Monday, July 26, 2010

Inception and Film

Perhaps I am about to bite more than I will be able to chew, but I have been absent for quite some time here and there is no better way to strip away my writing rust than a film that we knew was going to be special. But none of us knew it was going to be this special. As the pompous title of this post suggests, the film in question is none other than Sir Dark Knight Christopher Nolan's latest addition to a filmography that is fast turning into a proper cinematic canon, Inception.

As DubMc's excellent review attests, it is a fantastic film - one that will shine among few when we look back on 2010. In fact, it may well be the only shining light from 2010. I am not going to go into another review for fear of repeating what DubMc has already so eloquently said. So, if you are looking for a review, look elsewhere.

Inception has been likened to a certain science fiction hit that I am not particularly fond of. Let's just say it rhymes with Shitrix. I can see and completely agree with the parallels and, paradoxically, tangents that are drawn between the two. No argument there. In fact I wanted to write a comparison piece, but I couldn't bring myself to watch The Lametrix once again. Both films share so much in common that it is inevitable to connect the two while I was watching Inception. However, another question kept popping in my head (and I'm sure I'm not the only one): isn't Inception a great meta-narrative of film in general?

What? Exactly.

Inception plays on the concept that anybody's idea may be planted in someone's subconscious as an original one. In other words, the "thinker" thinks that the idea has just been generated without any outside influence or intervention in his/her own mind. When we come up with something, we usually discard (unconsciously) what generated that idea in the first place - do we create something out of nothing, or do we consult an infinite amount of data that we have collected from our experiences up to that point? Or, let's just simplify it even further: is there an original idea in the first place?

I'm not sure I'm equipped (mentally or "experientially") to delve too deep into an argument that I know will be hard to back up, but let me elaborate it further by referencing my humble argument with why each person likes particular films more than others.

There is a scene in Inception that defines cinema in a very succinct and clever way: Leonardo DiCaprio's Cobb (short for Jacob, who's seeking the ladder to heaven) and Ellen Page's Ariadne ("Mistress of Labyrinths") are sitting in a cafe, where Cobb is explaining the young architect of the mazes how we only remember the middle and the "end" of dreams. Nobody remembers how they got to a weird place in their dreams until they realize that they are in a weird place. Isn't cinema very similar?

We never really question characters when they appear at a particular location. Did anybody question how Cobb and Ariadne got to the cafe? Did any one of us ask: how come they are continuing their conversation from where we left of in the previous scene, in a location that is spatially and temporally different? Did they take a cab? Did they walk? In whichever way they traveled the distance, did they just keep quiet during the journey?

We are so used to filmic narratives jumping from one location to the next that we forget to question the logic. We have seen it before and we are used to that notion.

When Cobb finally reveals to Ariadne (and to us) that because she doesn't remember how they got to the cafe, she must be in a dream, the meta-narrative quickly kicks into gear. Do you see where I am going with this? Inception is as much about the "true nature" of dreams as it is about cinema in general. Just like the Extractors in the film plant an idea in someone's head, films plant a narrative in the audience's head and we take it as is.

We only perceive films as "dreams" or "creations" once the "logic" begins to fail. In the film, Cobb explains to Ariadne that once the subconscious figures out that something is not right, it will attack the foreign body (the anomaly) like white blood cells. Once this attack is initiated, the person wakes up from the dream state.

So ... when we watch a film and see some anomalies (narrative logic doesn't make sense; there is bad acting; events fail to stimulate our senses, etc.) we begin to 'question' the film. The magic hold of the film is broken and we become aware of its "inception": we are aware of our act of watching a film.

My argument (if there is really a coherent one here) is that once you are aware that you are in fact watching a film, then your enjoyment of the said film is nullified. You are no longer lost in a "dream", where you sense everything, you are emotionally attached to it ... the film is no longer your reality. When an anomaly appears, your perception of it changes and you look at it from a different perspective.

I may be reading too much into it - isn't watching films just a "fun" thing to do? Perhaps. But, I seriously think there is a logic behind a "good" film. It is a subjective issue, where my "good" film may not be your "good" film. But this can also be backed up by my argument: my definition of an anomaly is different than yours. When my anomalies appear in my "dream state" / film, I become aware of its "fakery" and I want to distance myself from it and go back to my "reality". Same happens when your anomalies appear in your "dream state" / film.

Inception had a few anomalies, but my "white blood cells" did not deem them to be too life-threatening to attack them. So, the film itself (the idea) was pure enough for me to enjoy it as an "original" experience.

What? I'm confused too ...

1 comment:

mongoose29 said...

I was heavily reminded of Citizen Kane, actually.

And I agree on The Matrix. I enjoy it as an action flick, but all that other crap people attach to it? Mehhhhhh...


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