If you haven’t seen the Chris Nolan film Inception: stop reading this right now, there are spoilers.
There are two movies, that to my mind, really define the “mind fuck” film experience: the first is The Usual Suspects. When Kevin Spacey stops dragging his foot, I was “oh my god!” The second is the Michael Douglas film The Game — what a wonderful deception.
M. Night Shyamalan is kind of notorious for this, especially with The Sixth Sense: who didn’t have their mind blown when Bruce Willis was revealed to be dead? I thought that was where it was going, but no one ever believes me.
So: out of a team of 8 people, five had seen the film Inception by yesterday afternoon, when we met for our team meeting. Unable to discuss the film in the presence of those who hadn’t seen the film, I resolved to catch a screening today. The ridiculous hot weather and early showtime at my neighborhood theater sealed the deal ($6 for a matinee? Awesome!).
Not so much.
Don’t get me wrong: it was a perfectly decent movie, about a crew of guys, led by a guy named Cobb, who break into other people’s dreams and steal their secrets. This process is called extraction. A businessman hires Cobb to do the opposite — an inception, where an idea is planted into someone’s subconsciousness. This is considerably more difficult, and the plan Cobb hits upon is a dream-upon-a-dream-upon-a-dream, which is to say, they break into the mark’s dream, then enter a dream from there, then enter another dream. It’s all very dangerous, and thrillingly set and paced, and in the end, everything is pretty much okay, except for the spinning top.
See, when extractors go to work, they carry “totems” with them so as to distinguish when they’re in reality, and when they’re lost in a dream. Cobb’s totem is a top. In the dream world, it will always spin and never fall. The movie ends with Cobb being readmitted into the United States without arrest, and reuniting with his children. The film’s final shot is of the top, spinning on a table, and goes to black just before it might fall over … or might continue spinning.
One of my coworkers described the ending as one that would be talked about for years and years. Yeah … no. Days and days maybe.
Let me be honest here: this struck me as a failed attempt at a “mind fuck” ending, except it failed. Shyamalan, for example, at least plots his films out knowing what the film’s reveal will be … but Inception’s ending feels like a cheap editing trick. Plotted from the beginning? Edited at the last minute?
There was a lot about the film I did like: although does Nolan need a character in every film named Alfred? Apparently! I particularly enjoyed seeing Cillian Murphy in his role as the billionaire mark — he auditioned for the role of Bruce Wayne in Batman Begins, and he certainly could have pulled it off.
There were some technical issues with the sound (although it could have just been the theater I saw the film at). During a few sequences (notable the assault on the snow mountain compound), I could not hear the dialogue over the score and shooting and snowmobiles. Meanwhile, with the drum themed soundtrack at the beach scene, I though, “Wasn’t this Shutter Island?”
Inception is a perfectly serviceable film. It’s a lot of fun. But Nolan has done far, far better, for example: Batman Begins. There was a mind fuck there, too: Liam Neeson was actually Ra’s Al Ghul (not Ken Watanabe).