Stealing Dreams

There have been many articles written about Christopher Nolan’s latest film, ‘Inception’ and most of them complimentary.  As with anything held in such high regard by so many, there are some nay-sayers but one in particular struck me as particularly off-target.  The point of the article posted on the Comics Alliance blog seems to be that comics are under threat from a film that borrows from some conventions used by graphic novels.

In describing what Jason Michelitch believes to be the film’s failings, Jason says that ‘Inception’ suffers from its choice of subject matter and that “[b]y declaring loudly that it is about dreams, the film calls direct attention to its own paucity of imagination.”  The dreams, of course, are the context, the background against which a story is told describing one man’s difficulty in coming to terms with his wife’s suicide.

If you haven’t seen the film yet, here’s a plot summary of the movie.

As with any film that reaches a large audience through word-of-mouth recommendation (the box office has sustained momentum over a number of weeks here in the UK), it is a writer and director’s understanding of the so-called ‘human condition’ which is what touches the audience: it is perhaps that the focus of the article is so definitely tipped toward some agenda, that it may be amusing for a few minutes to tear it apart, after all, with more than 160k votes at time of writing, Inception is scoring 9.1/10 on IMDB…

1. “It all doesn’t amount to that much more than an exercise in plot mechanics…”
Plot is character.  In any film, character development – taking a character or ensemble from opening titles to final credits – is what a film does.  ‘Plot mechanics’ is how one scene moves into another.

2. “The settings in Inception do not function like dreams.”
No, they don’t because they are designed by an architect to allow the team to move more easily through a subject’s subconscious.

3. “Everything is painfully literal…”
That would be because the audience isn’t in the subject’s head with the team.

4. “During one sequence, DiCaprio’s character spends decades building one dream world out of his utmost fantasies, and comes up with nothing more interesting than a series of sleek high-rise buildings just like ones he admired in real life.”
That would be building the dream world with his now dead wife… they were both architects and in real life, architects – as with other creative professions – design buildings that are influenced by the work of other architects.

5. “Hundreds of millions of dollars flow into making virtually anything appear on a movie screen through the wonders of special effects, enough to give even the most improbable visions substance, and what are those dollars spent on? Bigger guns. More impressive explosions.”
The budget for this film was less than ‘hundreds’ and if you haven’t yet seen the film yet, surely the big money was spent on the hotel corridor sequence which succeeds on being an unexpected thrill.

6. “In dreams we often see recurring symbols of our deepest anxieties, and clearly Hollywood’s is that the great mass audience will turn on them if they try too hard, if they act too smart, if they make people feel challenged or confused. The best thing to do is to not expect too much of the audience, to reassure them and over-explain things, and to make sure to throw in a half-clever twist so that the mass walks out of the theater feeling smart. Given that the most frequent compliment to “Inception” I’ve heard is that “it never loses the audience,” their strategy seems to have found fertile ground.”
Clearly, wrong: you pay for your ticket on the way into the theatre but further, as mentioned above, ticket sales have been consistently high with many people returning to see the film again.

7. “…make no mistake, ‘Inception’ is a quintessential glimpse into the world of big-budget film. It is Hollywood speaking through Christopher Nolan to expound its ultimate statement of artistic principles: when told to dream bigger, just think up a better gun and a more convoluted way to say what your predecessors have already said in order to seem like you’re saying something new. Don’t change too much. Don’t risk the audience turning on you. Just blend in, trick your marks out of their money, and disappear before the lights come up and they realize what happened while they were asleep.”
Conspiracy theory?  Hollywood ‘speaking through’ Christopher Nolan?
The script for ‘Inception’ was first written 10 years ago.  Nolan had to wait until technology advanced sufficiently before being able to make his film and given that Hollywood’s primary concern is money and shareholder value, it must have taken considerable negotiation – and not inconsiderable sucess with both of the most recent Batman films – for Warner Brothers to put up the money for the director’s personal project.

Rather than picking on a film that did not originate in a comic book, Jason would have been better picking a target such as the Iron Man sequel, a film which is so devoid of a moral core that it doesn’t even ask the audience to celebrate an arms manufacturer as a hero but instead invites us to be seduced by his wit, charisma and wealth.

There are more of these adaptations coming to cinema screens soon.  That a film with an original script and big budget can still be made at great risk to the studio – and writer-director’s reputation – is cause to celebrate and not to gurn.