Wednesday, 18 August 2010

I'm gonna spoil Inception for you.

OK, readers, I'm about to spoil a movie for you.  Not spoil like, "give away the ending" but spoil like "once you realize this, you can't look at the movie the same way again" spoil -- not in the "HE's Keyser Soze" way, but in the "How did Fezzik find out Count Rugen was the six-fingered man?  He didn't talk to Wesley after Wesley was captured" way.

In the same way that the best criticism I heard of Harry Potter came out of left field and surprised me with the perceptiveness of the comment, Wifeoseyo just pulled a tiny thread and made the movie Inception unravel for me.

See, I met this lady who didn't let her kids read Harry Potter... but not because Harry Potter was the devil recruiting her kids to witchcraft, but because Harry was a bad role model: one of the overarching themes of the books (especially the early ones) was "Kids usually know better than adults, and adults are not to be trusted, and rules made by adults are to be circumvented or ignored whenever it seems best to kids to do so."  Think about how often Harry doesn't tell Dumbledore about something that he should have, given that Dumbledore was above reproach and always did right by Harry, given that Harry always trusted him when he thought explicitly about him, and how Dumbledore always proved trustworthy.  Yet Harry lied or concealed all kinds of stuff from Dumbledore, McGonagall, and all the other teachers.  This mom didn't like the spirit of disrespect, mistrust, and disobedience for adults embedded in the books. And she was right.  And that message was subtler, and therefore harder to de-program, if kids picked it up.

I was totally unprepared for her critique, but she was bang on, and as the series continued, Harry started concealing or lying to his friends as well, to the point that by the seventh book, he was one of the most unlikeable heroes I've read in a book.  Say what you want, but the heroes of the Narnia books, and especially Lyra and Will in the "His Dark Materials" trilogy by Philip Pullman, are miles more likable than our man HP.

So what about Inception?

Well, yeah, the story was subtle and cool.  The effects were great.  The levels and the themes were nifty and I'm sure I could watch it three more times and get more from it each time.  DiCaprio remains my favorite actor of his generation (that's the post-Johnny Depp generation, as Depp is in a class of his own), and I still think that in thirty years, Depp/DiCaprio will be the Pacino/DeNiro of our generation, unless Robert Downey Jr. has a run of brilliance like Tom Hanks had in the '90s.  Then somebody will come along and say, "Streep" and everybody will go, "Oh yeah.  She owns them all.  Plus, we're sexist."

But here's the thing that undid Inception for me, and that won't get out of my head now that I realized it.  And now I'm going to wreck it for you, too:

Wifeoseyo commented, offhand, that she really got annoyed by all the gunplay in the movie.  This is surprisingly similar to something my mother would say: she'd tune out and usually fall asleep, at the first gunfight, no matter how good the movie was.  (And then snore during the most crucial scene, to the exasperation/delight of everyone in the family.)

But then I thought more about it, and realized...

Holy crap, Inception presented one of the biggest lost opportunities in a movie, like, ever.

See, we're in a dream world.  a dream world and the most imaginative protection one's subconscious can come up with is people with guns?  In a freaking dream world?  Come-freaking-ON!

Christopher Nolan sets his movie -- makes the whole point of his movie that it happens in the subconscious -- and then the best he can come up with is people with guns?

Where's my Matrix-anti-gravity moon-boot action?  It's a dream after all, isn't it?  Why would I bring a gun into someone's dream world, when instead I could turn my arms into giant steel octopus arms, or grow myself fifty feet tall and get my stomp on, or spray psychic mind-beams all over the landscape?  Why wasn't a single one of the five dream layers defended by giant robot ninja hedgehogs with rocket-claws and laser eyes and invisibility power?  At the very least, why weren't the dark corners of these dream cities and hotels hiding ghouls and bogeymen and spiders and kidnappers and whatever else lurked in the dreamers' nightmares?

