Snarky's Cinemachine: Five Non-Spoiler-y Things About Inception

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Talk of Christopher Nolan's latest film Inception seems inescapable; the buzz alone propelling the film into the top spot opening weekend. Granted, the only notable competition was Disney's truly dreadful Sorcerer's Apprentice. Inception isn't doing The Dark Knight numbers at the box office, but in a summer of uninspired remakes, reboots and franchises, it doesn't have to. Wildly derivative—evoking The Matrix, Minority Report, 2001: A Space Odyssey and several mediocre heist films not worth mentioning—Inception seems downright revolutionary when compared to the rest of the dreck being screened in neighborhood multiplexes this summer.

1. Inception is very long.
Despite being four minutes shorter than Nolan's 2008 outing The Dark Knight, Inception, clocking in at a punishing 148 minutes, feels much longer. Distracting expository detours, which often derail the story and painful repetition are the chief culprits here. Forty minutes of footage could have been jettisoned without adversely altering the film's story or visual impact.

2. Shocker! Female characters are poorly utilized.
I counted four female characters in the films, two of which had barely more than a few lines. The remaining two—Academy-Award nominee Ellen Page and Academy-Award winner Marion Cotillard—are tasked with the thankless job of serving as plot devices or emotional mirrors for Dicaprio's Dom Cobb (who is written with the emotional depth of a piece of lightly buttered toast). Cotillard's beauty, maturity and soulful depth (remember, this is the actor who won an Oscar playing Parisian icon Edith Piaf) exist to suggest similar qualities of Cobb. Page's presence works to make Dicaprio seem older; doing a much better job than Dicaprio's fuller face (he seems to fill out when a role requires him to appear aged), creative make up and access to an array of what appear to be his grandfather's suits. Inception requires little of its talented female leads; it is unsurprising the film is tracking poorly with older audiences, particularly women. Expecting nuanced female characters in a Christopher Nolan film is about as fruitful as expecting the same from a Kubrick film. Nolan's films haven't managed to position women in thoughtful or empowered ways. In Inception, the women exist to provide the audience with analysis of the male lead, lacking individual motivations for their actions, thoughts, and feelings.

3. Ken Watanabe and Cillian Murphy give the strongest performances of the film.
There is already Oscar talk about Inception and to be fair, most of it is not warranted. It's a great film, but it's definitely not Oscar caliber, the Academy's bias against sci-fi notwithstanding. Even the dazzling visual effects borrow from more interesting films. That said, Watanabe and Murphy offer interesting performances in Inception, completely inhabiting the construct while also infusing their characters with the desperately needed humanity devoid from many of the other characters.

4. Enjoyment of Inception requires lowered expectations.
Whatever preconceived notions one holds regarding Inception you're better off leaving them at home. Inception is a tricky piece of cinematic machinery, which can both thrill and frustrate—often at the same time. To mitigate some of the inevitable disappointment that often accompanies unreasonable expectations, resist the urge to attempt to unravel every mystery surrounding Inception and instead surrender yourself to its complexities, riddles and inconsistencies.

5. You've seen Leo play this character several times before, but this time he truly nails it.
Leonardo Dicaprio was interviewed by NPR's All Things Considered and gave the impression his role as Dom Cobb in Inception was a departure for him. It's not. He's been perfecting this emotionally lightweight, technically masterful character since The Aviator. While drinking the Dicaprio Kool-aid is not a requirement, it certainly does help. Dicaprio, like Johnny Depp, is an actor I wished I loved as much as I am supposed to. Dicaprio's involvement in a film does not typically get my butt to the theater, but when I do, I'm usually impressed by his highly developed acting abilities. The deciding factor in seeing Inception was Dicaprio's brilliant performance in The Departed. (I have never seen Titanic!) That said, I kept wondering what Christian Bale, Daniel Dae Kim or Will Smith could have done with the role. (I believe the role required a bit more age and gravitas) Dicaprio's perpetually youthful appearance (ditto for the glorious Ken Watanabe who it appears hasn't aged in a decade) is not nearly as distracting as it was in films such as Gangs of New York or The Aviator. Dicaprio has wonderful body awareness, he moves beautifully and is fascinating to watch in Inception, saving the character in places where the script and plot fall short.

Inception is an intriguing, frustrating film, but ultimately satisfying. The paucity of marginalized folks, particularly women, makes the film difficult to embrace as a feminist film critic. As a heist flick, Inception is unsuccessful as it opts to eschew well-established tropes of the genre without offering inspired alternatives. As a character study, the production design and visuals overwhelm the human element; you'd do better to check out either version of Solaris for a nuanced examination of themes Inception attempts to explore. But as smart, sexy eye candy, Inception triumphs.

