agree, it is enjoyable despite its flaws. Otherwise there’s no way I could have seen it as many times as I did. I think Richard’s right to call it a “popcorn thriller.” If Nolan had done more to remedy some of the flaws, such as developing the characters further and working on that emotional punch I wanted, it would have been done at the expense of its strengths you pointed out: the pacing, the fluidity, etc. In fact, I thought the tension in the second half w/ the variations in time crunch across all of the layers of dream was fantastic. And I love that he used as little CGI as possible with the special effects. I don’t know if you read this, but for that hallway scene they built an actual rotating hallway and very carefully choreographed the actors’ movements.

      • Nathaniel Missildine says:

        I agree on the time crunch stuff, an ingenious way to draw out the suspense.

        I also now feel the obsessive allure you spoke of, something’s fishy about how much I want to sit for a second viewing. Damn you, Nolan!

  3. Robert Vaughan says:

    I enjoyed your read as I always do, Cynthia…and forgive me if you have already, but please read my “fictitious” account on this (roll eyes, please) intellectual snore of a movie. I would not say that Nolan shits gold; or shit; something like mercury, perhaps, ever- shifting. And a little slippery.

    • Cynthia Hawkins says:

      Thanks Robert! In fact, the dreaminess of your dream piece reminds me that Inception really isn’t terribly dreamy for a dream. Why doesn’t anyone grow superpowers in Inception? Why doesn’t anyone decide to be impervious to bullets like I always am in my dreams? I’ll tell you why (*squints eyes, raises finger*). If they could in Nolan’s world, you’d be able to more easily sort out the real from the unreal — then the riddle might be solvable. Ah-hah!

      Here’s the other issue I’ve mulled over regarding Inception which your piece reminds me of as well. “And then I wake up.” If he really did exectute an “it’s all just a dream” Dallas finale for his ending, that *is* cheating, no? That’s CW workshop lesson #1. But it’ll work because of the unsolvable riddle thing — we’ll accept it because we’re not entirely sure it’s true.

      Mercury, heh heh. Good one!

  4. Richard Cox says:

    Of course you can talk about Inception, Cynthia! You’re like TNB’s resident film critic these days. 🙂

    I wanted to love this film. More than anything else this year. But Nolan lost me when he: Spoiler alert

    a) borrowed too heavily from Ocean’s Eleven in the “let’s gather our team from the four corners of the globe” section, and

    b) had the ragtag group of “experts” brainstorm ideas like a bunch of middle managers in a corporate conference room. I mean after all we’re only talking about deconstructing the inner processes of the most complex structure in the known universe. Even paying lip service to what they were doing, like having some nerdy guy who built the machine spout technobabble would have been better than simply ignoring the miraculous nature of what they were able to do inside the human mind.

    c) used dreams at all. As you pointed out, Cynthia, in the comment above, the dreams weren’t very dreamy. I think the story would have made a lot more sense if he wrote it around a simulated world of some kind, aka the Holodeck or something similar.

    As a fan of Philip K Dick and stories about artificial reality in general, and especially that this film was Nolan’s baby, I had really high expectations. Perhaps too high. I enjoyed watching it, but it was way more surface-y than I expected, and felt too much like a popcorn thriller and not enough like a Christopher Nolan film.

    I still love his body of work, though. The guy is a fantastic filmmaker. This one in particular just missed the mark for me, and I was shocked to read the almost universal praise for it. Apparently I don’t know what the hell I’m talking about. Hahaha.

  5. Cynthia Hawkins says:

    I’m laughing at letter “a” just because I harbor an inexplicable love for “team gathering” movies no matter how good or bad: the Oceans flicks, Italian Job, Uncommon Valor, Ronin, The Usual Suspects, and Magnificent Seven to name a few. So needless to say I loved that about Inception. Although if one is going to go that route, *develop the characters*. I think Nolan gets by with shorthand characterizations here all around.

    As for B, yes! I would have done just fine with more minimal exposition. It might have been even more enjoyable to see everything unfold without knowing so much about *how* it was going to unfold. And Ariadne’s character drove me nuts! She was clearly created to be the surrogate viewer, asking all the questions the viewer might have. Useful, but she was overused as such.

    C, the Holodeck, brilliant! I always wanted a Holodeck.

    • Cynthia Hawkins says:

      Richard, this was for you!

    • Richard Cox says:

      Good point on the team-gathering bit being fairly ubiquitous. I guess I feel like Nolan used some shortcuts, and you pointed out another one, Ariadne. She was totally the surrogate viewer, and on top of that, what did she actually do?? How’d she learn how to design these worlds so quickly?

