Tuesday, July 27, 2010

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Je Ne Regrette My Ticket Purchase

Count me among the many members of the Inception fan club.  Not a rabid member, mind you, but one who quietly loves, one who does not feel that deep, passionate "MY GOD THIS FILM IS THE PERFECT BEST EVARR", but instead feels the sweet, subtle assurance that this is one for the ages, one that will remain close to my heart for a long time.

Beware. It's a difficult movie to discuss without spoiling some aspects.

Tread carefully. You've been warned.

I'm sure it's easy to dismiss Inception. It's got an intricate structure that distracts from what is actually a pretty simple story: that is, the redemption of Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio). Never mind all that "inception" business that Ken Watanabe starts us on. That's really just the subplot, the MacGuffin to distract us from the first Nolan film that actually has a woman at its center. While it's fun to debate over that last scene, while watching the dream-within a dream-within a dream sequences is breathtaking, while that fight sequence with Joseph Gordon-Levitt (all done with practicals, no CGI) kicks all the ass and stands as a shining moment of cinema...while all that is very well and good, this is a movie about a man dealing with grief. Everything else is just a means of getting him there, a setup for the journey he is going to have to take, a journey of guilt, love, redemption.

Now, really, Dom Cobb of Inception and Teddy Daniels of Shutter Island are interchangeable. "Boo-hoo, I don't know what's real and I'm obsessed with my dead wife." The difference is in the approach, and Leo does some very subtle things to differentiate his approach to Cobb from his approach to Teddy. The most important aspect, of course, is that despite his protests to the contrary, Cobb fears that he may be losing his grip. He sees his dead wife Mal while in other people's dreams, and even sedates himself at nights so that he can be with her. Well, not really her, but a memory of her. Leo plays Cobb with tragedy and desperation, and without a weird accent to distract from the performance. He is ably met by Marion Cotillard as Mal. She manages to be a full-fledged character and a mere projection of a man's idea at the same time. It's the toughest character to play, and wouldn't you know it, Cotillard nails it better than anyone could possibly imagine. She's probably the best actress of her generation.

Ellen Page is the real stand-out for me. As the Architect, she creates the dream world our team must navigate -- but her role is so much more than that. As the film progresses, she becomes both Cobb's confessor and his conscience. Is it just that I love Ellen Page that I found her portrayal of Ariadne strangely magnetic? Maybe, but it's not my fault she plays even the most underwritten of characters so wonderfully. The girl really only exists so that Cobb can deliver exposition on both the dreamworld and his own backstory, but Page does a lot with her. We get a quiet, studious girl who becomes enthralled with a world she can control, but only so much.

And in a business suit and bun? Hell yeah.

Next in line, performance-wise, is Tom Hardy as The Forger, Eames. Laid-back and humorous, Hardy allows simple line-readings and body language to inform us about his character. His feelings about Arthur, his intrigue for the job at hand, his love of risk, Hardy gives us all of that just with his gait in his first scene. Between this and Bronson, I'd say the man's a born star.

In his look at the performances in Inception (Page ranks #1), RC of Strange Culture posits the theory that praise for Joseph Gordon-Levitt's performance (which he ranks #2) could possibly be based more on the fact that he is the central figure in the hotel fight sequence, featuring "scenes that are shot so wonderfully and stylized. How could Gordon-Levitt not also seem great...?" I'm going to go ahead and say that it's that, mixed with the general love people have for him anyway, that has led to all the praise being heaped on him. Now, truly, his character is the most serious of the ensemble, but he's also the only performer that never lets me in. Everyone else in the cast allows us to see the different dimensions of their characters. but JGL -- who, don't get me wrong, I usually adore -- kind of plateaus. He's serviceable, but except for a single moment with Ellen Page mid-film, he's one mood throughout. And that mood has a stick up its ass. What could he have done differently? I can't really say. All I know is that JGL disappointed me for once. Though that man certainly knows how to wear a suit.

Hans Zimmer's score is great. Its simple, building the tension and complementing the action without distracting from it. My roommate must read Rope of Silicon, for he pointed out, and Nolan admitted as much on Chud, that the score is a super slowed-down version of Edith Piaf's "Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien", a song that plays an important part to the film. Little things like that amaze me, and it just made my appreciation for the score grow. I'm a fan of simple, minimalist music with repeated themes -- Philip Glass is my favorite composer -- so the pulsing strings of Zimmer's score really send me. And while Nolan may have used the Piaf song because it is oh so haunting, you know the meaning of the words had an influence on its inclusion. With Cobb consumed with guilt and wishing to rebuild his life, is it any wonder that the song that brings him back to reality has this lyric:

No! Absolutely nothing...
No! I regret nothing
Neither the good that I've done nor the bad
All this is much the same to me!

No! Absolutely nothing...
No! I regret nothing...
It is paid, swept away, forgotten
I don't care about the past!

It's a nice thought, one that he undoubtedly wishes he could share with Edith. But the man is absolutely consumed with nothing but regrets, with an inability to forget, with caring far too much about the past. That's some good stuff.

Now, it's not a perfect movie, per se. Besides JGL's cipher of a performance, there's also weird moments that may be plot holes, may be false memories, may be dreams. I guess that's the irritating thing about Inception, is that a mistake my not be a mistake, depending on what your theory is. Me, I'm gonna go ahead and say MAJOR SPOILER ALERT that Mal being on the other balcony is stupid. How did she get there? Why is she there? Wouldn't it make more sense if she's on the balcony of her hotel room? Or is that, like, the dream, man? Well, if it is, it's a stupid dream. Because that moment almost kills the movie for me. END OF THAT MAJOR SPOILER WHOO BACK TO NORMAL NOW

But it doesn't kill the movie for me. Because the movie's great. In the end, it doesn't even matter that most of the other characters aren't fully developed, because this isn't about them. This is about love and its consequences, and the effect those consequences have. It's simple, but that's always a story I can get behind.


TomS said...

Walter, you certainly liked "Inception", just a wee bit more than I did. While we both had vastly different experiences, I do appreciate your review, and the way you dealt with the film. If a critic can support his opinions, and create a mindset that in some way recreates the experience of seeing a film, then that critic has succeeded...and you did that.
It is really amusing, that two guys who loved "Nashville" so much, (a movie that would never get made in these Inception-obsessed times!), had such an opposite reaction to this film.

(If you see it again, try to look at JGL differently...you will find a joy there that I didn't sense from anyone else!)

Alex Constantin said...

i think (!) that the fact that she was on the other balcony is Cobb's subjective perspective of that particular moment. it could be.

for example, in the train scene, with the 2 of them together... they both appear young. But at the end we realize they were actually old in that scene (?!) because they had grown old together...

who knows :P

Walter L. Hollmann said...

Tom: Ah, but Nashville almost wasn't made in those riskier times. It's an anomaly, for sure. And thanks for the kind words!

Alex: Ooh, ok I can see that. A little confusing, still, but that makes a lot more sense.