Saturday, July 24, 2010

Is INCEPTION Backlash-proof?

 Just had a thought this morning after a week of processing my own personal thoughts on INCEPTION. And I know, this has gone on for several posts now, but it still stands to trouble me that the current wave of backlash against the positive reviews of the film have been characterizing the film under expectations that are unbecoming of what the finished product seems intended.

The larger concerns over the film's flaws (upon certain restrictions do exist, just so there is no illusion implied on my part) as undermining hyperbolic views of the film as "too-intellectual", or "perfectly constructed" are more that these positive reviews are overlooking elements of a work that took nearly ten years to write, from a filmmaker who has been famous for meticulous, borderline obsessive in his storytelling technique. As if looking desperately to find a weakness in the armor like so many eternal malcontents, is more evidence of a viewing community out to head another Shymalan at the pass, as to avoid some kind of imagined betrayal that has yet to happen. In order to be spared the pain of another Phantom Menace? Are we still smarting from that one?

Never again, the connected public seems to want to say.

That said, I can see where some views see the film as less heady as Nolan's previous works. The film seems a lot less interested in following through on its own rules than MEMENTO, or even The Prestige. But as films that explore the fragility of rules, they are only pieces of a larger creative whole. To see INCEPTION on the same exact field of reason is (for me anyway) to miss out on what is Nolan's big moment to have a little fun with his craft thus far, to not play by the same elaborate design schemes he's so relied on before. While many "totems" of his past films are in full-force here (the dead love interest, guilt-ridden leads who make matters worse for themselves and others, etc), the films thrust is to blast through all prior concepts in a Greatest Hits fashion, whilst offering a conversation piece that is more introspective than many folks are considering.

From an authorship perspective, the piece is less a puzzle to be solved, and more a look into the process of filmmaking from the mind of someone enraptured by the possibilities inherent in audience participation. It's something that came to mind hours after viewing it, that Nolan's films seem by design to be interactive pieces.

To be led, invested, misdirected, and enthralled are his hopes with these works. Just as the participants in Cobb's group are meant to spin a fiction for us to inhabit for a brief time in order to inspire change within a single man, we are the larger fish filmmakers are after. They may not always attain the intended results, but it is in the collaborative attempt that these "jobs" fuel their fire. All one needs to do is to look at the cast, and recalibrate them as writers , art directors, stars, and executive producers, the film's intentions become alarmingly clear. And as Nolan had said once before, the heist film is that rare genre trope that allows for consistent exposition. It makes a perfect analog for the film creation, let alone any major creative endeavor.

Using this "through the looking glass" approach may seem overtly reductive (and for some, may even cheapen the end product), but it just stands to reason that after a short run of highly commercial successes with the Batman series, it felt time to do something personal. The only reason we see so much talk of summer blockbuster is merely because the year itself has proven itself to be a pretty bleak one for film. And when your only heavy hitter is a 200 million dollar art-house piece, you know things aren't well for the industry. That said, it is exciting to think of such a  film as commercially viable in an age where studios are tightening what is left of their belts, and are inches short of breaking out the barrels.

 To consider that they'd allow a labyrinth-minded explorer of the human condition the ability to run wild with his personal obsessions and inspirations, it's a surprise the film wasn't an unmitigated disaster.Thoughts not meant as a pass of immunity, but rather a reminder of intent over expectation. Had this been a film that was truly about a heist, then it'd be a different outcome for sure.

 On its own terms the film is more a means of entertaining what would otherwise come off as esoteric ideas, unfit for film. But for me, this is a massive part of what makes it so entertaining. To see these wild ideas through such a logic-leaning mind makes for an interesting paradox of art versus the literate. But the sum is larger than the whole, not too unlike works of auteurs of the past. It is a paean to the wonder & curiosity of storytelling, and a love letter to film in general.

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