So … I went to the cinema twice in two days. Understand that this is, at certain times of year, as much as I’ll attend* in three or four months. The last time I did it was … well, a day of Chris Nolan’s previous film – called The Dark Knight, you might have heard of it – and Pixar’s Wall.E. This time it was Inception – Nolan’s new film – and Toy Story 3. This, clearly, is the kind of stuff I get off the sofa for.
Thanks to that symmetry, the two seem a bit inextricably linked, so I’m going to write about them, in the exact opposite order to that in which I watched them. And, oh yeah, if you haven’t seen either those and you want to – and if you don’t, frankly, what the Charles Freck is wrong with you? – I wouldn’t read these till afterwards. …First, Inception.


Inception Dream

You know what my dream is?

To be able to go to the cinema on my own. No disrespect to any of the people I saw either film with – Tom, Dom, Zoe, I like at least two of you – but when you’re sitting in the cinema, having someone next to you can be unnerving. You can’t help but register small movements, wonder what we’re thinking of the film, whether they’re bored or uncomfortable… This is people I choose to go with.

Strangers next to you who decide to spoil the end of the film you’ve managed to avoid any and all information on three minutes before it ends? Fuhgeddaboudit.

…This is my dream, and until the kind of tech on display in Inception (part-Eternal Sunshine, part-Matrix) exists, those dreams will be unreachable. Fact is, you have to go with other people, and it’s just not socially acceptable to want the seats next to you, let alone the entire cinema screen, empty unless you’re Mark flipping Kermode.**

Inception is the kind of film that suffers from this phenomenon particularly hard. The film’s kind of cold, and requires a certain level of attention and immersion: when someone next to you hisses “is there really still half an hour left?”, you can’t help but notice, yeah, it is going on a bit.


Nolan is, fittingly enough, a bit of a paradox: I will rush to see anything he puts out, but I enjoy all of his films in a particular way: approving, generally impressed by the craft, but rarely overwhelmed. I always mean to get round to watching them again but never quite do – with the exception of Batman Begins, probably my least favourite of his work but defintiely the one I’ve seen most.

It’s because of that coldness. It’s not necessarily there in the best moments of Memento, or The Best Moment of Dark Knight. But Nolan’s films generally tickle the brain, not grab hold of the heart. But that coldness is definitely playing to strength – Nolan’s emotional scenes tend off a little schmaltzy – and in Inception, it seems particularly intentional.

Inception is a puzzle game: the old-fashioned variety, before computers and everything. All sliding pieces and rotating sides. The ideas involved are those big ones: time, layers, dreams. The human mind; not the human heart. It begins to reach beyond that, into concepts of the afterlife and, well, just life – like a secular version of the final season of Lost, actually – but those are a little beyond its remit, requiring a fusion of emotional and conceptual storytelling that neither example fully managed.

But where it succeeds best – and it succeeds exactly – is as a film. The action and posing and posturing is very post-Matrix (remember the early 00s where every film was the new Matrix or the new Memento? This is, of course, both). It’s full of floating and slow motion. But, this is the thing: Nolan manages to find sweet justification for each and every chunk of spectacle.


It plays with the action-movie cliché of those last few impossibly slow seconds before the bomb goes off and, again, justifies and finds purpsoe for them. Which mirrors the time dilation of coming out of a long film into the real world (it’s a film which, yes, people sitting next to me, feels longer than it is) and that’s all part of the plot as well as the atmosphere.

It’s a film about films, just in the sense that it’s such a shining example of a film that understands films. Inception’s basic premise, and the early reveals, are based around the most obvious narrative cliche in the world: …and it was all a dream. The twist becomes not oh it was all a dream but rather, already knowing that’s in the deck, will they play that card? And where?

…It is, essentially, a film I could write about all day. All my actual conversations on the matter, however, have been much more closed. That’s the other thing about seeing a film with people: I never want to say anything after the film. I need a little digestion time, a little time to try out thoughts and come up with something intelligent to say. The first thing I said about this film, which will probably remain the most true, was that the the more people say they loved Inception, the less I’ll love it.

And every time someone comes home from the cinema, showering it with praise, true enough, I resent the film (and the people) just a tiny bit. Why wasn’t that it how it was for me? I can tell you why: I watched it with a different audience. And that’s how it’ll always be.

(In conclusion:

courtesy of this here tumblr, via Miles)

*’attend’ seems like the right word. For all the holiness I feel music holds over other cultural forms, going to the cinema is the one that feels most like going to church.
**Hmm. I feel a plan forming…

2 Thoughts to “Can I (not) Take U 2 The Cinema, pt. 1”

  1. Dude. I know exactly how you feel. I watched it Friday and I'm *STILL* thinking it over before making a broad statement like 'It'll be the greatest film in cinema history'.

    And I think i tweeted the same sentiment earlier in the week about resenting the film a little more everytime I hear someone say how they loved it.

    Inversely I seem to resent the people who say it was too complicated or hard to follow.

    Really interested in your opinion though, once it forms.

  2. It wasn't TOO hard to follow, but it definitely was hard to follow, particularly if you weren't aware of anything about the film beforehand – there were so many different characters, all key to the thing, and enormous high concepts being thrown at you from all different angles. Once you get over all that, it's some pretty naked writing really, it feels like a holdover from that generation of movies including The Matrix and Dark City (although held together visually a lot better than either). For me, the film was made by some really smart visual choices and a beautiful score that together wrapped these mad concepts into an exhilerating ride.

    (I think my problem with the length is that an hour in I didn't have a clue what the point of the film was – is it about getting the lead out of trouble, is it a series of heists? Took me a while to click that it would be just the one heist. And I had to have the opening sequence explained to me after the film – if I'd picked that up straight off I think I would have found it a more comfortable experience.)

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