      And poor Ellen Page. She’s such an awesome actress, but she seemed out of place to me in this. Your thoughts?

      Another question: If you could have a Holodeck, do you think you’d ever be able to pry yourself out of it?

      • Cynthia Hawkins says:

        Oh, I hope my initial response didn’t read as if I was laughing at you — was laughing at my own affection for “team” movies. Not you! That sounded kind of rude when I reread it.

        I agree, Ellen Page wasn’t quite right for this. I’m not sure what it is, but she seemed … ingenuine. Maybe b/c her purpose wasn’t as rooted in character as it was in being the surrogate viewer? I don’t know. I really like her in the snarky smart-ass roles, though she’s probably trying to get away from those before she gets type-cast. But she’s so good in them!

        No, I’m sure I could not pry myself out of the Holodeck! I’d be solving Sherlock Holmes mysteries in there nonstop.

        • Cynthia Hawkins says:

          Ingenuine? Now I’m just making up words. Can I add, though, that Ellen Page’s performance in Inception is her performance in the Cisco Systems commercials — and she serves the same purpose in both. Hmm …

        • Richard Cox says:

          I didn’t take it as insulting at all. Just stating the obvious. I’ve seen all those films but for some reason I was most reminded of Ocean’s Eleven. In any case, I felt like EXTREMELY high competency was required for this task, so the “buddy roundup” just seemed out of place and not believable. It’s not a casino heist. It’s mining the human brain!

          Also, I struggled with the fairly strict math regarding time in a dream. Things had to be so precisely timed for those triggers to work, and really, everyone’s dreams have the same time multiplier?

          Okay, so I realize there is some willful suspension of disbelief required. Sure. But Nolan seems to want to be very precise and taken seriously, he clearly wants this film to be taken seriously, but then he also wants to get away with lazy storytelling. If he were making Independence Day, then okay, fine. But I don’t think this is supposed to be a popcorn thriller.

          All that said, I am being picky. I enjoyed it more than most action thrillers. I was just hoping for so much more. And (full disclosure here) I just finished writing a book about this sort of layered reality, so I’m far closer to the material than the average viewer. That is likely skewing my perception of it.

        • Cynthia Hawkins says:

          Okay, I’d chalked my not being able to follow the specifics of those calculations to me being a math dunce. Everyone’s dreams having the same multiplier is along the same lines of everyone’s dreams being not very dreamy for dreams. I would think the further you were in to those layers of dream, the more unstructured and unreliable time would become, yeah? Maybe even less and less linear at that.

          But, oh, I am so looking forward to reading your newest book!

        • Richard Cox says:

          Totally not dreamy.

          On the other hand, the part I liked best about the film was what a lot of people seem to hate. I love how he cut away from the spinning top before it fell or didn’t fall. That is reality more than anything else in the story. We have no way of knowing if we’re in reality or in some kind of simulated reality. Right now some guy could be playing the Cynthia Hawkins game on his PC and you have no way of knowing that.

          Isn’t that cool?

    • Armageddon – there’s yer team gathering.

      Briefly – good thing they could all ski, eh? (The Inception gang, not the Armageddon bunch)

      I don’t usually dig referential stuff, but there were a couple of distinct 2001 shots I really liked.

      Ariadne was annoying for all the reasons stated, plus her failure to show much wonderment, plus her name (helped Theseus out with the Minotaur’s maze business).

      OK battery’s runni

      • Cynthia Hawkins says:

        Armageddon! I have to include Armageddon by default, don’t I, but I watch it with my own Mystery Science Theater 3000 sort of commentary. That one has the hokiest Americana montage I’ve ever witnessed on film.

        Of course they can ski, silly! It’s a dream! (wink, wink)

  6. John L. Singleton says:

    Honestly, my only gripe about Inception IS the very last scene. So it’s interesting you call it out here. (Where they don’t show the top falling). Basically, I think it’s a chicken shit move to “not make a statement” so as to appease. I don’t know. I’d rather NOT agree with a film then be left in limbo. Take a chance man!

  7. Zara Potts says:

    I have yet to see it…
    As long as Clive Owen is not starring, we’re good.
    Thanks for the heads up!

    • Cynthia Hawkins says:

      No Clive Owen!

      • What!? What about Children of Men? That movie is wonderful. Though, maybe it’s the movie and has nothing to do with him. I need to watch it again…

        Inception 2, starring Clive Owen…just imagine.

        • Zara Potts says:

          Justin,
          I have a pathological hatred of Clive Owen. It is totally unjustified and unreasonable. But he gives me THE GOOB.
          No Owen movies! No! No! No!

