Inception (Christopher Nolan, 2010)
Nolan is one of those directors who flatters his audiences into thinking they are intelligent — at least in the half of his output which tries to be thinky, rather than the superhero tosh which somehow gets away with have a Gotham City that is so male that Batman and one of the villains are dating the same woman.
Oh, and gotta kill those wives.
With the possible exception of The Prestige (which flattens its source material), it’s been downhill since Following and Memento. (I confess I’ve not seen Insomnia, as I suspect it is not in the same league as Erik Skjoldbjærg’s original.)
Part of me is happy to see Michael Caine in anything, but as with Bill Nighy and Tilda Swinton, sometimes I suffer for their art.
I had seen Inception before — on DVD — and, appropriately, I’d forgotten most of it, aside from the criminal underuse of Ellen Page. So, the big screen rerelease to drum up interest in Tenet seemed like a good reason to see it large. And inevitably, I have to talk about the ending.
So, it’s a caper, a heist, an Ocean’s Eleven with five of them, in which Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) is called on to Perform One Last Mission, this time for Mr Saito (Ken Watanabe), the Japanese owner of some kind of energy company, who has it in for his main rival, although the film doesn’t care why. Their mission: to implant an idea in the head of Robert Fischer (Cillian Murphy), son of the dying patriarch of the company, Maurice Fischer (Pete Postlethwaite). The method: tell him the idea in a dream within a dream within a dream.
Cobb is or was the ace dreamweaver, but his visions keep being interrupted by his dead wife (gotta kill those wives), Mal (Marion Cotillard), a projection of guilt from his subconscious, who I suspect keeps turning up to tell him the term is unconscious, you dingleberry. Cobb is under suspicion for her murder and thus cannot see his adorbs children, who are looked after by his father-in-law Professor Stephen Miles (Caine) even though he lives in Paris. Not only does Miles not seem to care that Cobb might have killed his daughter, he supplies him with a student Ariadne (Page) who presumably knows her mythology about labyrinths.
So, they kidnap Bobby Fischer on a plane and descend into a dream of soggy LA, and then descend into a dream of a hotel, and finally descend into outtakes from On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969), with Tom Hardy as the finest Bond since George Lazenby. They’ve got to be careful not to die in the dreams, as they will descend, for reasons not entirely explained, into a fourth level, where Cobb has already spent fifty years with Mal.
It’s exciting, I guess, but it isn’t really tough to follow, and if we can’t have the film where Ellen Page does lots of stuff, I’d settle for more Hardy and Joseph Gordon-Levitt. There are guns blazing all over the place, with almost as poor aim as Blofeld’s henchmen. There’s some business about needing to be shaken to wake up and you just have to hope their plane wouldn’t hit any turbulence as it cross the Atlantic or Pacific. There are some neat visual effects — a Penrose staircase or two, folding cities and so on.
But they seem to succeed, and Fischer has his idea (although we don’t know and apparently don’t know if he’ll act on it or be able to act on it) and Mr Saito makes the phone call that means Cobb can see his adorbs kids, alongside Michael Caine.
Or does he?
Could we, maybe, just possibly, have a twist? And Cobb is in a dream, of one kind or another? He has his spinning totem, which spins for a suspiciously long time, and —
Well, we’re not sure how long Mal has been dead, but it must be a couple of years, and the adorbs still seem ridiculously young. Shouldn’t Cobb notice this rather than give into the delusion he’s warned us against for the previous two hours. But then he does do the things that he warns Ariadne against, so there’s that.
That problem is, if it is a twist, the film’s reputation as cerebral seems a little misplaced. It’s just bleeding obvious. It’s a Twilight Zone episode with a stupid budget.
Ariadne has made her own totem (and I think others have them), but we don’t get to see her test it, because the film really doesn’t do enough with her. It’s the sort of twist that Philip K. Dick would throw away after a first draft. It suddenly makes me nostalgic for The Thirteenth Floor or Welt am Draht (World on a Wire/World on Wires), which at least added a stylish sense of the uncanny.
It’s just a moment of.
So, they failed.