September 1, 2011

It's September and you know what that means! Time to disect a movie that came out last year for no apparent reason.

This month it's time to tackle, BWAAHHHHH, Inception.

First off, Inception did spawn this: http://inception.davepedu.com/
Perhaps the greatest tool for everyday conversation ever devised.

Just pull that up and sprinkle it into conversations.

To the Movie!

So Inception is a good movie. It's at least original, has some interesting ideas, does way more than the average blockbuster, but it's not Citizen Kane, hell it's not even The Matrix.

One thing it is is a litmus test. If you meet someone and they tell you that Inception was a "Philosophical" film, run away fast. This person is dumb. And the one thing we know about dumb people, it's that they know nothing about  C O N T R A C E P T I O N. 

I will give credit to the movie for not being a fucking obvious action movie, and for not having any cheesy one-liners, and at least taking a crack at an interesting premise. Most action movies fail on all counts here. What I want to talk about aren't what they did right, but what they did wrong.

1. E X C E P T I O N . . . to the rule.

In the Matrix, the screenwriters needed a way for the action within a virtual world to matter, so they devised the simple rule "the body cannot live without the mind," meaning that if you die in the matrix your mind is somehow destroyed? It makes perfect sense because every time you die in Grand Theft Auto you die in the real world too. It's a way to cheat and give stakes to a situation that would otherwise be consequenceless. We as audiences tend to be very accepting of illogical and poorly introduced rules as long as it makes for a better story.

Now, when Inception begins, you're inside a dream inside a dream inside a dream inside a dream inside a dream and then you flashback to being inside a dream inside a dream that happened months earlier (I did the math, that's an accurate description). And once we learn that this is a dream, and Leo and Joe are discovered, we quickly learn that dieing in the dream world simply wakes you up. So right off, I'm glad they don't take the Matrix route and make you somehow die if you die in a dream.

 I'm a bit unhappy that being shot in the heart actually somehow makes you die in a dream. I mean, you can have a dream that you're guillotined and then live on as a severed head for months. Anything can happen in dreams.

But they stop short of allowing for things like that and establish that pain is real, so torture is possible, and they can imprison you and prevent you from achieving your goals while torturing you, which is probably worse than just putting a bullet through your cerebellum.

I found this to be a pretty good rule. It can allow for clear goals and for stakes. They can capture Juno, torture her spunky ass, and prevent them from completing their mission whilst getting information from her. Leading the gang to go on a mission to kill Juno to end her misery and stop their prying torture, or perhaps to break her out and continue on despite the psychological trauma. Either way, shit can mean something, it's not just anything can happen land with no consequences.

BUT, once they start the big heist at the core of the film, this rule is immediately wiped away and a new less sensical one is established. If you die in this dream, you go to limbo, because of the powerful sedative. Umm wat? Limbo is never very clearly defined, despite earnest attempts such as calling it "raw infinite subconcious." Oh, okay, that clears everything up. So if you die on the big mission, you get sent to a never ending Madonna video.

So basically all this accomplishes is that the main characters spend the movie trying not to die. I've never seen an action film with that goal before. So they squander an interesting opportunity, and commit a cardinal sin of spending time explaining a rule, only to completely change the rule a little later in the film.

Exception Part II

Remember how on Dream Level 1 (DL1), they are in the van and falling to the river? This means that in DL2, in the hotel, they are in zero gravity, thus leading to Joe's dillema of having to create a kick or a fall without using gravity. That's interesting, it's a weird logic puzzle, it creates scenes that are definitely original. It also leads to some of the best action in the movie with zero-g fights, or with tumbling gravity. Great right?

Well, in DL2, the rest of the crew is sleeping, and floating, and in the next dream down, DL3, they are on a snow level...with gravity. Excuse me? If zero g in one level causes zero g down a rung, then why doesn't it keep continuing? This makes no sense.

DL3 should have taken place in zero-g. Maybe underwater or in a space station.

2. Squandered Opportunities

My favorite part of the movie, at least the first time I watched it, was when Juno learns all about the dream world. She's given a tutorial about changing the world, she even folds up a city, moves bridges, creates infinite mirrors, alters gravity, it's all pretty interesting, but then comes with a caveat. If you change a lot of things, the sub-conscious becomes hostile. Suddenly all the extras filling the Escheresque city start trying to grab Juno like aggressive planned parenthood protesters. Anyone with a pulse can see that later in the film, on the big job, Juno will have to manipulate the world, bend physics, create impossible shapes, turn a city on edge, maybe just turn gravity upside down to get them out of a pickle, a million weird things that you've never seen in another action movie are possible, BUT this power is limited by the aggressiveness of the extras afterwards. So you can imagine she has to do just a little too much world manipulation and the extras get so pissy that they almost, but not quite, stop our protagonists.

