Inception: the Idea trumps Character (movie review)

Help! My characters have no life. Oh wait, maybe they just need to wake up.

Inceptionis a solid movie, full of complications, a lot of thrill, and most importantly, some good ideas.  While it also has a couple of interesting characters in DiCaprio and Murphy, the rest of the cast fulfills their positions dutifully, easy to interchange and forget.   It’s a caper film–with the majority of the movie about the caper.  It uses a Matrix-like idea as a vehicle to achieve its goals.  The idea is central, the science fiction secondary; but like good science fiction–the idea is enough to carry the movie.

I liked the movie, enough to see it again if the time comes to rent it on DVD or if a friend wants to see it; but I found the inconsistencies in the premise took away from the caper.  How do they share freakin dreams!  Plug yourself in and something determines whose consciousness you’re going to share?  Doesn’t matter, the movie says— we’ll just tell you.  How do they determine who will dream and who will share?  Doesn’t matter, the movie says, watch what we can do with a special effect.

There’s enough infodump in the first twenty minutes to choke a horse, disguised as dialogue, interspersed with scenes of cities running amok and riots in the streets.  The riots are there to make sure the ideas go down easier.  “Just a spoonful of riot, makes the infodump go down…”  Take a note: this is NOT how to do an infodump.  We learn absolutely nothing about the characters in the first twenty minutes…only that a Molly means betrayal.   Nope, we need to explain the premise….

Now, once I got past that we were rushing through the “technical” issues to get to the action (I could almost hear the movie tell me–who cares about whether or not this makes sense? We’ve got a cool thing to show you), I enjoyed the movie.  But I didn’t really care about DiCaprio’s character– or empathize with his loss.  Normally Ellen Page is fantastic (LOVED JUNO!) but any actress could have pulled off that role, it required so little.  In some ways she, Michael Caine, and all the other actors are wasted to serve the idea….

Jeffery Overstreet has the same concerns in part one of his review of Inception.  And says them better.  It wasn’t so much a bad movie–as a rushed one, one that engaged your brain but not your heart–even when it was trying so desperately to do so.  And the ethics involved in changing someone’s mind so illegally made DiCaprio not a very sympathetic character.

Now, back to that idea.

The BEST thing about Inception, and why everyone should see it, is about how you put an idea into someone’s head.  The discussion about how you make someone believe that it was their original idea, as opposed to yours, is insightful–and will make everyone talk.  The whole work to get Cillian Murphy to think this is his own idea is downright fun.  And everyone in Marketing should see this.  Or maybe they shouldn’t!  (What might have been more interesting, but not as fun, would have been a philosophical film based on the premise–you know, in the same way that Sophie’s World merely used the least amount of plot to play with an idea.)

There is NO insight on dreaming in here.  Dreams, while they can be detailed, are murky and inconsistent.  They’re rarely realistic and may involve someone who looks like they are a walking shark carrying a tuba….  And as Overstreet admits too– other filmmakers have handled the surreality of dreaming SO much better.  That dreams can be invaded by someone–so casually–with no idea how to operate in someone else’s dream — is really lame.  As if the writer (and I like Christopher Nolan) just needed to get past some hurdles here…. to make a cool graphically conceived movie.  Also, the biggest clue that you’re in a dream is that you cannot read the same text twice.  It appears and changes as you’re reading it, rendering the opening premise illogical….

SPOILER:  And this is the third “dreamy” film–or film which contains reality based on your own thoughts–to include a suicidal woman.   What Dreams May Come, Solaris and this movie all have this as a premise…  that women can’t handle their own thoughts and will take their lives, causing their husbands, every one, to come rescue them.  And all three films end with that rescue leading to a kind of pseudo-paradise that the audience recognizes as delusion.  (What Dreams May Come is worthy of its own review.  A movie which ranks as one of my all time worst movies ever. But the ending delusion is supposed to be Heaven, so I can’t really argue with that.)

So, I found the movie a bit flat–even as the action was all revved up….  Caring about the characters, to me, was essential to enjoying the intensity of the film.  If I can’t care, then I can’t care about the intense situations you put the characters into.  Solaris made me care about the main two characters in their hyper-reality film; What Dreams May Come suffered from the same overblown concept with lack of character interest.   Inception forgets that narrative relies not just on amazingly cool logos, but on believable pathos too.

3 thoughts on “Inception: the Idea trumps Character (movie review)

  1. Kater Cheek August 3, 2010 / 9:59

    I agree that Ellen Page was wasted here. An hour into the movie, I leaned over and whispered that I knew who she was in the film. She was “the girl who asks the questions to ease the exposition along.” When she did have a deeper role, it felt forced and flat, because her character hadn’t developed past question-asker.

    And this is a good movie to illustrate why I’d like more minorities in movies. Because when you put middle-aged white men in suits, I can’t tell them apart.

  2. Marylin Heinandez September 21, 2010 / 9:59

    If he is dreaming at the end, that would be a TWIST, like the obvious twist in Prestige. Nolan revealed the twist in Prestige.

  3. Gina Kues September 21, 2010 / 9:59

    Two years passes…yes, two years.

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