The more I think about it, the more disappointing the gunplay becomes, and the more cheated I feel.  Christopher Nolan set an entire movie in dreamland, and there wasn't a single shapeshifting bearshark with robot intelligence that spit acid saliva.  He gave himself a total blank slate: a dream world with a virtually unlimited hollywood budget... and then filled it with the most conventional element in the world.  That's like your friend buying a Ferrari and then only using it to drive to church, or owning the world's greatest home entertainment system, but only having "The Notebook" in your DVD collection.

For the record, Inception is not the only movie I believe was made into a huge letdown by an over-reliance on gunplay: Mr. and Mrs. Smith, with Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, was another movie where the gunplay copout left me cold.  The whole point of the movie was two super-smart, super-spies who are married... and instead of extricating themselves from their spy agencies through some super-smart, stealthy piece of intrigue that gives them a watertight out... they shoot a bunch of people in a warehouse?  I was totally disappointed.

That's all for now.  Leave requests for other movies I can spoil in the comments.


sarin said...

They made it a point to say that the more that outsiders "mess" with the dream, the faster the host's subconscious catches on and becomes defensive. The point of everything they were doing was to be subtle. It was always about deceiving the dreamer into believing they were still in reality. As for why this doesn't break down when they become aware, maybe they still have to work within the architect's constructs (it's not entirely their dream). This leaves limbo. Everything could break down here, but we know that Cobb and Mal were making it to be their perfect image of the real world. Why they wouldn't go for some fantastical things, we don't know, but I'm pretty sure we know why you wouldn't want a bunch of disturbing shit there. The fact that there was still control in limbo suggests that it is not as far gone as you can be, but they didn't address this at all, so who knows. There are a few other things that bother me more (convenience of Saito's death to give them a reason to go to Limbo, and Adriadne letting Cobb - so Mal - know of the existence of the ducts needlessly), but overall I'm still happy with it. Nolan tried something pretty unique, and you have to applaud him for that. I don't want to see this get sequel'd into absurdity, but I think it would be great to see more of the universe where this device exists.

Roboseyo said...

You know what, Sarin.. maybe within the logic of the movie, that whole explanation makes sense... but Chris Nolan and his brother wrote this movie scenario, meaning they WROTE those rules, and didn't have to write them in such a way that they got the most boring action scenes possible for a movie about dream worlds. I'm not letting them off the hook for justifying it within the logic of the movie, because they could structured that logic differently, and given me something I'd never, ever, ever seen before. But instead I got a action scenes that were already tired with "Under Siege 2". While everything you said is probably correct, the movie remains a lost opportunity.

This Is Me Posting said...

What? That's your argument?

That's retarded. You had me up to the Potter argument, then you made zero sense.

1) As sarin mentioned, it's supposed to feel real. Those were the rules they set up for themselves and you have the right to dislike those rules, but you can't knock them for NOT following their own rules they set up for themselves.

2) The WHOLE POINT of the movie is for you to question the reality of it at the end. Not much questioning involved if in all the other realities you've got "giant steel octopus arms."

3) Calling the Zero G fight scene one of "the most boring action scenes possible" might mean that action movies aren't really your speed.

4) Budget.

5) If you read almost any Christopher Nolan interview, or watched almost any of his movies, or listened to almost any of his commentaries, you would know that something that's incredibly important to him is that he employs as little CGI as possible. He's constantly trying to find new "real world" ways to film the impossible. The city folding on itself? CGI. The Zero G fight? He built an entire hallway and ROTATED IT to film that effect.

6) Sounds like the movie you were hoping for was an action packed, theatrical style Tim Burton or Sam Raimi production? In that case, I would suggest Burton's Big Fish or Planet of the Apes (for higher action) and any Army of Darkness movie from Raimi.

Roboseyo said...

1. but who wrote the rules? they did. couldn't have they written in the possibility of robot pirate ninjas - or at least SOMETHING fantastical? Even if only one's own subconscious can generate it, which would make the dream worlds more freaky: the intruders have to fit in, but the host can have flying ninja zombies if they want, because it's THEIR dream!

2. ok. you've got me there... but there can be parts of a dream that seem real, while others are still fantastical and kick ass. I have some dreams that involve childhood toys that can change size at will, and others so mundane they look like real life.

