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Why Inception Matters…

I spent a great deal of last weekend heavily anticipating the box office figures for Inception. Of money it makes won’t change the fact that I think it’s an amazing film, but it will affect the impact that Christopher Nolan’s latest will have on the movie industry. And that, my friends, is very important. In fact, I’d go out on a limb and suggest that Inception might be the most important summer blockbuster of the decade, and possibly longer.

More movies like Inception? Hopefully not just in my dreams...

I’m not going to pretend that Inception is the smartest film ever made, or the most dense – though both of those adjectives (smart and dense) are appropriate, it doesn’t quite set a new bar for either. However, it just might be the most fascinatingly original major summer release in quite some time. And it is certainly the most challenging film to have that kind of budget.

Inception is a challenge. It’s a tough film to wrap your head around. It’s one which demands you engage with the material, but not in exclusive sort of way – in fact, Nolan has made his fantasy as audience-friendly as possible without dumbing it down. It isn’t a movie where you can kick back and watch the fireworks, waiting for the cheesy one-liners and for the lead to get the girl. It is distinctly unlike any other major studio summer release we have seen in quite sometime. You might observe that the movie consciously reflects the work of autuers like Terry Gilliam or Guillermo Del Toro, but on a much larger scale.

Inception is a movie aimed at all those people (and it’s a lot of us) who have voiced our continued disappointment with what constitutes a major studio release. Those of use who think $180m could be spent on something more fascinating than men knocking each other across scenery or firing machine guns. And I think that Warner Brothers deserve the credit here, as they generally do (perhaps more than any other studio), for taking a big risk. Obviously Nolan is a huge commodity and he’s proved his worth with The Dark Knight, but bankrolling his dream project to this extent and sticking it like a giant tentpole in the middle of summer represents absolute faith in the director.

History would demonstrate that smart movies generally don’t succeed (at lest immediately). Think of Blade Runner, a film which now has an enormous cult following, but never really got to have a massive impact on the way we construct movies (although it still has a superficial impact on most futuristic settings, the vast majority of those films are afraid to pose the big questions). And the truth of the matter is that, regardless of cult following (which is pretty much assured in this particular case), it’s box office which shapes the mould of what the major studios turn out by rote. Hell, we’re still living in a season of superhero blockbusters spawned by Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man.

What Inception does is promise its audience that, just because it has a phenomenal price tag, a film like this doesn’t need to assume its audience is a bunch of eight-year-olds. To this day, I am still hoping that Avatar’s condescending simplicity and incredibly patronising maner (bordering on racism) was a result of studio interference and a desire by Fox to protect their investment. Maybe it wasn’t, maybe Cameron has decided to stop trying, but I can dream. Still, this is the Hollywood which refused to bankroll Frank Darabont’s Fahrenheit 451 script – despite the fact they loved it – because they couldn’t trick thirteen year olds into going to see it.

More than that, Inception seems to be a dying breath of the sort of creator-driven production of old. Seriously, when was the last time a director was given a blank cheque to work with on a project this big, without fearing major studio interference? When the major releases each summer (sequels, reboots, remakes) seem to be the product of cold number crunching rather than genuine emotion or engagement, it’s refreshing to see a director given a slate like this to work with. Sure, with its fascinating premise and daring concept, Inception would likely have been the most original summer movie any way, but that last similarly original blockbuster was District 9, which was produced on a fraction of the cost outside the studio system (in another country). This is a world where director’s can’t even decide themselves whether to film their movies in 2D or 3D – that’s a business decision rather than an artistic one – and Inception is the moment Warner gave Nolan the keys to the car and told him to do what he liked.

You don't want them to make Marmaduke 2, do you? Hell, I didn't want them to make Marmaduke...

I’m under no illusions. Inception will lose out to Twilight: Eclipse and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows and Iron Man 2 when it comes to crunching those numbers. And it’s probably populist enough to get shunned at the Oscars again (where, if it does get nominated, you can be assured Nolan will be snubbed for a Best Director nomination). Still, this a moment in cinematic history when the viewing public was given a chance to vote with their wallet. “You want original films?” it asks, “Sure, but you have to accept it’s a risky proposition!”

And I’m nervous. Because if we reject this – if movie-goers decide it looks too cerebral or too alien or too “out there” and decide not to turn out to see it – then we deserve the glut of soulless copies and movie produced by conveyer belt. And we can’t blame the studios anymore. After all, they aren’t providing a public service – it’s their job to give the people what they want. They’ve offered us challenging and engaging films, but – if we decline the invitation – the blame’s on us. It means that we were lying when we said we wanted smarter films, or films which didn’t treat us like children, or films which did something new and exciting.

It means that we actively want more of the same old, same old.

And that’s not a dream, that’s my nightmare.

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6 Responses

  1. Kermode / Mayo did this on their podcast last week. If a film that asks this much of the audience does well it will hopefully kick-start a new wave of studios taking risks, backing original projects and finally getting some intelligent cinema back into the mainstream.

    Very few films makes you think this much, Waking Life, Primer, The Matrix, Donnie Darko, Memento… pretty shoddy list given it spans about 15 years!

    • Yep. I doubt it will remake Hollywood, but I just hope it can avoid failing outright (which it seems to have). I think a new wave might be a bit much, but I think studios might give their directors a bit more leighway. Though I’m inherently optimistic.

  2. Oh, shit. You make it sound like the apocalypse. I mean, it might as well be, but damn. You’re so good at being foreboding.

    While it’s not Dark Knight numbers, it still made a fuck ton of money, so I think we’re good for the time being.

  3. I completely agree. Perhaps not with the Iron Man 2, but Inception is a wonderfully mind bending film. I mentioned this in my review, but I believe it could become the cornerstone of Nolan’s career. Last night I saw the film for a second time and was absolutely blown away again. I really hope it will receive oscars for it’s score, leading actor, and original screenplay at the very least.

    • I worry DiCaprio will get his nod for Shutter Island, though – and I fear the Nolan snub might continue. Though it might steal one of the ten Best Picture spaces.

  4. The Taoist text regarded as the Chuang Tzu asks how we know we are not in the wish when we walk up from a aspiration. Inception leaves you asking the similar question. It creates you query “reality”, which can be exactly where the similarity using the Matrix lies. Creation subtly insinuates that life is illusionary, or synonymous with what Indian philosophy refers to as “Maya.” In order to bring this subject closer to house, the dvd movie adroitly exposes the self-created, phantasmal and haunting character of emotional attachments, which can be why we are reminded of Solaris when seeing Creation. Taken being a complete, these motion pictures invite us to think about the dynamics of our mind and its desperate have to have to produce sense out with the insecurity and instability that defines human existence. Simply because these give rise to yearnings, hopes and expectations, life can be filled with discomfort, that is why there’s a Buddhist message below as well.

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