Friday, July 23, 2010


Inception is the new high-water mark in movies. For reference, that last one that gob-smacked audiences like this was The Matrix (1999).*

Inception has some similarities to The Matrix and What Dreams May Come, but that's like saying Star Wars has similarities to The Hidden Fortress and the Buck Rogers serials. Yeah, seeds of ideas and some of the film vocabulary are borrowed from these predecessors. Which would you rather see, though?

I've read reviews (at least Ebert and Travers) that mention how hard the plot is to follow. Myself, I found it was delineated very clearly, to the extent that I could actually devote some thought to whether or not Christopher Nolan (author and director) ever "cheated," meaning used the plot device to confuse and trick us so he could move forward with the story when he'd painted himself into a corner, or purposely fool us into thinking something was a dream state when it wasn't and vice versa.

The whole movie would fall down like a sandcastle hit by the tide if he ever cheated, so I'm thrilled to report he never does. (Another movie that never cheats on its premise, and is the better for it, is 50 First Dates.)

The plot device? Well, the military invented a means to invade people's dreams and extract information from them, which is now used for corporate espionage. Experienced dream spies can even create dreams within dreams, which has the benefit of allowing another level of subterfuge where the spy can spin the target so completely that they can't tell whom to trust. Also, time moves much faster the further down you go, meaning 5 minutes of real time equates to an hour of dream time, but dream-within-a-dream time equates to one week for every hour of dream time. Believe it or not, the movie does a great job of making this crystal clear so you don't have to risk an embolism to keep track of it all.

Like all great sci-fi (or other genre) flicks, the core of the story is a love story. Several, actually.

Oh, and it provides the answer to the question, "What the hell ever happened to Tom Berenger?"

I've all but stopped buying DVDs, having long ago collected the ones I'm likely to watch again, and this movie is one of the few I can't wait to own so I can watch it over and over again to pick up things that slipped by in previous viewings.

Inception is not to be missed. It's worth the cost and bother of a babysitter. Fandango probably has your local showtimes.

Go now.


Really really.

*I almost pulled an "I'm Listing" post as a result of researching a few "best films" lists to confirm my claim, but decided to spare you. My sources were Ebert,, and the AFI lists (requires setting up an account). Here are the other arguable high-water marks since The Matrix, in chronological order, most recent first:

- Avatar (2009)
- Gran Torino (2008)
- A Prairie Home Companion (2006)
- Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
- The Lord of the Rings (2001 - 2003)
- Fight Club (1999)
- The Sixth Sense (1999)
- American Beauty (1999)

Yeah, there are probably other films that you would put on this list, and by following the links to my sources, you'll find some to quibble about. That's what the comments are for! I'd love to hear from ya.

I purposely left animated films off, which is ironic for me as they have always been my favorite, the most near and dear to my heart. I feel they really are a league of their own and should be considered separately. Had I not been born at the right time, I would most certainly have moved to California and tried to break into the industry as an animator. Throughout my childhood I poured over any and all animation stuff I could get my hands on (alongside watching any I could find, save for the sucky Saturday morning TV animation). I would even bike to the library which had 16mm prints of animation; I still marvel that the librarians were so patient and sweet with this little kid who would show up and watch these in the viewing room all by himself. I took and deeply enjoyed what was essentially a graduate-level class on all things animation in college. For all practical purposes, I am an amateur animation historian.

Here's a glimpse into what was going on in the animation world around the time I was in college (early 80s), and thereafter:

- Wizards (1977)
- The Rescuers (1977)
- Watership Down (1978)
- The Fox and the Hound (1981)
- The Secret of NIMH (1982)
- The Black Cauldron (1985)
- The Great Mouse Detective (1986)
- Oliver & Company (1988)
- Akira (1988)
- The Little Mermaid (1989)

Note this is when the animation universe simply tanked, a near total wasteland from '77 to '88 (with the possible exception of "NIMH"). It wasn't until the 90s that animation came back into its own with The Little Mermaid, released at the end of 1989. Nearly a whole decade and a half without a good animation industry. It still saddens me.

TV was worse. This was when Ronny Raygun deregulated things so that all TV cartoons immediately slithered into the slums of glorified commercials for toys. "He-Man and the Masters of the Universe" was the leading show of the time. Even the classics were being re-edited and slaughtered because someone thought that seeing Wile E. Coyote smashing into the canyon floor and kicking up a mushroom cloud of dust was somehow traumatizing rather than freakin' hilarious. This idiocy was wonderfully parodied by "The Simpsons."

But, I'm a big believer in "Unanswered Prayers," as the Garth Brooks song goes. While I might have had the joy of being involved in the creation a few of the greats in animation, I think the path I did take has ended up where I should be. I think my soul would have died had I been part of the movie industry.

And as Jesus said: "What do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul?" - Mark 8:36-37


Anonymous said...

Dude, take a deep breath, count to ten, consider things more calmly. Inception was good, but not that good. The plot, for example, hinges on a point that is laugh-out-loud stupid if you think about it.

The whole point of the big dream-sequence that takes up the second half of the film is to break up a huge energy company. And the main characters decide that the easiest way to do that is to pull together a crack team of dream manipulators, buy an airline, invent a new drug, and risk everyone's lives and sanity, right? Since the guy behind all this is an incredibly rich and powerful businessman himself, powerful enough to manipulate our Justice Department with one phone call, why didn't he just have our gov't drop an anti-trust judgement on the company? Our have the WTO hamstring that company with an unfair trade judgement and a bunch of tariffs against it in various countries? Or forge a different will for the old guy? Many ways to skin that particular cat, they seem to have chosen the most convoluted and difficult and most likely to fail, simply because it enables the characters to have an adventure.

Also, I counted four (four!) layers of dreams going on there, another point that made me shake my head and look at my watch in the theater. The idea of manipulating people's dreams is potentially interesting, but once they talked about a dream-within-a-dream I knew it was going to get ridiculous, like razors nowadays that have five blades. Once you've gone past one there's no logical stopping point.

I'll admit that the zero-g effects in the hotel were cool, and I think Ellen Page is the best actor or actress working today (in addition to being totally decent eye candy as well). But this film just didn't do it for me.


Whisky Prajer said...

I'm refusing to read anything about Inception until I've seen it for myself. But as to high-water movies, I would include Saving Private Ryan. The script makes me grind my teeth, but the opening and closing battle scenes had an impact on nearly every single action movie to come out since.

Whisky Prajer said...

"Since The Matrix" -- ah. Spielberg was one year too early.

yahmdallah said...

Whisky - Couldn't agree more about "Saving Private Ryan." Love the battle scenes, the rest is merely OK.


Joel - To add to your problems with the concept, the rule that the dreams have to contain a cogent narrative and the landscape has to be put together well so that the dreamer does not become aware they are only dreaming, is downright silly, too. Dreams are not like that. If the plot stuck to "dream logic", if you will, Leonardo could've pulled a bouquet of daffodils out of his ass at some point and the target wouldn't blink.

I just went with the plot as presented and enjoyed the ride, and the fact that it adhered to its own rules was enough for me.

And I still think this is gonna be the movie everyone remembers from this year.

Whisky Prajer said...

FINALLY watched it with the wife, this afternoon. And, yes, it will be the movie we remember, even if my wife rode home with a furrowed brow and kvetched about inconsistencies -- some of which I could explain away, but others which prompted me to laugh and say, "Well, sure. But you knew it wasn't going to be airtight!" So far as I'm concerned, any movie that inspires conversation past, "That was funny!" is a contemporary treasure.