Then when this happened in the 3rd act, oh wait. It doesn't. Juno never again manipulates the world or does anything cool. In fact, she seems pretty pointless for the rest of the film, except to try to act as a shrink to Leo about his dead wife, because chicks like to talk about chick things, not architecture or physics.

Seriously, this super power with a clear limitation and is set up so well is never again used or mentioned.

What do we get instead?

Quit Screen-peeking!
A fucking Bond level from Goldeneye N64. The snow level, you remember the one, where we interrupt this movie to cut to stock footage of Nazis on skis and lots of guns firing for some reason. What?

Then in the middle of this incredibly generic video game level, Leo goes to Juno and tells her they're low on time, so she needs to create a shortcut for them to get to the middle of the maze very quickly. Now instead of opening up a portal, shifting gravity, or even creating some sort of portal in her vagina and making the whole team crowd through it, no, she just thinks about it and then our crew just skis a different route, which to me seems indistinguishable from their original route. Thanks Juno, glad we brought you along.

3. M I S C O N C E P T I O N 

The ending does not make you think.

Here are 3 similar movies that all beat Inception to the punch by a decade.

The Matrix makes you think, just a little bit, but not at the end. The philosophical idea it throws out there is that perhaps you are living in a simulated world and have no idea. And even so, does it really matter? How do you define real?

I'm not calling The Matrix philosophical, but at least these ideas are expressed in some way.
That looks more like the ground floor to me. 

The Thirteenth Floor offers similar ideas. It's about a computer programmer who works on a simulation of a world in the 30's. A world that seems real and you can go inside of and the virtual people inside it think their world is real. SPOILER: At the end, the main character discovers that the present day world is actually a simulation in a computer from 2030-ish. That ending offers up the idea that our world is simulated and we could wake up from it.

Dark City - SPOILER - offers up the possibility that every single day you wake up, you're actually a new person, or a different person, and that all of your memories are fake. How can you know that you existed before you awoke today? For all we know, the universe could have been created 15 seconds ago and we were all just given detailed memories of everything supposedly leading up to this point.

Yeah, Deus Ex was a great game.
Again, these aren't spectacularly philosophical, but at least I can write a paragraph about it.

What's the philosophical question Inception asks?

Ummm...hey, is Leonardo DiCaprio still dreaming or isn't he? Who gives a shit? Maybe the whole idea of Inception and dream heists is just the figment of Leo's imagination in the real world and this whole world and whole universe is one night's, or maybe one coma's dream.

Okay. Cool man. That's interesting I guess.

People can debate whether or not Leo is dreaming still, but there's two big flaws in the whole debate. Leo has a totem, the dradle thing right? And at the end we don't know if it stops or goes on forever.  The camera cuts away. But Leo and the kids and Austin Powers dad are just over there. In a few minutes, THEY WILL KNOW whether this world is real or not. So even if Leo is deluding himself, he can't ignore the spinning top he just left going five minutes ago still spinning.  Problem number 2 is that we see him use the dradle earlier in the film and it stops spinning. So the question isn't whether the seemingly real world of the film is actually a dream, the question is only if Leo has awoken from the big heist mission and that maybe he's still on the plane and doing the heist. You follow?

You see, the film hints at his world not being real, that he jet-sets around the globe, chased by some faceless corporation that someone compares to the subconcious security forces, and pines away for his dead wife who, if she was right, is actually alive in the real world while his world is a dream. So it's hinting at the idea that if Leo dies in what seems to be the real world, that he will wake up to the ACTUAL real world where his wife is still alive and it turns out she was right. This is the ending that a lot of people wanted. In fact, I wanted this ending because if the movie ends with Mal succeeding in convincing him to wake up, and it turns out she's been Inceptioning his ass in the dreams, so that, just like in a lot of heist/confidence movies, the actual con is done on the audience by not giving us the whole picture. So the con isn't that Leo is breaking up some other multi-national corporation for some reason, but Mal inceptioning Leo's ass to wake up to reality.

Which is better, if the movie is about breaking up an energy company for some reason, or if the movie is really about Mal inceptioning Leo to wake him up to reality and her and the kids?

If you watch this long enough
 you'll find out if you're in a coma. 
So, it seems that it's hinting that this will happen, then leaves us hanging. Except that they fuck this up, because earlier in the film, Leo spins the totem and it falls down, this is in the 2nd act when they are still prepping for the mission. So this, under the broken movie logic as I understand it, means that this world is the real world. And if somehow they make some exception to the totem rule, then it means that whether it stops or keeps spinning at the end doesn't mean anything. So to summarize, at the end, Leo isn't testing if the base world of the movie is real, he's only testing that he's woken up from the big heist in the plane.

See, isn't that kind of retarded? And not at all Philosophical.

The real Inception, the real reverse heist that plants an infectious idea, takes place when millions of people see this movie and then become convinced that it's great.

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