3. I never called the zero gravity hallway fight one of the most boring scenes possible. I called ALL the gunfighting on EVERY level lame and repetitive and old hat. The hallway zero-gravity thing, and the scenes where Leo and Ellen Page were exploring the possibilities of inhabiting a dream world, were the two parts where the movie was as cool as it could have been.

4. Budget? Seriously? The guy who made The Dark Knight, aka One Of The Most Profitable Movies Ever, is going to have his producer go, "Nah. We don't trust you to pull it off. Better go with plan B." In a CG world, nothing is impossible. (cf: Avatar, aka the maker of ANOTHER of the Most Profitable Movies Ever, who didn't allow a single shackle on his imagination in the entire movie: not as good a storyteller as Nolan, but sure good at "wow")

5. As little CG as possible? OK, that's cool. I respect that as much as I respect artists who refuse to use autotune in the studio (Neko Case is one of the very very few). But it doesn't explain why he didn't choose to have, say, dazzlingly choreographed hand combat that slightly, and sometimes majorly bends the laws of physics, with faceless assassins (which is hella fun to watch) instead of yet another movie full of running boots, big bangs, and explosions. At least Matrix has only done "bending physics awesome combat" once before (in hollywood), while gunfights have been done in Every Action Movie Ever. Asian martial arts films bend physics to create awesome combat a lot, almost always without CG... and they're AWESOME.

6. No, I don't want planet of the apes: I want Christopher Nolan to bend my perception of reality more, and more creatively, than with another bunch of lame "been there done that" gunfights. Bend MORE walls. Show me how folding a street upon itself can be used to evade a subconscious assassin. Give me a chase scene in narrow streets where both sides are bending the streets and changing the layout of the town, time, again and again, to try and stump the opponent. Nolan wrote the rules of his universe, so HE wrote the rule that things have to seem as real as possible, so HE chose to rely on lame gunfights. He could have loosened that rule up a bit to allow for the possibility of WAY cooler action, and I'm disappointed that he didn't.

6.1: Army of Darkness. Heh Heh. That movie rocked.

palladin said...

Well the creators of the movie wrote in the rules about the subconscious. And they make sense if you step back. The protagonists are trying to screw with a guys head but not have him know their doing it. This involves keeping ~him~ and his subconscious believing that things are real. If at any point he starts to believe otherwise then he'll either wake up, or the dream world radically changes and you ~do~ get those zombie ninja porcupines chasing and killing off the protagonists. And even if the protagonists get away, if the subconscious is aware enough that it is a fake then it'll just kill you by imploding the space around you, end of story and no way to run out (not a very good movie then).

Even in insanely wrong nightmares, your mind still believes their real until you wake up. So it was very important to keep the aspect of reality a key point of the movie. Were you dreaming then, or are you dreaming now? Its a mind f*ck movie that happens to have action in it.

With that being said, there is a logic loophole involved. In the deeper levels of the movie things like teleportation should be possible. You wouldn't be running around but rather moving instantly between two points because there ~is~ no space to move between. Of course the subconscious can do this as well. And in that city where Mal was hiding, absolutely anything should be possible because your so far in that it would no longer matter. Basically reality should of been a lessor concern the deeper in you go.

Anonymous said...

I see your point about the gunplay - would've been nice to have more interesting combat.

Coming back to Harry Potter, I really agree there.

You may be interested in the book, Nurture Shock. They mention in it that certain children's TV shows that are full of moral lessons (like, Arthur) actually encourage bad behaviour.

This is because these shows are written with a story structure that is made from an adult perspective: things are going well, a problem comes along, problems and conflicts escalate to a climax, then there's a short and sweet resolution (a happy ending).

Adults see this as good - good/moral correctness triumphs in the end. The problem is that this doesn't register with young children. What they see is 90%(-ish) of the time, bad things happen and the heroes do bad things: lying, cheating, fighting, arguing, etc. So, they learn that these things are ok... that's the way to solve problems (by lying, fighting, etc.).

