Man, it’s a long time since I talked about a film. You know why? It’s a long time since I managed to get to the cinema. Kids and books and building projects and all that other, you know, LIFE, can do that to you. So imagine my delight when I chiselled free an afternoon to go and watch Inception. The reviews had led me to expect Matrix meets Memento, trippy crazy action with mind-bending twisty plotting. I could not WAIT.
Now imagine my disappointment when I left the cinema. Inception ain’t a bad film, really, but it seemed to me a rather mediocre one.
Fundamentally, Inception is a con film. A con film that takes place in people’s dreams rather than in faked realities, but a con film nonetheless. Now usually, in such a story (I guess the Sting would be the classic example), there’s a superficial con being played on the target, but there are also tricks and cons being practiced among the con men themselves, which are gradually revealed. In the best ones, there’s usually a final trick being perpetrated on the audience as well, and we all slap our thighs as the credits roll at the ingenuity of the way it’s all been put together. There’s at least one good twist, in other words.
Now I’d been told Inception was ingenious, so I kept waiting for the twist. For one of the team to pull their masterful triple-cross, for their mysterious employer to reveal his sinister hand, for the target of the sting to turn the tables and show the elaborate deception. It never happened. Elaborate, undoubtedly, but deception there was none. No one really, at any point, did anything unexpected. It did exactly what it said on the tin, even if the tin had a very long, confusing label. It made me think of a bad orator using lots of complicated language to disguise the fact he’s got nothing much to say. A bad comic trying to make up for having no punchline by making his joke really long and complicated. REALLY long and complicated. But when it comes to the long con in nested realities I can think of holodeck-based episodes of Star Trek that did more surprising things, and that investigated the whole concept of false reality and are we-aren’t we dreaming more effectively and elegantly.
The lack of any real guile in the plot might not have been so bad, if the film hadn’t disappointed in other ways. There was much heavy-handed exposition, but key concepts were left largely unexplained or came suddenly out of nowhere, and others seemed inconsistent or were ignored whenever it suited. The rules on which the whole thing functioned just didn’t feel concrete. There was one good action sequence in zero gravity (though by no means for me the kind of game changer that the Matrix featured when it first appeared), but mostly the action was really very poor. Loads of automatic gunfire endlessly ping-panging from car doors and that. About as adrenaline pumping and dangerous as Roger Moore era James Bond. There was no real enemy to fight, even, no mastermind to outwit, just anonymous baddies drawn from the target’s subconscious. OK, maybe it’s all supposed to be a dream but – why such a naff one? On the trippy reality-bending it really fell flat for me as well, in the end. In preparation they were folding space and stepping through mirrors and all, and we were promised as they passed from one dream to another things would become “unstable”, collapse, go wild. I was ready for MC Escher on acid and I got, erm, a rainy city, a fancy hotel, and a concrete fort in a blizzard.
I’m being harsh, I know. Inception ain’t a bad film, really. It was interesting, diverting, had some good performances (as well as a lot of forgettable ones), some great visuals, and the end packed a surprising emotional punch. But it was too little too late. I’d been promised clever, and maybe it all went over my head, but my mind came out of it decidedly unbent. Everyone else seems to love it. Perhaps a team of slick-back conmen had broken into my mind the previous night and predictably implanted the idea that the film just wasn’t all that good…