Critics are calling “Inception” an “elegantly cerebral” film “that succeeds viscerally as well as intellectually.” This is all nonsense. It has a hip and original concept, but lacks many things good movies must have. Here are some of them.
“Inception” is 148 minutes long because it needs time to develop the concepts of extraction (dream-invasion) and inception (planting an idea in somebody’s mind). To this goal, “Inception” works. The characters pay the price, however.
True, Leonardo DiCaprio’s character’s psyche is fully explored, but every other character is a 2-D archetype that exists only as a tool of the plot. We are simply told that Gordon-Levitt’s character is impressive, if not overly rational, and thus interpret his actions as such. With good writing we would interpret him as logical and pragmatic from his actions alone.
Ellen Page’s character is introduced as a viable protégé of extraction because, well, Michael Caine says so. Her actions are so subservient to the plot that she blossoms into little more than the concerned female archetype. I could go on. Stock characters are difficult to care about no matter how dramatic the plot is.
One particular scene bothered me. In it, DiCaprio’s character explains to his children via telephone why he cannot come home and consequently the audience learns of the family’s dynamic. This scene does not advance the plot, but rather stalls it to provide context. Instead of integrating context into a naturally flowing dialogue, Nolan resorts to the kids either forgetting or misunderstanding the situation and needing a repeated explanation.
It is typical for Nolan to contrive exclusively information driven scenes. For example, in “Memento” the protagonist explains his anterograde amnesia to an employee of his complex only to learn that the employee already knew and was just screwing around. Strange that so many of Nolan’s characters happen to want re-explanations of integral information.
But what most keeps “Inception” from goodness is the shallowness behind its ostensible depth. Beneath its complex weave of dream and torment, what is this movie about? All I can discern is something vague about the power of CEOs and the Cartesian problem of whether we are living in true reality or just dreaming.
Nobody needs a long, confusing thriller to raise these issues, especially when the film neither makes any lasting comment on them, nor makes them relevant to our time. The end is clever, but not thought-provoking; the film gives us no reason to believe that we too wrestle with similar problems.
“Inception” is fun and mind-bending. Nothing more.
William McAuliffe is a freshman majoring in philosophy. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.