To Inception and Beyond

Posted on August 10, 2010


A few weeks ago Philip French wrote in the Observer that (re)viewing Inception and Toy Story 3 in the same week reminded him that it was good to be alive. How true.

Imagine my pleasure earlier this summer at seeing both films on the same day. A jaw-unhinging IMAX viewing of Inception was followed some hours later by Toy Story 3(D). I left Buzz and Woody behind, probably for good this time, and thought what a great day to be alive, to not have missed this. For an hour or two after Inception I had felt embarrassed at being so giddy and took the afternoon to process my reaction to the film. Sitting down to Toy Story feeling nothing but admiration for Inception, I put Nolan momentarily aside to concentrate on Pixar’s latest.

Afterwards, embarrassed at feeling such gratitude for existence from such silly sources as a cartoon and a heist movie, I remembered a similar red letter day in 2000, the day we saw Memento and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, one after the other in the Ambassador.


I was grateful to be alive that day as well, but did not realize that a complicated relationship had just been struck between myself and Christopher Nolan. Myself and Ang Lee visit on occasion but it’s just not the same anymore, I suppose we’ll always have our Heath.

I currently own the Following on VHS, Memento, Batman Begins, The Prestige, and The Dark Knight on DVD, and, The Making of Memento in paperback (all paid for in full). At work, describing Inception to colleagues, my first line is invariably, “It’s a Christopher Nolan film,” inevitably followed by, “You know…The Dark Knight, Memento, The Prestige.”

The response is overwhelmingly, “Oh yeah, the Joker!”, but colleagues have nevertheless picked up on my rare over-enthusiasm and paid to see Inception. Not so much with Toy Story though, Inception versus Preconception maybe?

Most people I know have loved Inception, but many have enjoyed it with one eye on the reviews. How else do you explain, “Yeah, it’s really good but it’s kinda cold, there’s not much emotion in it.” This is an opinion that has appeared in many North American reviews of Inception and reveals a worrying trend whereby people who read reviews in order to decide on whether or not to see a film then look for the negative criticisms while actually viewing it.

Whether or not they are present, these faults are then regurgitated to friends, colleagues, casual acquaintances on public transport, and passed off as original thought. This behaviour might be explained as a petulant response to the ‘clever director’, how dare he fool us yet again.

In the case of Inception however, such criticism ignores DiCaprio’s superb densely layered work, the onscreen time devoted to the rhythm of his relationship with Marion Cotillard, the purgatory he may or may not have inflicted upon himself, the pain of children in limbo, and the genuine hope at the end, especially on first viewing, that whether or not all of this is true, please God let him at least be happy where he is. For impartial, unbiased treatment of another ‘clever director’ read the reviews for M. Night Shyamalan’s viciously bullied, Lady In The Water.

How can a cold, emotionless fish such as Nolan deliver such complex and honest scenes as the conclusions to Inception, Christian Bale’s prison farewell to his daughter in The Prestige, Sammy Jankis’ story in Memento, the destruction of Harvey Dent in The Dark Knight, and the constant references throughout his films of the ordinary man’s struggle to keep his family safe?

Firstly, by relying on supporting characters to colour the background behind the main character’s often monochrome intensity (Michael Caine in The Prestige, Gary Oldman’s Commissioner Gordon in the Batman movies, the leading women in the Prestige, Maggie Gylenhal in The Dark Knight), and, secondly, trusting that emotion is truly created within the viewer rather than painted onscreen with broadstrokes. This requires trust in your audience, and both concentration and maturity on our part.

We share these times with many forms of genius but the modern necessity to categorize, label, own and control, leads to lazy conclusions and easy comparisons, for example, the ‘modern day Hitchcock’ that has often been applied to Nolan.

These comparisons are dangerous because they also represent an easily accessible wellspring of flaws, criticisms and long held notions that are stubborn to re-examination. Hitchcock was a master of suspense but cold and emotionless, Nolan is already a master of suspense, ergo he is cold and emotionless, as is Inception. QED.

Is it not more fun to sit back and be dazzled, baffled, amazed and confused? Can we admire the craft in telling a tale and concluding it honestly, observe a talent as it develops, enjoy its successes knowing we will have to one day tolerate those failures that must inevitably arrive, because if someone makes something that is near perfect, that we ourselves simply cannot do, that we can barely comprehend, well then, rather than trawl for the ‘yeah buts‘ or the ‘I knew that would happens’ in order to sound smart, shouldn’t we simply take a leaf from Mr. French’s book and say, “isn’t it great to be alive”, close the laptop and daydream out the window to infinity and beyond?

Posted in: Film