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The Film That Wasn’t There: Fanboys and film critics battle for Inception’s soul

July 20, 2010

That kid from 3rd Rock and Leo

After offering my own thoughts on Inception I decided to wander the internet in search of other opinions. What I found was not merely a variety of impassioned opinions, but folks demeaning opinions not in alignment with theirs. My own analysis of the film was less interested in the merits of the narrative or visual effects – which for the record I found satisfying – but the positioning of the film’s female characters and the film’s alienation of older viewers.

Please note: this entry DOES NOT CONTAIN ANY SPOILERS!!!

I am not a fangirl of any particularly franchise or genre. My status as a marginalized person conflicts with the sort of unexamined devotion I associate with fandom. I don’t have the luxury of such devotion, as benevolence is not usually assumed of marginalized folks, who must prove themselves in ways privileged folks do not. Moreover, being a fangirl involves a level of selective observation I am incapable of, specifically as it relates to film viewing. For better or worse, I tend to see the film in front of me rather than the film I am hoping to see. This ability works against me if a movie contains plot twists, which are vital to the enjoyment of the film; I can figure them out pretty quickly. I don’t have a problem with knowing the outcome; I have a problem with knowing the outcome and having to get to it the hard way – via a long, tedious, convoluted process. Part the reason I wasn’t especially thrilled by the Star Wars prequels was because the outcome was known – Anakin becomes Darth Vader – so the journey couldn’t merely be good (which it was) it had to be fantastic (which it wasn’t).

Inception is billed as a “sci-fi heist thriller” and this is utterly misleading. Look, sci-fi hybrids are no novelty. Blade Runner, I. Robot and Minority Report without their sci-fi bedzzling are basically police producedurals and are effective on that level. Stripped of its fantagical elements, I’m not sure the same could be said of Inception‘s heist aspirations. Nevertheless, the film is really freaking good. But unfortunately, it seems criticism of any aspect of Inception is immediately dismissed as uniformed hateration, which I find really irksome.

That said, critics have rushed to lavish praise on film, which seems completely unwarranted. Beyond drinking the Kool-aid, what seems to be a work is the same dynamic of someone being repeatedly hit upside the head with a brick who finds profound ecstasy in the moments of reprieve between strikes. Each movie release this summer has probably felt like another strike upside the head by a brick, given that critics have to see EVERYTHING and not merely the films which interest them. When viewed through this lens, it’s not surprising many of them have rewarded Inception with good reviews. In a summer with better films, it would be interesting to see how the film might fare. The term “original” is being bandied about in a gratuitous fashion. While it’s certainly true there is no source material for Inception, it’s a stretch to consider it original, given that Nolan himself stated the film takes draws inspiration from Bond films, though he leaves out all the other influences, which are fairly obvious to anyone who watches a lot of movies, which off the top of my head include:

  • The Matrix
  • La Jetée/ 12 Monkeys
  • Eternal Sunshine
  • Blade Runner
  • Angel Heart
  • The Italian Job (What do you think Caine is doing there?)
  • Strange Days
  • Vanilla Sky
  • Any number of John Woo films
  • The Spy Who Loved Me
  • The Bourne Franchise
  • Brazil
  • Madonna’s “Express Yourself” video

Unlike Tarantino who actively encourages the audience’s recognition of his influences, it seems as though Nolan – via his fanbase – takes great pains to subvert any discussion of the influences which appear in his work. Noting these influences doesn’t devalue the inspired concept of the film, any more than noting the strong influences of The Big Sleep devalues The Big Lebowski. Speaking of Lebowski. When I saw the film – opening night – I knew little about it and enjoyed it tremendously. My friend who accompanied me, knew everything about it and enjoyed it tremendously. Critics, however, were mixed to negative – though there’s certainly been some revisionist film criticism on that front – partly because while I was viewing Lebowski, it seemed they were viewing a film that wasn’t there – Fargo. As the battle for Inception‘s soul continues it’ll be interesting to see whether distance will provide a bit of objectivity and an opportunity folks to engage with the film’s actuality and rather than the idealized version, which has captivated both critics, casual observers (like me) and fanboys, but in many cases for decidedly different reasons.

_______________________________
I won’t lie, it feels exciting to be debating the flaws of a GOOD film! Yay, Inception!

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9 Comments leave one →
  1. July 20, 2010 9:51 am

    I just visited the Bitch conversation (where there are definitely spoilers in the comments), and replied to a comment that seems to be a fan trying to twist Nolan’s inability to create a believable female character into some kind of feminist statement. Yeah the fans can be very tiresome. And I think sci-fi fans — I have always considered myself one — are the worst in terms of attacking any criticisms. Nolan’s fans seem to behave very much like Whedon’s.

