Inception (2010)

Tue Aug 10, 2010

What can be now be said about Inception?

I have a serious interpretive problem with films of this type, where there are significant commercial considerations impeding upon what might be the narrative aspirations of the director, considerations absent from Shane Carruth’s Primer, for instance, or even one of the Buñuel films that some reviewer mentioned (perhaps it was Denby in the New Yorker; I don’t remember). Anyway, my problem is that I don’t know how seriously to take the construction of the plot. With something like Primer, which also features intricate layers of nesting, I was willing to credit the director with anything as complicated as I could think of, provided that it fit. A \$7000 budget warrants obsessive attention to detail. Here, with the gratuitous, multigenre action sequences; gravity-distorting stardom; and flagrant acts of miscasting, I was left very unsure of the interpretive boundaries. I mean, it’s one thing if it’s just done for fun and is not intended to make any sense at all. I can accept that. Done well, with a refusal to take itself seriously, this mildly cynical professionalism can suggest depths that more earnest efforts never plumb.

But Inception is an earnest, humorless film. The flagrant miscasting (there might have been others, including the lead, but this is the big one) was Ellen Page as Ariadne (which, see above re interpretive charity/plausibility, etc.) I don’t know what the fuck the deal is with the Cisco commercials, first of all, but Page seems to me to be more closely typecast from Juno than Kyle MacLachlan ever was with David Lynch films. The twinge of sarcasm everpresent in her voice is almost impossible to erase from even the most translation-friendly, banal dialogue of the summer action feature; and I was cringing in anticipation of some extradiegetic popular culture reference whenever she opened her mouth. If I were extending infinite credit to Nolan, I might suspect that the name and the combination of this unusual casting choice is supposed to indicate to the audience that she is an implant from a different level than we are exposed to in the film proper, who is intended to guide the lead (what was his name, by the way? I just saw this like seven hours ago, and I’ve already forgotten it. Samuel Borr?) to a certain outcome (or inception). And thus we the audience should sense that she does not really fit with the rest of the corporate espionage trappings (which trappings are explicitly described as pseuodoevental or simulacra themselves, but this character’s hermeneutic suspicions are not easily identified with the audience’s.) I made a note to myself that I thought at the beginning that Page’s character was an “as you know, Bob” feature; and, sure, there’s some of that.

I brought a notebook with me to see this, which I rarely do at the theater. Here are some of the notes I made (since it was dark, I wrote over several of them, rendering all illegible): “return of the repressed,” “what’s the population density of Japan?”, “PKD plot,” “pharmacology and silicon,” “good plot for a video game,” “subconscious—Freud abandoned topological metaphors, should be ‘un,’; but what of basement, elevators, etc.?”, “Mombasa?”, “technology compels limitless complexity in plot generation, infinite rewatchability only way to ensure continued buzz, viewership, both tv and film (dvd) SBJ.”

I don’t want to write all of those up here, but I think you can see where I was going. I didn’t get a good look at the “postwar British artist” either, though the glimpse I caught didn’t look like Francis Bacon. I’ve never made it all the way through Metal Gear Solid IV, which came with my PS3, but the metaleptic gestures and general feel seemed very similar. I’m not joking about this. I also wrote “videogame aesthetic” in my notebook. (And am dying to read the Nicholson Baker piece in the latest or last week’s New Yorker, also.)

[Update: I fixed some typos, including a brutal misspelling of Kyle MacLachlan’s name, for which I am sorry, Sex and the City and all. Also, I just now read over the Salon guide to the film, and I see that the video game angle has been worked pretty extensively, which is just more in the way of presence of presence, if you follow me.)]