You and I did not see the same movie.
Warning: If you are emotionally attached to the movie Inception, you may not like this review. Also, this is very spoiler heavy. You are forewarned.
InSucktion, or: There's Always Gravity In The Elevator Shaft. A movie review.
I know I'm late for this train. (Will it come bulldozing through my sub-consciousness? Oh noes!) There was so much buzz and hype surrouning Inception that I considered going to see it in the theaters, something Mr.V and I do only for Harry Potter movies. Thank god we did not. We finally got it on dvd and I was excited. I'd heard so much about this movie, and especially the ending! I love ambiguous endings and I'd heard this was one. I was totally down.
A few minutes into the movie, I knew things weren't going well. I was kinda bored. A guy washes up on a shore and I make a dumb joke about it being a metaphor for Leo's career. (I made a lot of dumb jokes during the watching of this film. I test my material out on Mr.V and you can bet that's a fun job. He just keeps drinking whiskey 'til I start sounding funny and we call it a day). There's a spinnning top and Ken Watanabe in a really bad makeup job.
Meh. But I was sticking with it because I'd heard! I'd heard!
So Leonardo is running around in a room with some other guys , trying to get some Classified Information, while a revolution is going on outside and all I can think is "Supernatural's done this" and "Supernatural did it better". The people are talking to each other about something we can't possibly understand and this represents the entire problem with the whole movie: Never once is the audience invited to Enter In. We are kept at arm's length the entire time, like the movie is a big brother pushing on our forehead and we keep making running motions with our arms and legs trying to get to the treat. And at the end, the big brother is going to pull back a curtain and be like, "Or wait--IS IT A TREAT????" and we are supposed to care about this stuff?
No. The movie did not invite me in to partake emotionally, and so I spent the first ten or fifteen minutes developing a Supernatural litmus test in my head. It's a perfect test to measure any film or tv show against Supernatural to see if it is as good as or surpasses my beloved show.
(Spoiler alert!--Insucktion did not pass.)
Guys running around in a dream within a dream. Would you could you on a plane, would you could you in a train? Enter Paris! I sit up a little bit. Michael Caine in a lecture room. Ok, this could be good. Enter Ellen Page--thank god! Ellen has energy and wit, she's sharp, maybe a little edgy--
Oh no wait. Within three minutes they have sucked the life out of Ellen Page. She and Leo are sitting at a Paris street cafe and--Oh Noes! Are you guys kidding me? It is actually a dream! Mind blowing! Ellen and Leo sit watching while they destroy the only thing I've enjoyed so far--the shots of Paris--blowing the buildings into smithereens around them. Debris in slow-mo, Ellen all like, what da fuh?!?! Leo putting on his best "I am the Weaver of Dreams" face.
But you're not, Leo.
It was at this point that the world "pretentious" entered my mind.
Husband and I were playing the game we always play wherein he can see any obscure actor and name every movie, big and small, that he or she has ever been in and I have no idea what they've done before but I always know the name. "What is that guy in?" I said about the architect.
"I don't know. I'm trying to figure it out. He was a kid. Really young."
"Oh yeah! Gosh I know him from somewhere. . . his name is Lucas Haas. I'm pretty sure."
I was right. This moment would be the highlight of my InSucktion viewing experience.
Ellen Page seems bored with her own performance, Leo is giving it his earnest all as always, and finally we have a hint of a plot. We know by now that Leo misses his kids and has a dead wife, but in a Massive Cinematic Failure, we don't give a shit. Character development has had such a major malfunction here that we cannot muster ourselves one bit of empathy or concern for a single character on the screen, and in a mind-bending movie to which we are not Invited In, this is an even huger problem than the already Universe-Sized problem it would be in any other movie.
(Character first, plot second, quoth Joss. To which I add: Or plot first, character second. The point is, somewhere there has to be a character).