        • That’s how I feel about Nicolas Cage. Although, Bad Lieutenant was pretty great. Still, Cage sucks. The Sorcerer’s Apprentice? Did ANYONE see that garbage? I haven’t seen it, and I still feel 100% comfortable putting it in my “garbage” category.

        • Cynthia Hawkins says:

          I saw the Sorcerer’s Apprentice! But only because I have a nine-year-old. And there is no reason at all to see it unless forced by a nine-year-old. I can just barely tolerate Nicolas Cage anymore. Con Air was the beginning of the end for him …. damn Bruckheimer.

  8. Zara Potts says:

    Oh and I meant to say – music is so important. When you spoke about Adagio for Strings in Platoon, I remember having a similar sense during Peter Weir’s Gallipoli when Albinoni’s Adagio in G Minor was used.
    That is the most stirring, haunting piece of music. I cannot listen to it still, without crying. And when I say crying – I mean weeping. It’s absurd!

    • But would you still weep if Clive Owen walked into the room? Hmm.

    • Cynthia Hawkins says:

      Gallipoli was such a fine movie! Ah, the days when Mel was still lovely.

      • Zara Potts says:

        I’m so glad that we can both appreciate the beauty of Mel when he was young. I don’t think people realise just how divine he was on a purely aesthetic level back in the 80’s. Having said that – I was talking to a girlfriend about Mad Mel the other night and she always found him gross. Even in The Bounty. Weird. I guess different strokes and all that..

  9. Simon Smithson says:

    I liked parts of Inception a lot. I really did.

    The hallway? Fucking awesome. And Cobra Commander was the perfect guy to use for that fight scene, all spidery and slender and running around.

    I didn’t realise that about Leo gesturing towards himself, and that makes me appreciate Nolan and his love of duality a little more.

    I don’t know, is this a fitting place to go into my nitty-gritty problems with Nolan as a director? All of which I realised after watching Inception?

    My biggest problem is this: we are left unsure if it’s a dream. Mal killed herself, setting up the whole, entire plot, because she thought her life was a dream.

    So… why didn’t she just test it by, oh, I don’t know, turning buildings upside down like they did in the rest of the movie?

    And also, if she was right, and it was a dream, and she killed herself and woke up… why didn’t she then just wake up Leo, like the waking characters did in the rest of the movie?

    Goddamnit, Christopher Nolan.

    • Cynthia Hawkins says:

      SPOILERS! Just warning the casual reader here ….

      See, one could say that Mal was so certain she was right, because of Cobbs’ first inception (top sent spinning in her subconscious safe), that she didn’t feel the need to test it. It wouldn’t have occurred to her to test it. And if she was right, and she’d awakened from the dream when she jumped, maybe she has yet to wake him from it (time is slower in the dream world!). That’s the thing — he’s constructed it in such away that quirks can possibly be accounted for. At the very least he sends you in circles.

      I think this is just the place for your nitty-gritty investigation of Nolan! OR you could write it in a TNB rant 😉

      • Simon Smithson says:

        Crap, crap, son of a bitch! Sorry. I thought this would already be known as a spoiler-free zone.

        All good points, and well-made, and I’ll be careful trotting my arguments out again in future.

        See, I like Nolan as a director. I love his themes of duality, and I like that he has themes, and I like that he gets good performances out of good actors (Cillian Murphy and Ken Watanabe should be in every movie ever), and I think Nolan has a lot of vision.

        But there’s one problem that I personally find with a lot of his movies, and that’s that at some point, in order to sustain the vision he creates, the storyline needs to be bent, and the way he seems to do it is that people suddenly forget to care about things, and they catch, for want of a better term, the Christopher Nolan Stupids.

        At this point, may I discuss The Dark Knight, The Machinist, and Inception as examples?

        • Cynthia Hawkins says:

          No worries. I knew my comment was going to lead w/ a spoiler, unlike yours that was a little more buried, and I imagined people seeing it on that feed on the main page and cursing my name. I think you were safe, however!

          Aw, I was just playing devil’s advocate to point out how Nolan plants just enough to put a kink in a lot of our arguments — just like how in other cases he allows the ambiguity of dream/reality to explain things away (like that suitcase dream machine). One of his tricks, like bending the storyline, as you say. It’s infuriating! I’m both in awe of him and mad at him for it. Your arguments are wonderfully just, and you should trot them out all day long! I thought along the same lines myself.

          The Christopher Nolan Stupids! That’s fantastic. Please do explain. I haven’t seen The Machinist though.

        • Simon Smithson says:

          OK. I’ll go with Inception and The Dark Knight.

          Both films, in order to move the plot forward, require certain scenes to happen. OK, cool. That happens in all movies.

