Now, where was he?
“A movie that you HAVE to see twice also has to be a movie that you WANT to see twice.” — Bilge Ebiri, not taking about INCEPTION, but he could’ve been
“Is [ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA] too long? Yes and no. Yes, in the sense that it takes real concentration to understand Leone’s story construction … [and] keep track of characters and relationships over fifty years. No, in the sense that the movie is compulsively and continuously watchable.” — Roger Ebert, not taking about INCEPTION, but he could’ve been
Yes, INCEPTION is not capable of being absorbed in a single viewing, though lordknows I tried. It hurt that I have a “unified field” theory of Nolan, or at least of his three great films, all of which center on characters who choose vocations that require lying and/or self-destruction — a pattern this movie definitely does not fit. But even apart from that, INCEPTION resists first-viewing comprehension, partly because of the already-well-known layered structure of dreams-within-dreams, but also partly because I think there’s … ahem … a prestige in very last shot, followed by the same sudden cut to black Nolan used upon the very last shots of THE PRESTIGE (“you want to be fooled”) and MEMENTO (“now, where was I”). In those earlier cases, the prestige was the line, but here it’s an image (there’s offscreen chatter that couldn’t be more meaningless). And if I’m right, it turns the entire movie inside out. Like with any interpretation of an incredibly complex movie, I’ll have to give the film another view both to see how it checks out and also whether the film gains in emotional richness (Nolan’s films have always had chilly surfaces concealing existentialist tragedy). Click here if you want to know what it is (I’ve put in a single-sentence post and backdated the post several years so it won’t appear anywhere on this page) and let me just drop some vague clues — the casting of Michael Caine and Marion Cotillard, their relationship, a song cue, the way the dreams are not dream-like, how resistance to inception is made manifest, the weakness in the action scenes, and that very last shot.
But, as Bilge said, you want to see INCEPTION twice as it is so mind-blowing and ambitious and demanding (and mostly getting) of your attention.¹ It’s like a workout for the brain, even if there’s no payoff, as in body exercises where the work doesn’t actually “achieve” anything beyond the effect on the body/brain. It’s clearly flawed in some ways — there enough exposition that I wanted Basil onscreen, and even though it would be justified by what I’m guessing, it’s still tedious; I’m still unclear why we got the plant of a golden bishop and no payoff (cf. Chekhov’s gun); and let’s just say I was groaning whenever I saw snow, a “level” that is neither choreographed well nor as sheer-made-of-awesome as either the rainy day or the hotel. And I also fear that if my take is wrong, what we will have left is sophomoric “what if the world isn’t real man”-drivel
That’s mere caviling, though. No movie with a zero-gravity fight, which provides a logical, rational, non-“suspend-your-disbelief-it’s-scifi” reason for why this is taking place in zero gravity, is not awesome. I left the film with a goofy grin on my face from having so much fun despite not knowing what had just happened — a reaction I can only compare to the first time I saw Fellini’s 8 1/2, a film I also had no idea how to put together, but had no doubt I enjoyed watching the jigsaw pieces fly around. INCEPTION grips you right away with a 15-minute sequence that’s as if Dali and Bunuel had made UN CHIEN ANDALOU as a $200 million action film, with all the bizarre, unmoored continuities. It eventually settles down into the form of a caper film, in which Leo is a dream burglar who gets into a person’s subconsciousness, now being hired by Ken Watanabe to plant an idea in Cillian Murphy for a reason that is so ridiculous and makes no real-world sense it can’t be taken seriously (hmmm).
If I’m right about “what it all means” … well, let’s just say I’ll update this post on subsequent viewings …
¹ And so does the public apparently: I went to see it at a 9pm Monday show (not exactly moviegoing primetime) and I had to sit in the front section of the stadium seating, below the walkway, since the upper section was nearly full. An intern at work saw it at a 10pm Monday show and he said his theater was even more packed than that. I would kill to know what percentage of the film’s business is repeat viewings.