But now, said plot: The Last Samurai (who Mr.V and I think is a great actor, but there was never any way he could have saved this mess) wants to pay Leo to plant an idea in the mind of some rich heir, so that he can tear down rich heir's daddy's business empire and make a killing, and Leo says to do this we must create--are you ready?? A Dream.
With in a dream.
WITHIN A DREAM!?!?!?!?!
Is your mind blown??? (Twisty jazz fingers at eye level, glittery cape, me dancing backwards from the screen). Are you blown away??
Oh yeah and if Leo succeeds he gets to see his kids again. We think.
At this point the movie feels to me like Phase One: Steal Underpants! Phase Two: ............ . Phase Three: Profit! Something should be at stake here, and absolutely nothing is. I perk up a little when they start to plan the Triple Dream, because here we have this movie's variation of the "Getting Strong Now" montage, the "this is how we're gonna do it!" moment, and we, the audience, are at least for this one scene, Invited In.
But it doesn't last. They make the big plan, get on an airplane, everyone goes to sleep perchance to dream and guess what? Weird stuff happens--what the hell, train??? What the hell, men with guns?? What the hell, dude who can change guises?? (Supernatural's done it). For us to care about the success of these people we need to:
A) Care about what is at stake (Rich man Wants More Richer! Leo Misses Stock, Stepford, Blond, Back-lit Children who we only see from behind!) and
B) Care about one of the characters
The Triple Dream quickly begins to unravel and I guess Leo is supposed to seem all Last Hope of A Desperate Man, but all he seems is kinda mean and like he had too much coffee this morning. Did I mention yet that he is haunted by his own subconscious-manifested images of his dead wife? (Or IS she??) She keeps showing up to kill people, build sandcastles, look pretty, and then she runs away and again: The shit, I am not giving it.
I want to turn the movie off but I've heard about the ending, I'm hoping for a payoff, so I keep watching.
The rich heir is with Leo and Ellen on a ski slope. Everyone is wearing white. At the bottom of the hill is a fortress. Leo and his wife got lost inside their dreams and couldn't get out. Leo may or may not have killed her, she may or may not actually be dead, either she is stuck in a dream or Leo is, I don't know and I don't care. Leo's wife, Mol, locked something far away inside. So deep, we only see it when she cries at night! Does the dream dream the dreamer? Can the dreamer leave the dream? What is the dream and what is reality? At this point I'm thinking: This movie is more pretentious than that time I started telling everyone how much I loved the Silver Jews and pre-war Vietnamese cinema while sitting in my hot tub woven by African children and orphaned dolphins donating 5 cents for every sip of Cristal I took to a charity that makes sure starving children have access to Eckhart Tolle books.
Watching Inception was like sitting in a room and being shown a rapid series of uninteresting, unrelated images. At once overstimulating and tear-inducingly boring. So the same people frequented some of the images, so what? If you saw a picture of a man on a ski slope with the words "Dead wife, misses his kids, maybe trapped in his own dream" slapped across his chest, would you particularly care? Probably not. We need more than that.
About here, Mr. V and I started slapping our cheeks to stay awake and making wild guesses, attempts at plot or interesting twists, out of boredom.
"I think it's been about Ariadne all along." (Ariadne was Ellen Page's character's name and also the most interesting thing about the film). "We're supposed to think it's about Cog, but really this is all Ariadne's dream," ventured Mr.V.
"I think that would make this better and I wish that was the case, but I don't think that's it. Maybe Ariadne is Mol. She's trying to wake him up."
We didn't really think these were the answers, we were just hoping for something--Anything!--of interest to occur.
So: We have reached the climaxy time of the movie where Leo and the Rich Heir and Ellenadne are on the ski slope, and in a second dream outside of this dream, they are sleeping inside a van that is crashing very slowly off of a bridge. Falling and falling and never landing. Now Joseph Gordon-Levitt is in some other part of a dream where all the characters--Leo, Ellen, Rich Heir, Watanabe,Shapeshifter Guy whose name I don't remember--are suspended weightless in a room. Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) looks at the floating bodies, and is like:
Oh crap! I's has to make them hit something simultaneously to kick them out of the dreaming! But wait--there is no gravity here that I can haz!!
