Tuesday, August 3, 2010
I went to see "Inception" with high hopes. I even liked the beginning, but mid-way I was ready to scream; by the end I felt like I had been pummeled by jackhammers.
I admire Christopher Nolan's penchant for complex psychological enigmas. Interesting always trumps dull and predictable. "Inception" began interestingly, but soon lapsed into recycled Star Wars-Bourne-James Bond-car crash and explosion neo-video game mayhem. Very little original material there; a lot of recycled tropes trying to tell a story about dreams. Loudly. Much of the time the music and/or ambient noise masked the dialog, either spoken softly over the mayhem or else delivered in the action-movie telegraphic shout, the functional equivalent of subtitles in silent movies. The decibel level was often-mind numbing and frankly, if I never see another white-suited ski chase through the snow with machine guns and helicopters and mayhem it would be too soon.
Here's the thing: Nolan has a brilliant and often subtle mind. $160,000,000 was spent; the technology was envelope-pushing. All of this was harnessed into the service of a story about the complex enigma of dreams and reality. What was missing?
Where it could have taken off into the stratosphere, its feet were stuck in the concrete golashes of a million other action movies. When in doubt, more mayhem ensues.
But what if? What if these resources, even a tenth of these resources, had been harnessed to the imagination? What if, instead of the predictable car-smashing, ear-drum shattering, blood-gushing, adrenalin/testosterone cocktail, we had been served up a true flight of imagination?
Who could ever forget the landing of the Mothership in "Close Encounters..." or the bridge of mist in John Boorman's "Excalibur" or the waltz of the satellites in "2001"? Fred Astaire danced on the ceiling with greater effect; zero gravity is so twentieth century. It is possible to blow minds in fresh and wonderful ways. Makes you wonder why it doesn't happen more often...
Subject: the relationship of what we call "dreams" to what we conveniently refer to as "reality."
This is solidly in the quantum parallel universe multiverse. Nothing new there. It is also the substance of much of Shakespeare's greatest work. Dreams within dreams and dreams v. reality is a noble and ageless literary genre.
Granted, even Shakespeare had to work within limits. The conventions of the Elizabethan theater were almost as iron-clad as the minds that green-light today's big-budget movies; but they were different. At the Globe Theater you had to have magic, shipwrecks, separated twins or siblings, love at first sight, witches, cross-dressing... the list goes on and on. So Shakespeare used them, again and again, using pre-existing stories, but he did it with endless invention. He worked within the system, but he did so by re-inventing it. Thus he fulfilled the artist's true responsibility to the audience: to give them a great experience by making them laugh and cry, taking them places they've never been, physically or emotionally.
And, quite frankly, it breaks my heart that all those resources and all that technology and all that money, time, effort, and talent, vast talent, were spent on something so leaden as "Inception." No patch on "The Tempest." Why was nobody there saying, come on, guys, what if... instead of another car chase, we do something else. Something really interesting?
It is eminently possible.
It only requires imagination. That is ultimately what "Inception" lacked.