  2. evmaroon permalink
    July 20, 2010 10:40 am

    These are the issues that I feared most about this film, and that said, I haven’t seen it yet. And that said, I will go to see it at some point soon.

  3. Octavia permalink
    July 21, 2010 9:13 am

    <3 this.

    I find fanboy 'reviews' / conversations boring and naive. Why am I going to spend any time listening to a person reiterate how much they love that thing that I can plainly see they obsessively love? That they keep telling me they love, in case I hadn't got that the first time, and think is magically free from the usual problematic things in our culture despite being of our culture. And if I say "Yeah, I definitely liked it, but I also have ___ problems with it," or heaven forbid "It's not my thing" and want to drop the topic, they act like some kid whose sandcastle I've just stomped on. It just shuts down any actual interesting discourse that could arise. It's boring and I can get boring any old where.

    Like Redlami I'm a sci-fi fan and this comes up a lot (honourable mention definitely goes to Whedon fanboys, whoo boy). If I like a series or movie I REALLY want to discuss it, as in talk about the positive AND negative points. But it gets very binary – either love it utterly and in full or you hate it and are probably not a True Fan [commence sandcastle kicking]. Funnily enough discussions on how the technical aspects could further be improved are usually fine. Social themes, casting, messages, etc? Apparently not. This is my surprised face.

  4. July 22, 2010 10:00 am

    The grownups are starting to weigh in… here’s an excerpt from David Denby’s New Yorker review:

    Nolan gives us dreams within dreams (people dream that they’re dreaming); he also stages action within different levels of dreaming—deep, deeper, and deepest, with matching physical movements played out at each level—all of it cut together with trombone-heavy music by Hans Zimmer, which pounds us into near-deafness, if not quite submission. Now and then, you may discover that the effort to keep up with the multilevel tumult kills your pleasure in the movie. “Inception” is a stunning-looking film that gets lost in fabulous intricacies, a movie devoted to its own workings and to little else.

    After paying lip service to the film’s technological achievements, Denby’s conclusion is rather scathing:

    But who cares if Cobb gets back to two kids we don’t know? And why would we root for one energy company over another? There’s no spiritual meaning or social resonance to any of this, no critique of power in the dream-world struggle between C.E.O.s. […] I would like to plant in Christopher Nolan’s head the thought that he might consider working more simply next time. His way of dodging powerful emotion is beginning to look like a grand-scale version of a puzzle-maker’s obsession with mazes and tropes.

    Full review

  5. July 26, 2010 3:33 pm

    I really enjoyed Denby’s reviews as it provided the most thoughtful analysis of the film’s strengths and deficits I’ve seen. It was far more measured and reasonable than Edelstein’s, but seemed to echo some of his concerns about the film.

  6. August 9, 2010 5:06 pm

    I know this entry has no spoilers officially, but I still ban myself from reading most anything about films that are predisposed to overhyping. Well, actually, I very frequently say “I REALLY want to see that!” and when someone asks what it’s about, I say “I have no idea” and this is because I often base what I watch on directors, screenwriters, and some actors, as well as recommendations from certain trusted critics and friends. The plot I can take or leave. Well, not exactly, but you know what I mean.

    That is a shame Nolan doesn’t recognize with specificity whose shoulders he stands on, I don’t think there is any problem in saying what art we steal and borrow from as artists and I wish his ego wouldn’t perpetuate that fallacy of determining originality, creativity, authenticity, etc. I was loving the Bond movie parts, I think I even just blurted out like a kid, “shooting guns on skis!” and clapped my hands.

    I ended up going into Inception with cautious optimism and walked out pleased with the experience. I saw it with four other people, and we all generally liked it, some more than others, and there was some good chatting afterwards, which felt refreshing! I even kept thinking about it the rest of the night and a tiny bit the next morning, but I did say while walking to the car, that the film is already suffering an inflammation of All That Disease: it’s really good, but it’s not All That!

  7. August 11, 2010 10:32 am

    I also just saw Inception, knowing very little about it (when they finally started showing Ellen Paige in the commercials, I said “Wait…is this an indie rom-com grrl-power movie? Did I miss a memo?”) other than I love Christopher Nolan films, flaws and all.

    I enjoyed it, thought it was visually stunning, and overall the plot that was there was interesting. But, right, there was very little character development, and I agree with the point about Cobb’s kids.

    I’ve been fortunate enough to have not encountered many Inception fanboys.

    I also just saw Shutter Island, and I think that the two films go well together; when they become eligible for the “2 for $10″ DVDs at Walmart, there’ll finally be a pairing that makes sense!

  8. August 11, 2010 10:57 am

    lol, I would totally buy that DVD 2-pack!!

Trackbacks

  1. Inception regrets nothing « Feminist Music Geek

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