Christopher Nolan’s latest film might just be a modern-day Trojan horse wheeled into walled cities everywhere, poised for unsuspecting audiences to try to figure out what to do with it. But the closer we get to finding the hidden seam, to prying open the slick and glossy veneer of yet another sci-fi thriller with a bloated, nonsensical script, the further we get from a meaningful two-hour and twenty-eight minute cinematic experience. There, I said it. I might be an army of one but nonetheless there are issues with Mr. Nolan’s opus that are glaringly absent from discussion. Maybe it is the whole dream within a dream within a dream theory or all the slow motion sequences that repeat ad infinitum that have people spinning themselves in tiny circles. Sure, Inception is original if it is anything, and as of this writing has far exceeded its $160 million dollar budget, but it feels more like a story tucked so far inside itself as to be nearly incomprehensible as such. But as far as many critics are concerned, multiple viewings are not only advisable but necessary, and in Hollywood land that equates to the Elysian Fields of Box Offices. Is Inception simply a $100 million dollar, marketing campaign-fueled summer blockbuster or the tangled vision of an auteur that is too smart for its own good? Sadly, both I say.
It is apparent from the first ten minutes into Inception that plot supplants character and just about everything that isn’t delivered with eye-popping, high-dollar special effects was left on the cutting room floor. Inception plays like a film that started out on a cocktail napkin, a big budget concept propped up by a purposely convoluted story with matchstick characters to keep it from falling over. Story has it that Nolan spent ten years writing and rewriting the script, changing, rearranging, and finally getting the green light from Warner Bros. and it shows. Part patchwork quilt, part indefinable odyssey, the only thing for sure about Inception is that it has people guessing, trying to unravel the knots of a rope that might better be left dangling from the ceiling of some long forgotten gymnasium. When did ambition become reason enough measure for the success or failure of a film? If it weren’t for cardboard caricatures choking their way through emotionless dialog and a story saturated with so much exposition that it’s impossible to forget you’re watching a movie, there might be something to the idea of dream thieves. But thinking doesn’t make it so and just when you have an idea of what is going on – curiouser and curiouser, cried the hapless audience – any hope of being left to your own devices is dashed by dead-pan, listless explanation. The dead are funnier, more emotionally rounded, and a far cry more interesting; at least the dead know enough to lay down when their heads explode.
Despite popular opinion, Christopher Nolan didn’t invent the summer blockbuster any more than he was the first person to try peanut butter and chocolate in the same bite. All the pieces are there, big named stars and gun fire, ridiculous and unbelievable plot points, seemingly random locations that don’t just bump into one another but get lost like children in a field too enamored with the cornstalks to answer when mommy calls. Yet in all the ridiculousness and plot heavy speeches that really do go on far too long to be interesting, people have paid their money and sat down for what amounts to three hours with all the ads for television shows nobody watches. In this day and age of cinema, one thing is certain; once you’ve collected the keys to the kingdom of Hollywood you are essentially granted a pass to write whatever muddled script you want and like a giant horse on wheels with a sinister agenda, people are going to take it in and regret the price of admission.
I also wrote a review of Inception Blu-ray for Warner Bros. here.