He begins shifting them around. Sorting them. Again and again ad nauseum--image of people in white on white ski slope with intermittent explosions. Image of van falling slowly down by the river. Image of Arthur pushing people around in anti-gravity land.
"This is the most boring thing ever. I feel like I'm watching him sort his mail," said Mr. V.
"I feel like that van that won't crash is the perfect metaphor for this movie which won't end," said I.
We high-fived. We were that bored.
These three scenes go on for so long that all I can think is: Is Leonardo DiCaprio going to come out at the end and give a deep tissue massage to my lady bits? Because that is the only payoff that could possibly make this thing worth it.
After about six hours, Arthur sorts his mail--I mean, the people--into an elevator, where they're floating weightless, and then he floats weightlessly up to the shaft where he cuts the cable--and the elevator plummets.
Because there's always money in the banana stand and There's Always Gravity In The Elevator Shaft.
There was even more pretentious bullshit after that about the rich heir coming to terms with his dying father (who is actually already dead), a moment that I think was supposed to be kind of a big deal where he pulls a paper pinwheel out of a safe, and Leo's wife having "locked something away deep inside" again and we don't care, we do not care, and then finally everyone wakes up on the plane where it all began and they exchange satisfied 'mission accomplished' glances.
"And you were there, and you were there, and YOU were there," I said.
I laughed hysterically because my own stupid jokes were infinitely more entertaining to me than this movie ever was and also by now I'd had two Old Fashioneds guzzled quick out of sheer boredom.
"No," said Mr. V. "I'll give you credit where credit is due, but that was not funny."
"I don't care if you give it, I take it anyway, because no stupid joke of mine has ever been dumber than this suck fest."
We're still waiting for the Big Reveal and here it is: Leo thinks he's pulled it off and now he gets to see his kids (Piped in voices going 'daddy, daddy!') but he might still be in the dream. Or he might not. It's ambiguous and I. Don't. Care.
Apparently people have been asking Christopher Nolan if Leo ever really woke up or not. Seriously?? Why aren't these people asking him to use the proceeds from this movie to develop a time machine that will send everyone who had to watch this bullshit back in time two hours so we can have back that sliver of our precious wasted lives?? That's what I want to ask him. Mr. Nolan, how do you intend to rectify this? Don't say "The Dark Knight" because even that is not enough.
The lesson of the movie is this: Just because you can't understand something doesn't mean it's good. I don't like movies, or any form of media, that don't invite the audience in. I love twists. I love, more than anything, to be surprised. And yes, I love a good, ambiguous, open to interpretation ending. Those are the kinds of endings that worm into your skin, that haunt you, that you carry around for days. But for that to work, you have to care about the characters. You have to care about what is at stake. Something has to resonate. And you have to be able, emotionally and intellectually, to enter in to an exchange with the art. Any asshole can make a movie that doesn't make a lot of sense and resolves nothing at the ending. There's no art in that.
Two of my favorite movies are Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Vanilla Sky. They both deal with loosely these same ideas: what is real, what is not, is reality just what we make it. But you care about those characters. You know what is at stake. You are Invited In instead of forced to remain at a distance until the end when some douche-bag director/two-bit magician pulls back the black cloth and expects you to be impressed because he managed not to show you what was behind it all along. Or didn't manage--it was clear the entire time that the whole thing might be a dream.
And, most importantly, both of those movies were fabulously entertaining.
I know a lot of people really liked this movie. Critics gave it many a glowing review. Which forces me to ask: If you saw this thing in the theater, DID Leo actually come out at the end and . . . you know?
Cause that's the only explanation I can imagine.
I am Vesuvius and this was a blog about a movie. OR WAS IT?!?!?!?!?
**Credit for the deep tissue/lady bits joke to Mr.V, who of course worded it differently but INCEPTED the idea in my head. Get it?