As far as this relates to Harry Potter, I think you (and your friend) are right to a certain
extent. Younger children will learn from his actions just as a result of the frequency of his deceptions. Older children, tweens and teens, will begin to see grey areas... and also to understand that it's just a story. This process of exploring grey areas is part of adolescence.

Jin said...

Roboseyo, I agree with many of your points. All the gunplay in the movie left me feeling cold. My problem with the film is that it makes the world of dreams too rational when all of us have had dreams that don't make any sense at all. Dreams are more like a David Lynch than Inception.

The Korean said...

Robo, don't listen to the haters. That was a brilliant point, and I look forward to more spoilers of this kind.

Chris in South Korea said...

Whatever you do, don't spoil Star Trek or Star Wars :)

Seriously, though, the Harry Potter argument makes a lot of sense. On the other hand, we see a kid thinking for himself, doing what he thinks is right, involving friends, saving friends, and discovering more than most twice his age will ever learn.

I'll take that kid over one of the drones mindlessly memorizing Latin spells anyday.

chiam said...

What you said about Harry Potter is something I very much agree with. Kids not respecting adults is a very big part of children's programming/marketing/etc.

Harry Potter kills a bunch of people with volence, totally cool. PG is fine.

Harry knecks with a girl behind the bleachers after one of those flying broom games (I'm not much of a HP fan), maybe sticks his hand up her shirt? Better make this flick NC17.

Check out "This Film Is Not Yet Rated" It's about this dude who tracks down the people who give movies in America their ratings. It's really quite an interesting watch.

likelite said...

I really think those Potter books were written for adults. Seriously - there's a whole lot in there about politics etc. that I think would sail right over the head of your average 12-year-old. But it's a tall order in today's world to sell fantasy novels to an adult audience, and rake in big bucks.

Otherwise, love the blog. Am somewhat addicted, in fact. And hey, any Neko Case fan is a friend of mine.

Jean in Nashville, TN (USA)

Eat Your Kimchi said...

Sorry, but I had to share this as well:

Inception ruined in three panels -

Michelle said...

Good post....I must say it had me thinking now as well.....and slightly disappointed with the acceptance of just "guns" It could have been spiced up a little more...hahaha.

Calvin said...

But if you have giant steel octopus arms, the projections will start attacking you.

Roboseyo said...

That's true, but as I said before, Calvin: Christopher Nolan decided those were the rules of his fictional universe. HE decided that projections behaved that way - it's not like projections are scientifically factual phenomena, so he could have decided that projections turned into ninja shark-bears, or to be less ridiculous, that they could climb walls, turn alleys into dead-ends, and were super awesome at handling all kinds of cool, badass combat weapons that would have made more fun and interesting action scenes than just another boring car chase/shootout, like we've seen in every other movie.

I wanted to see more of that reality-bending stuff - streets turning into cliffs, corners turning into straightways, and action like the zero gravity hallway fight, and setting a whole action movie in a dream, but filling it with boring gunfights DOES count as a lost opportunity, and in my opinion, a lack of creativity, or at least resorting to a standby instead of trying to bring something new to the table.

Calvin said...

Point taken. However, as you discussed with This Is Me Posting, the point of the movie was to make you question reality. The question of "what is real" is at climax when Mal asks Cobb, "do you think this is real, with all these secret invisible government chasing you?"(or something like that). If Nolan differentiated the dreams from the supposed reality by applying bendable walls, the audiences will never question the reality of the supposed-reality(now THAT would be a missed opportunity). Therefore, I think the lack of supernatural effects are deliberate, and properly executed.

On a sort-of-related subject, I thought this movie was almost exactly same as The Matrix (action movie with a central theme of dealing with identity crisis upon a realistic alternate reality), this time with the main characters playing both the Sentinels and humans. Maybe you were looking for a scene similar to when Tank hacked the environment on the fly in order to assist Neo escape the Agents. Come to think of it, yes, this does happen when Arthur kills a projection via exploiting a paradox. Come on, wasn't that cool enough? Do you really want octopus arms?