          Both films, in order to up the drama stakes, need to insert elements of risk. OK, fine. Again. All movies.

          Both films, in order to continue rather than stop in the face of a human reaction, require people to suddenly acquire the Chris Nolan Stupids.

          Inception: the bit where Leo reveals that they could actually die.

          Everyone else: Wait. So, you lied to us. And now we’ve gone from being in a situation where we couldn’t die, no matter what, to a situation where we’re incredibly likely to die, because it happened at the start of the movie?

          Leo: Yep.

          Everyone else: So… it’s kinda like you invited us over for breakfast. And then told us that you’d poisoned the bagels. Maybe. So there was a chance we’d die from them.

          Leo: Uh huh.

          Everyone else: Well… we’re upset.

          Leo: Understandable.

          [insert the Christopher Nolan Stupids]

          Everone else two seconds later: Time for wisecracks, you guys!

          The Dark Knight:

          Two-Face: And now… now I’ll flip a coin and kill everyone who had a plan! Because my girlfriend got caught up in them!

          Impartial Observer: Oh. So, I guess you killed the Joker?

          Two-Face: No. No, him I let go. After flipping a coin.

          Impartial Observer: But… didn’t he kill your girlfriend/fiancee? Whose death is the whole reason you’re doing all of this? And the fact you’re missing half a face.

          Two-Face: No, he convinced me that he was in a cell, and it was… it was the system that was responsible! So I didn’t kill him! I listened to him!

          Impartial Observer: The system?

          Two-Face: Yep.

          Impartial Observer: What about that time literally 48 hours ago when he, personally, with his own hands, no one else, threw your girlfriend/fiancee off a penthouse balcony?

          [insert the Christopher Nolan Stupids]

          Two-Face: Oh, that doesn’t count. I was in a cupboard then.

          Even Gary Oldman gets it.

          Gordon: The Commissioner’s dead! Poisoned!

          Impartial Observer: Fuck! How did they get the poison into the bottle that he keeps, in his desk, in his office, in the police station? There’s probably someone corrupt up in this bitch! Who knows what they’ll do next! Maybe it’s those guys who got investigated! Those guys everyone talked about before!

          [insert Christopher Nolan Stupids]

          Gordon: Cram it, egghead! There’s no time for that now!

          I love Nolan’s attention to reality, especially in the bat-flicks, but he has the scenes where the illusion suddenly snaps, and I’m so aware that I’m watching a scene created for the purpose of setting up other scenes. And it kills me.

        • Cynthia Hawkins says:

          If even Gary Oldman is susceptible, this is bad indeed! Also, in Inception, all the threatening talk about the basement of the dream, w/ the raw, unstructured subconscious, being an endless brain-scrambling nightmare kind of turns out for naught as well. Oh, and I love how the original plan apparently had them existing in the third level for ten years. “Ten years! Who’d want to be in a dream for ten years!?” Ariadne asks. And then, boom, she’s on board anyway. All the issues of timing get thrown out the window, in fact. They say its because they have to be in a hurry now, what with Ken Watanabe getting shot, but though there are still the interesting discrepancies in time between the levels it doesn’t seem to follow the ratios they’d presented (five minutes in this level equals one week in the next and so on). As I told Richard, I’d chalked this up to me being a math dunce, but I really think something’s rotten in Denmark with those calculations. I think they’re suffering CNS.

        • Richard Cox says:

          You know, as I read your response to Simon, part of me thinks, well jeez, this is a film, it’s entertainment, do we really have to pick it apart this way? For the love of the Guy?

          For me it comes down to expectation and the general context. If one of the themes of your film is realism, if you want us to ask these questions of ourselves (particularly “What is reality?”), then I think you should get your shit straight. The whole idea is using the medium of film to transport me into a world where this might actually happen. It doesn’t strike me as fantastical, the way, say, Star Wars does. And even Star Wars, particularly the newer films, occasionally violates its own internal rules. But it’s clearly just a fun adventure and no one is asking me to believe it could really happen.

          But to me Nolan is. In Simon’s examples, he’s taken two fantastical stories and embedded them in reality, in part to remove the divide between audience and the film, to immerse you sufficiently so that for a little while you might think it could maybe really happen. Then, when it’s convenient, he bends the rules to make the story work, and the illusion comes crashing down. I think that’s the reason he should be held to a higher storytelling standard in these particular instances.

