Tuesday, July 27, 2010


"His subconscious has been militarised!"


The genius of this film is its solution to a deep-seated Hollywood problem; how to reconcile the Therapy Model of Plot (the idea that the only real point of the stuff that happens to a protagonist in a movie must be to solve some deep-seated emotional problem) with the demands of the action genre (which doesn't leave time for that nonsense if it's being done right). Past solutions have involved carefully paced talky intermissions between the explosions, kids needing rescuing, villains who represent (or just plain are) The Father, and so on. Inception skips all that in favour of something much more literal; it sets out to explore the subconscious - somebody's subconscious, anyone's subconscious - and promptly discovers that it's made up entirely of gunfights, explosions, car chases, and at the deepest level, a rather nifty, slightly grimy post-Bondian alpine villain base, complete with skiing guards.

And it does it gorgeously. Christopher Nolan lives up to the old Welles line about a movie set being the best train set any boy could have, and adds on the best computer game level designer kit that boy might want today. One tip; go see this movie on a reasonably large screen with a proper sound system - I doubt that it'll be anything like the same without wall-to-wall visuals and a seismic bass undertone. Admittedly, nothing later in the movie quite lives up to the early, fabulous poster-moment when Paris folds back on itself like so much well-designed cardboard packaging, although a late, bleakly exquisite landscape of abandoned mega-skyscrapers tries hard. But as his Batman movies showed, Nolan loves his cityscapes with an infectious passion, and can shoot a decent action sequence too; given the chance to combine the two, he's in his element.

Here, he shifts the scene to Mombasa for a while for no real reason other than that it lets him do a street chase scene with a new aesthetic edge (okay, maybe owing something to Casino Royale).That's during the early part, when the movie is still running through a highly traditional "assembling the team" phase, which reminds me; the movie also shows Nolan's knack for casting. The leads all do their best with often slightly thin characters, even Ellen Page, who spends the first third of her screen time being on the receiving end of some mandatory exposition, and the rest being the empathetic girl genius, manages to make something of her part. However, the plot is all about Leonardo DiCaprio's character, who's a damaged soul... This isn't a character movie.

What it is, is the action movie re-imagined as a Chinese philosophical parable, Freud with big guns in a cyberpunk world. The soul of the thing may be a little flimsy to justify the scale of the structure built to support it, but that's Hollywood movie dreams for you - and it is a big-budget SF movie with the sort of serious ambitions we've mostly come to associate with smaller-budget SF movies in recent years. The two-and-a-bit hours certainly went by for me in a glow of admiration.

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