Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Inception : The film

The review of Inception by Time magazine's Richard Corliss echoes my first thoughts while watching the closing credits roll :

After a long time, I think I watched a film that actually challenged my intellect and stimulated it and even caused me to struggle to keep up with the intensity and complexity of perception that went into structuring it. Of course, it's true that I was so conversant with dreams , the unconscious and their interpretation in my psychoanalysis phase in JU that I was mentally equipped to interpret the dream world and its logic (or lack of it). Which is not the case now. But yes, I could recognise the fact that years of research and reading had gone into planning and perfecting the aesthetics of Inception and much hard work underlay its deceptively fluid appearance. And at points, take delight and pride in the fact that my months of non-purposive (and to all appearances, esoteric) reading was finally finding importance somewhere : namely, in understanding the film.

Not that the film wasn't lucid at the level of narration. Although not having had any previous notion of what the film might be about, I did struggle with the opening dream sequences and was as perplexed as Ariadne (Ellen Page) might be when her practical knowledge of architecture had to be restructured radically following the stringent and often logically irreconcilable demands of Cobb's mission. But I learned with her and almost at her pace. By the time she was about to suggest the unplanned and risky fourth level of dream terrain, I had mentally predicted it and was only wondering whether the time differences at the respective levels and the strength of Yusuf's sedative would allow it to be implemented without the danger of limbo overtaking the dreamers.

There were mental hurdles, of course. The appearance of the dream-box (the technical equipment of Cobb's team, stored in a briefcase-like container) at each and every level was too solid and concrete a possibility as well as a coincidence, even for lucid dreaming. And of course, the forging of identity by Earnes (Tom Hardy) to assume that of Browning (Tom Berenger) was very sci-fi like in that it strained credulity to an extreme. And yet, not once did it seem that the entire film was an exercise in suspension of disbelief, despite the awe-inspiring amount of theoretical knowhow it drew on, be it Freud or Jung or Borges. There were only multiple narratives and the Lacanian premise of the truth that is never true - altered, filtered and faltering as it is in entering the perceptive level of each individual. And why not ? What is reality but our constant adjustment to our environment and its immediate demands ? Nolan must be lauded not merely for his film, a work of art, but also for the questions, theories and discussions it should necessarily trigger off. The trajectory of the film is a remarkable one, moving on from one certainty to another and yet, beginning and ending in ambivalence - suggesting rather than telling tales, the true-blue mark of a classic.

I disagree with Barnali's review ("it fails to show the profundity of human emotion") at certain points, although it is a brilliantly graphic one. I couldn't but be moved at Ariadne's growing and obsessive fascination with the compelling projection of Mal (Marion Cotillard) in her dreams and by extrapolation, with the 'real' nature of Cobb's relationship with his invincible-even-in-death wife. Similarly, the need for Cobb to accomplish 'inception' as a special ("it's not exactly legal", as he prosaically informs Ariadne) assignment with a definite goal in mind is a poignant parallel exercise in self-justification, scarred and sobered as he is by the guilt of fashioning his wife's death. There is nothing as sad as the anagnorisis of the tragic hero and Dom Cobb is no less than one, wracked in an unrelenting remorse, although his exile isn't exactly self-imposed (or is it ?) The playful banter between Eames and Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is also an endearing instance of a pair of incisive minds, each trying to outdo but secretly in awe of the complementary other. Further, I cannot but beg to differ on the topic of the other characters being "mere shadows with exceptional ability". Surely we cannot have multiple focal points in a narrative already taking risks with multiple levels of reality and dreams and shifting, mutating viewpoints and dreamscapes. It is commendable that Nolan creates memorable characters with true-to-life eccentricities and foibles, including the almost ethereal Mal whose character could easily have lapsed into cliched idealism.

As for the sets, I'm still lost in wonder at the sheer sweep and scale of it all. A lot of informed visualisation has resulted in the sets that we can only gape at. The wikipedia entry tantalises one's curiosity in this aspect but doesn't quite exhaust it. I need to surf around diligently to satiate my own particular interest in it all. Even the background score was brilliant, still playing in my head insistently, unobtrusive yet unmistakably there.

Much has been said about how The Matrix provides a substantial starting point for the film. It might, of course, since the former is as much of our collective consciousness as we would allow it to be. But from the maker of The Prestige, you cannot but expect an original. He is only moving from strength to strength.

Nolan reminds me of Hamlet's soliloquy (used somewhere in the film, if my memory isn't at fault) :

"What a piece of work is a man, how noble in reason, how/ infinite in faculties, in form and moving how express and/ admirable, in action how like an angel, in apprehension how like/ a god! the beauty of the world, the paragon of animals..."



Kaustav said...

very intellectual and proper review of the film. The greatness of the film is that we cannot prototype it as "another matrix" or "another avatar".

Haddock said...

And this brings me to the days when I used to watch Star Trek open mouthed and wide eyed, when Mr Spock had some gadget in his ear (blue tooth?) and kept talking to some one far away, and I used to wonder "can this be possible?" I mean can a person talk to some one else without a land line phone? Unimaginable in those days. But now every third person is doing this.
Similarly after watching this movie, I asked myself "is this possible?" But who knows, after one or two generations this may be a reality.
A movie well made with good visual effects. I enjoyed watching it.


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