          In a way reminds me of the Da Vinci Code argument. When you pick apart the logic in Dan Brown’s novel, a lot of readers say, “It’s just a novel! It’s entertainment!” But Brown is asking you to consider that his explosive ideas could be true. That’s how he expects it to work. You can tell from the text and even see it on his web site…there could be giant secrets being kept from humanity! But if the reader is calling bullshit on the historical accuracy the whole time, the story loses the engine that’s intended to power it. In my opinion.

          But I’m tired today. I might not be making sense myself.

        • Simon Smithson says:

          RC, I couldn’t agree more. To me, it’s all about upholding the rules of the Universe as you set them out.

          There was a great example of this in Heroes, where they discover that one character’s blood can heal people. Suddenly, awesome! People coming back to life!

          The next series, her biological father gets killed.

          And stays dead.

          And not once does the magic blood, that brought other people back to life, get mentioned.

          The problem with Nolan, for me, is that his reach just manages to exceed his grasp. And when it does, then, for me, it all comes tumbling down. And while I can agree with the ‘just a movie’ defence in many cases, the fact is, it’s a product. I paid money for it. I consumed it. That gives me the right to discuss my consumption, as far as I’m concerned. Not that I think you were saying anything but.

        • Cynthia Hawkins says:

          Maybe GLADIATOR’S Maximus has it right when he asks, “Are you not entertained?!” Maybe that’s all that matters in the end. Although picking something apart is certainly it’s own entertainment 😀

          Would you believe I watched the *entire* “Heroes” series from beginning to end? At some point, the only reason I kept watching was because it was so fun to pick apart. What a disappointment, that show. And it violated its own laws, and every other imaginable law, consistently — partly because they kept switching writers and the writers would forge ahead blindly with their own brand new sets of laws.

        • Cynthia Hawkins says:

          *its* own entertainment, I know, I know.

  10. Gregory Messina says:

    “…if a writer is going to create a riddle the writer should know the solution, even when that solution is never provided for anyone else. It’s cheating otherwise, isn’t it? It’s like writing crossword questions without knowing all of the answers or how they’ll fit together on the grid.”

    I completely agree, and get so annoyed when writer’s can’t get themselves out of certain situations without cheating.

    I’ve been contemplating seeing INCEPTION a second time. I completely enjoyed it, but wonder if it would make more sense. Sounds like it just may make me ask even more questions.

    • Cynthia Hawkins says:

      Gregory! I’ve been anxiously awaiting your next TNB post (no pressure or anything).

      I think with each time you see INCEPTION you’ll just be lured even deeper into the unsolvable riddle until you are forever lost in the raw, unstructured data of your own subconscious. Your mind will be scrambled egg, I tell you! Stop now while you can!

  11. Matt says:

    For myself, I enjoyed Inception. Is it perfect? No. I’m pretty sure this is Christopher Nolan’s version of a popcorn flick. It’s closer to pure entertainment than any of his other films have been (including the two Batmans) but still has some heft and weight and requires you to think, which I like. As I get older, I find I have less and less patience for films/TV that just expect me to turn off my brain and be entertained. I’d rather waste 2 1/2 hours wrestling with an unsolveable riddle than I would buring off that same amount of time watching Transformers 2 or one of the Sex and the City flicks.

    The hallways sequence was fabulous–and in my opionion, Joseph Gordon-Levitt more or less stole every scene he was in, if not the movie itself. Which he’s been doing a lot of lately.

    • Cynthia Hawkins says:

      I was so impressed by Gordon-Levitt! I think he and Thomas Hardy (the forger) might have the most to gain from this one, as far as career-boosters go. I never watched “3rd Rock from the Sun,” though, and had no idea he’d been a child actor until a friend told me. Good for him that he’s made an apparently seamless transition.

  12. Apparently the DVD will contain a deleted scene in which Cobb has to sit an exam for which he hasn’t revised, and he’s naked, and all his teeth fall out.

  13. Geoff-UK says:

    Ending of American Psycho: “Er…sorry, none of that was real.”

    Ending of The Sopranos: “Eff all you viewers, the ending is whatever you want it to be. Now I’m gonna go get a beer.”

    Ending of Inception: “Eff all you viewers, the ending is whatever you want it to be. Now I’m gonna go get a beer.”

    Best summary of why Inception sucks?
    http://ashrussell.com/2010/08/02/i-hated-inception-spoilers/
    “…a symbol of an entire sect of movie-making and movie-going that stupidly believes that a twist ending or an unhappy ending makes a smart movie. NEWSFLASH: it doesn’t.

  14. […] of the Caribbean was too complicated to follow. More complex than they needed to be? Perhaps. Too complex to follow? Not at […]

  15. […] written critical essays on Inception, Please Give, the Robert Duvall effect, the Academy Award nominees for Best Soundtrack, the movie […]

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