Thursday, July 29, 2010

The Moment of Inception

A brief aside... back to the music tomorrow

No major spoilers... but this will probably make more sense if you've already seen Inception.

Now Inception is not the best movie ever made. Not by a long shot. But it may be the best movie ever made for a mass audience.

Even if you haven't seen the movie, you probably know something about it. You may have seen the trailers or heard your friends talking about it. You've probably seen the couple sitting outside the cafe as their physical world literally explodes around them. You've heard that it's about dreams. And dreams within dreams. And the dreams within dreams within them.

You may even think the movie is about lucid dreaming, going into other people's dreams, and creating dreamscapes. Hell, you might have heard that the plot involves manipulating a man who's inheriting a huge corporate empire to make him sell off certain key assets.

You may know that the movie deals with the nature of reality and the dangers tof not being able to distinguish between reality and dreaming (or, worse still, when deciding you'd rather live in a dream world than in the real world).

And the movie touches on all those things.

But that's not what it's about.

Sure, Leonardo Dicaprio lays out all sorts of rules about how this process works. (But then he breaks most of them.)

And there's something about Leo's wife and a dark secret in his past. And Ellen Page. And Joseph Gordon-Levitt (who has to be Timothy Hutton's son, no matter what anyone tells you).

But that's not the core of this movie.

And it's not a perfect movie. The balance between over-explaining things and creating an incomprehensible Vanilla Sky mush is off. And (aside from Dicaprio) none of the characters has enough depth. And the team's skills and character flaws don't come into play as strongly in the dreamworlds as they could. And some of the setups aren't paid off very well.


None of that matters.

Because that's not what the movie's about.

This is a movie about making movies. Or, to put it another way, it's a movie about what storytelling is and what it means.

The key moment in the movie might be when Page asks how someone can design a dreamscape that's realistic enough to draw the dreamer in. Dicaprio tells her (and I'm paraphrasing here) that details aren't important -- what matters is to set up the general framework and then make the dream emotionally powerful. After that, the dreamer will fill in the details and bring his own take to the dreamscape.

The plot plays out in a series of twists and turns in the movie, punctuated by breathtaking visuals. Like Dicaptrio, writer/director Christopher Nolan sets up a series of rules for his worlds and then gleefully and purposefully breaks most of them.

Because it doesn't matter.

In the very last scene of the movie, something extraordinary happens.

After the roller-coaster ride of the plot has mostly played out, there's one last thread that Nolan has to tie up. And that thread is far more important than any of the chase scenes or the exploding worlds, or the struggles with the bad guys. I promised no major spoilers, so I won't give away what the scene is (or what it may or may not mean).

And anyway, what exactly happens is not what the scene is about. And ultimately, not what the movie is about.

Everyone who watches that final scene will overlay it with his or her experiences, triumphs, disappointments, and desires.

And that's what matters.

Forget what the final scene is or isn't showing you.

Take care of the emotional response and the dreamers will fill in the details themselves.

The brilliance of Inception is that, in that final scene, the audience has an amazing, strong, shared emotional response that is palpable. The details can fade away (and you can leave the theater and over-analyze and over-intellectualize what specifically that final scene means), but what's left is a powerful emotion. The yearning. The wanting.

The emotional response that's more important than minor flaws in the plot or the characters.

And isn't creating that powerful emotional response what great storytelling is all about?


Anonymous said...

Guess I shouldn't reveal anything either.

But you nailed it.

WZJN said...

Gotta tell you - I had no intention of seeing the movie, but with what you've laid out, it's on my week-end to-do list.

Thanks for the images.

David S said...

Well, I can tie this into music pretty easily: For me, creating a powerful emotional response is also what great music is all about. All the technically brilliant playing and clever arrangements of notes and rhythms mean little if it doesn't make you smile, or dance, or sing along.

(As my wife Lisa would say to me: "You're always bringing the conversation back to music!")

Holly A Hughes said...

[plugs fingers in ears] LA LA LA LA la la la la dee-dah...

I don't want to know ANYTHING before I see it!

Alex said...

Something interesting/cool/weird about the music in Inception:

hanum said...

cool action movie. Like this ^^