Sunday, January 2, 2011


Nolan, 2010, 150m

Two questions which surface after seeing this long and tedious film are (a)Why was it so popular? (b)What motivated  the film-makers to make it ($160 million, for heavens sake!)? I will leave the plot alone, since you have probably seen it. (It's about syringing ideas out of, or into, other people's heads, though I would think talking a more convenient procedure.)

With the world becoming increasingly complex, we are discovering ever newer and harder to pin-down or articulate dissatisfactions. We crave for answers, however half baked. Gurudom is a thriving business as people turn inwards seeking ways to fill the void left by the demise of faith, which no science or philosophy is able to fill. The present film seems to belong to the same genre of quackery as the latest breed of self-help books and self proclaimed jet borne sages, with or without flowing robes/beards.

The film has a germ of truth in that it vaguely mirrors the ideas of Jung in recognizing the vastness and depth of  our inner world, which we have been slower to appreciate than the dazzling glories of astronomy and physics. On the other hand it presents a very desolate picture of the mind as a computer like automaton without intrinsic hope or creative energy. No room for the soul in this mind. And can happiness be found only in delusions and dreams? Surely we are not made of such vapid stuff, there has to be hard ground somewhere.

The investors probably realized this is a genre to cash in on, with the success of films like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind which dealt with a similar theme of selective memory erasure and Matrix, dealing with collective delusion.

Very early in the movie, I decided not to make an extra effort to decipher the plot since I was clear there is nothing profound here. My compulsion to see it was mainly to join the discourse about this biggest block-buster after Avatar. The special effects are not impressive since you know it is just a computer generated deja vu of the world falling apart, (served ad nauseum since King Kong), and a dream or not in any case. Finally, cinema itself is the stuff of dreams, so what difference does it make? For the rest, people and objects criss-cross the screen at high velocities accompanied by appropriate noises, and folks (unless they happen to be apparitions) bashing or shooting at each other for reasons best known to themselves. They wear grim expressions (who ever heard of humor in a dream) and Ellen Page in particular has both eyes and mouth wide agape probably signifying architectural precocity, in contrast to her unforgettably innocent portrayal in Juno. The script itself is a desultory running commentary on the self manufactured logic needed to make sense of the psycho-neural skulduggery.

The pseudo-profundity and undecipherable plot accounts for it's mass appeal and one can imagine the heated discussions among the nouveau intelligentsia, on the drive back home, or over a drink, to dissect the plot thread by thread. Apparently, the market for such fare is much larger than one would imagine. In a way it may be good that people are asking self exploratory questions of the right kind, even though they take such puerile answers seriously. After all, the complexities of the times are fertile soil for charlatans and confidence men to thrive.

Best avoided, with due apologies to Nathanael Hood, not the first person to admire it. After all he is in the illustrious company of no less than Roger Ebert, who gave it four shining buttons.


Jack L said...

I'm glad I wasn't the only one to be very unsatisfied by this film...

I felt that many possibilities were overlooked in the making of this, it could of been much more interesting and ,well, dreamlike but instead it slowly descended into some kind of James Bond type action film.

It was entertaining but it didn't offer anything seriously challenging or even very original, I mean the concept of a dream within a dream has been done before by Bunuel in The Discreet Charm of The Bourgeoisie although in a very different context...

Anyway, I was unimpressed, it was definitely full of pseudo-profundity, as you put it, and so many opportunities were missed.

In fact I think Chris Nolan is a very overrated director, the only film of his that impressed me and exceeded my expectations was Memento, the rest are all over hyped disappointments.

Very good review, I greatly admire your writing style, and sorry about my rant!

Nathanael Hood said...

Well...I'm sorry to disagree with my distinguished fellow bloggers, but I was blown away by "Inception" and firmly believe it to be the best film of the year.

I guess it's my predisposition to spectacle and Hollywood magic as an American. But even detractors have to admit that it was a herculean task to commit this film to celluloid.

S. M. Rana said...

@Jack L:
Exactly, it is at best a state of the art James Bond, but pretends to be something more. Personally, I don't mind James Bond so long as Bond is Bond.

But here the feeling was of being craftily manipulated. This may sound excessive, but I think the film is an act of expensive deception, a befoolment practiced on an eager to be duped audience.

I have been taught to respect the wisdom and intelligence of every human being, but this kind of film does not respect the audience.It is like a misleading ad or a subtly deceptive packaging.

S. M. Rana said...

Spectacle and Hollywood magic are by no means an American preserve. Who can find fault with the wonders of Avatar, a blissfully simple, gorgeous, refreshing and good hearted masterpiece. You don't need to get inside peoples heads and take 'em apart, neuron by neuron, adding to the confusion which there is enough of. What I find wrong with Inception is that it pretends to have something to say, at best even believes it does, but at the core is just nothing.

It's mass-candy.

Pankaj said...

i don't think inception had any pretensions to profundity. to my mind, it was just meant to be an action filled mind twister. it did however twist the mind too many bends, and became dreary.

S. M. Rana said...


It does advertently or by implication convey a portrait of the inner world (more specifically, the dream world) which is too mechanical. A O Scott expresses this better than I could:

"But though there is a lot to see in “Inception,” there is nothing that counts as genuine vision. Mr. Nolan’s idea of the mind is too literal, too logical, too rule-bound to allow the full measure of madness — the risk of real confusion, of delirium, of ineffable ambiguity — that this subject requires. The unconscious, as Freud (and Hitchcock, and a lot of other great filmmakers) knew, is a supremely unruly place, a maze of inadmissible desires, scrambled secrets, jokes and fears."

"Wild Strawberries" and "8 1/2" open with dreams which are frightening, poignant, heart-wrenching.

Here they are:


S. M. Rana said...

@ Pankaj

Hitchcock had an instinctive grasp of the workings of the mind's underlayers.

"Vertigo" and "Psycho" are his two films which effectively portray this eery world.

Anonymous said...

Maybe it's mass candy, but I think it is far more intelligent than other brainless mass candies. Its visions are not entirely fresh, but what it did on the screen with its premises is great to watch.

S. M. Rana said...

kaist455: To be frank, when I am in the mood for candy, I prefer it without a lot of brain.