Thursday, 22 July 2010

inception (w&d nolan)

It's always interesting to read the critical reaction to films, particularly those that are ostentatiously clever. When that occurs, the tendency of the clever critic appears to be resist the attempts of the clever filmmaker to demonstrate his or her cleverness. The very word 'clever' becomes something of an insult. Hence, in the media I read, and the comments that are appended to that media, the better half is using words like 'pretentious', 'emperor's' 'new' 'clothes', and so on. As though there is some debate over the cinematic merits of the film, and its ambition. Christopher Nolan, you're no Stanley Kubrick, seems to be the jist of things.

So what? That's like telling Tendulkar he's no Bradman. The carpers create a mental logic which accords with a vision of the world they seek to project. Which would no doubt delight Nolan, who if he does anything in this film, demonstrates an ability to explore the concept of phenomenology. There are flaws a plenty in Inception. The snow-dream lacks the poetry it aspires to; the explosions go on for to long; some of the dialogue is unintentionally comical (although there are hints of humour in the film, something one doesn't normally associate with the director, and there may be a tongue in cheek aspect to some of its more grandiose lines); and finally, and perhaps most pertinently, there's a distinct lack of what some would call 'emotional depth.' This is not the Dardennes brothers neither, and it would be true to say the Gondry/ Kaufmann film covered similar terrain with more emotionally verve.

Do these problems matter? Is not every movie susceptible to the accusation that is in some way lacking? Of course they are. Casablanca lacks a good car chase. The Conversation lacks Ingrid Bergman. Performance lacks social realism. And so on. On the other hand, if one looks at Inception in terms of what it does...

There seems to me little doubt it's a film that will become embedded in people's dream of what cinema can achieve. It will provoke an absurd number of PhD theses. It will be talked about over chapatis or cream teas or masitas for years to come. Because what Nolan succeeds in doing is stimulate the mind. He pulls off a seemingly hyper-complex premise. (Incidentally, even if he has apparently been working on the script for a decade (which is not as long as it sounds, in dream time), I suspect he might also have been influenced by the equally bonkers but slightly less comprehensible Primer.) He makes his audience not only think, but enjoy thinking. By which he reminds us of the pleasures of the mind, something we are all to prone too forget.

As The Prestige showed, Nolan knows he's a showman, and it's all trickery. In reality he has less pretension than many seem to want to attribute to him. Like another master-spinner of tall tales, Borges, his work aims to seduce the mind rather than the heart. But his facility for achieving this reminds us, if this is not too pretentious, that the mind is an organ of the body, like the heart, one that craves stimulation and love, without the gift of which we are in danger of festering. Nolan does all that cinema is capable of: he wakes us up, and reminds that even if it's all a dream, we are, indeed, alive, waking dreamers, blessed by our capacity to perceive the world around us.

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