Thursday, 5 August 2010

Inception: why the flaws don't matter

With the combination of a very successful director, a very original idea and a very strong cast, Inception always had a lot going for it. There is a lot of hype around the film, but it more than justifies most of it. Christopher Nolan has always been strong at creating films that look incredible; while in theory it is Ellen Page’s Ariadne who is the artist designing the film’s dream sequences it is easy to make the connection back to Nolan revelling in his medium’s new visual possibilities.

This isn’t to say the film doesn’t have weaknesses. Many people have commented that it simply doesn’t make sense, but I didn’t think it was too hard to follow: once you get past the opening scenes (confusing mainly because nothing has yet been explained) the amount of exposition in the first part of the film makes the vast majority of the second part simple enough to follow. However a more fundamental problem are the holes in the plot.

Just one example of this is that we have no real idea why (or indeed if) the entire project is in anyway morally justified. We are given literally a sentence explanation: if the project doesn’t succeed then there will be a global energy monopoly. The fact that this line is stated by the rival of this company who quite possibly just wants to weaken a competitor is glossed over by the film: clearly we are not supposed to question that the goodies are good, and the baddies bad: this in spite of the fact that Cillian Murphy’s Robert Fischer seems nice enough and probably not deserving of having his empire ripped apart (remember, he only wants this because he’s tricked into doing so).

Yet despite this and many other holes (a man who can afford to buy an entire airline cannot finance any other way of achieving what he wants?), Inception is still a terrifically entertaining film. Part of this is the relentless action: it is hard to have time to question what is happening if every five minutes is punctuated by an explosion, a gunshot, or the streets of Paris folding like origami.

On top of this however is a further enormous strength of the film: the characterisation of Dom and Mal (who I honestly thought were called Tom and Moll for the entire of the film). Some have criticised Mal as one-dimensional and bitter, but that seems to miss the entire point: the Mal we see in the film is not the woman Dom loved. The story is tragic precisely for this reason: the dream-Mal is a pale and deeply flawed reflection of her real life counterpart; yet the love Dom felt for her is so much that he cannot let even this malevolent double leave him.

The second fascinating dimension to the Dom and Mal story is the idea of the distinctions between dreams and reality. Mark Kermode, BBC 5Live’s excellent film critic, made the point that part of the confusion in the film (best shown at the beginning and the end) as to what is real and what is a dream is a reflection of this same dilemma that the central characters face.

This age-old philosophical problem is given life by the relationship between the characters: if it is impossible to tell whether we’re in real life or a dream (or a dream within a dream within a dream within limbo) then why shouldn’t we choose the option where we can stay with the one we love? The fact that Dom doesn’t give in to this temptation aligns him with us in ‘the real world’, but nonetheless the temptation is placed out there. This reminded me of the scene in the first Matrix film where Cypher betrays his friends in order to abandon the harsh ‘real’ world and return to the blissful dream, however here it is given much more subtle treatment, mainly due to the positive emotion that binds the couple together.

Overall then, this is a really really good film, that’s well worth seeing twice. The weaknesses in the storyline are more than made up for by the originality of the concept, the pace of the action, but most importantly the emotional connection between the characters. Oh and you get to stare at Ellen Page and/or Leonardo DiCaprio for two and half hours, so it definitely has something for everyone!

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