I saw this movie in theaters the opening weekend, and I remember not liking it too much. My specific complaints are a bit hazy to me now, but I think I was annoyed by the arbitrariness of the rules of dream manipulation, where you can go down two, maybe three levels into a dream, but no more. That seems crazy to me – it seems to me that either you shouldn’t be able to get out of the main layer of the dream, or else you should be able to go down infinitely, but I don’t understand how the wide open world of dreaming would have such specific constraints on it.
The reason why my complaints seem fuzzy to me now is that immediately after seeing Inception I got into several long discussions about the movie with other people who had seen it, and my opinion really softened. There’s almost nothing I like more than talking about movies, so a movie I don’t like but which I can talk about a lot will inherit a bit of a glow by proxy, and a lot of those conversations opened up a lot of interesting new interpretations for me. By the end of the weekend, I felt like I had treated it perhaps a bit too literally, and that maybe something deeper was going on that I had overlooked.
When Pop Culture Happy Hour did a podcast about dream sequences a little bit ago it reminded me of Inception and prompted me to give it another viewing. And my original opinion returned: once you strip away the outside theories that bolster what’s actually on the screen, Inception is still not a very compelling movie.
My problem this time is how un-dream like Inception feels, despite the fact that it takes place almost entirely in dreams. One of the points made on the PCCH podcast really applies: dreams don’t operate on a literal logic, they operate on an emotional logic. As soon as the emotion you’re feeling in a dream changes, the reality of the dream changes to match the new emotion. Even if I wanted to be charitable and to grant the semi-ludicrous idea that this guy’s dreams would look exactly like a modern action movie (and look like that seamlessly, without any gaps in forward momentum or intruding unnecessary details, like a random fourth grade teacher), the fact that all of the locations remain static even as the dreamer goes from calm to panicky to dead is insane to me.
There are directors who are capable of nailing the feeling of a dream, but Christopher Nolan isn’t one of them. He doesn’t have the fanciful visual flair for it, and his stories are so complicated that there’s no way he could graft them on top of a background world that was always shifting and still have it make sense. That represents a real problem for the movie, one that overwhelms whatever interesting symbolism he is Trojan Horsing inside the movie.
Winner: The Cat