So as I mentioned, we went to see Inception tonight. I liked it, I admired it for its ambition and, lets face it, there are precious few science fiction films that are targeted at an adult audience these days, even fewer that are big budget “non-franchise” productions from major Hollywood studios. But on the whole, I felt let down.
There are going to be some spoilers in this review.
For the past 20 or 30 years, it seems as if almost every science fiction film targeted at adults labors under the massive shadow cast by my all-time favorite writer, Philip K. Dick. And as you probably know, one of Dick’s recurrent themes in his work and, as he got older and possibly more insane, his life was questioning what we all accept as reality. (PKD, in case you don’t know, claimed to have been hit by a bolt of pink light from the sky and for the rest of his life variously believed it was still the year 70 AD and it was still the Roman Empire, although sometimes Nixon remained president, and sometimes that bolt of light came from space aliens and other times from Russia. That’s an oversimplification, he wrote thousands of pages around these theories.) It’s a great plot device for films because directors love to try to turn the tables on you; some do it better than others. And Nolan has shown he can be really great in providing those WTF kinds of endings – both in Memento and Prestige.
I was hoping for a similar ending here but it didn’t come. Yes, I will give Nolan props for managing to credibly explain his somewhat silly premise and the way in which this world operates. The final 30 minutes, in which he is cross-cutting between 3 (or 4)(or 5) levels of dreams is handled in a clear manner that would have given lesser directors the fits.
But the thing is, if you watch this film and you can’t predict the WTF whiz-bang ending he’s going to provide, you’re just not paying attention. And it’s precisely because it’s so predictable that I was waiting for Nolan to pull the rug out under me, to play with my expectations and to have something that went against them and left me shocked and stunned. And he didn’t do that. He gave me exactly the ending that I had been expecting for 2-1/2 hours. And so, color me disappointed. I wanted to find out that one of the “middle” levels was the real one or that none of them are (and perhaps you could read the ending that way but I didn’t). I wanted a surprise and I didn’t get one.
That being said, despite the fact that the climax of the film is really well handled – you know exactly where you are and where everyone else is in all three “levels” at any given moment – I grew tired of it, I wanted him to hurry it along and, I confess, I started wondering what all of it might have looked like in the hands of Brian De Palma (the absolute master of taking 30 seconds and stretching them out to 30 minutes).
I also have to wonder if this was a wise career move for DiCaprio, coming right on the heels of Shutter Island in which he plays a character who ends up pretty much the way he ends up here. It’s obvious that he was anxious to work with Nolan and probably vice versa, but perhaps he should have waited.
To be fair, I never once looked at my watch. Nolan kept it moving. But if I entered the theater hoping for an experience on a par with Blade Runner, Dark City or the first Matrix film (or even Duncan Jones’ under-rated “Moon”), I didn’t get it here. Nolan is a master story teller and yet, I always get the feeling with him that the whole is less than the sum of its parts, that so far his reach extends just ever-so-slightly beyond his grasp. As much as I enjoyed his two Batman movies, I don’t rate them as highly as others do. I need to go back and watch Prestige again, and perhaps Memento as well. At any rate, I’m glad I saw it and it’s the closest thing to adult entertainment you’re going to get from a major Hollywood studio these days.