Comments

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Absolutely

Although I enjoyed the movie immensely, I have to agree with everything you said in this review. I remember watching the scenes between Joseph Gorden Levitt and Ellen Page's characters and thinking they could have easily been flipped, with Levitt as the shared dreaming Noob and Page as the resourceful veteran team member. Both are roughly the same age. In fact, why couldn't they both have been women characters?

It's unfortunate that even the inspired offerings of American cinema still have to fall prey to typical outmoded cliches. But when the bar is set so dreadfully low, I guess we'll take what we can get.

Very true! A friend and I

Very true! A friend and I were discussing the film this morning and both got giddy over the idea of Tilda Swinton playing the lead role. Now that would have been a really interesting film.

"In real life as in Grand Opera, Arias only make hopeless situations worse." - Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

Fem Critique is way too harsh...

I think you're being way too harsh on Nolan's decision to put females in the film. I, for one, was extremely happy to see Ellen Page and Marion Cotillard giving surprising, unexpected performances. Page doesn't exist just to make DiCaprio "seem old." Her analysis of Cobb is one that the audience has been making from the start of the film; she reflects our POV. And her role could've just as easily been played by a male actor. I'm glad it wasn't though, since we got to watch her give a brilliantly nuanced performance. Don't tell me that any of the other supporting male characters have any more "individual motivations for their actions, thoughts, and feelings" than Ariadne does. In fact, they are all very 2-D: the South-Asian chemist, the Japanese businessman, the witty, charming Englishman, the pretty-boy sidekick (Gordon-Levitt). Actually, I was more bothered by Ken Watanabe being cast (yet again) as a somewhat bad guy (read: imperialistic Japanese businessman) in another Nolan film. As for Mal (Cotillard), she seemed like one of the most "real" characters in the film to me because she is both literally and metaphorically below the surface, wanting to break out. She's not really there; she doesn't really exist, save for in Cobb's mind. And yet, you as the audience member can feel her presence permeating the film in the same way that she's permeated Cobb's subconscious. Sure, she might be a plot device. But it's a device that makes us contemplate not just Cobb, but also the very nature of the co-dependent relationship between a husband and wife. And I'm OK with that.

Thanks for your comment, we

Thanks for your comment, we disagree on our reading of the film, but it sounds like you really enjoyed it. Personally, I love Cotillard, but find Page very dull on screen. Doesn't mean I don't think she's a fine actor, just means I don't happen to enjoy watching her on screen. In Inception she had no spark or screen chemistry with her costars and I found her performance to be the least interesting in the film. Again, this is more about how the character was written rather than Page's acting abilities. Smarter choice would have been Vanessa Lee Chester or Brenda Song.

Yes, most of the characters are barely developed, but my concern is more with this phenomena as it relates to female characters as it speaks more to sexism and Nolan's inability to craft nuanced characters, than some fault with the way in which those actors interpreted their meager roles.

Watanabe has screen charisma few Western directors have tapped and is often relegated to secondary or mildly villainous roles. It is indeed unfortunate, because he is a fine actor. It's always nice to see him on screen and even with a limited, flimsy role, he manages to shine, which is the mark of a skilled actor.

"In real life as in Grand Opera, Arias only make hopeless situations worse." - Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

Overall diversity fail

I didn't see these as such great women's roles. Yes they were both very important to the storytelling, but they weren't people as much as plot devices. Plus both of them were young white women, which combined with the two-dimensionality of the two men of color and no black people in any significant roles left me scratching my head at what had to be an intentional decision to make this a movie appeal mainly to young white men.

The erasure of black folks

The erasure of black folks and women of racially marginalized identities was a bit jarring.

"In real life as in Grand Opera, Arias only make hopeless situations worse." - Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

Not to mention ageism

The older men (Caine, Postlewaithe and Berenger) were even less developed than the younger folk. And of course the only older woman -- the kids' grandmother -- was just a voice on the telephone.

Re: Overall diversity fail

I don't think it was an "intentional decision" to not cast more women or people of color in the film. I actually think Chris Nolan wanted to fill the film with Batman actors that he's obviously worked with in the past and liked (i.e. Michael Caine, Ken Watanabe and Cillian Murphy) and fill in the rest with new, hot, young actors like Ellen Page, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Tom Hardy. I get the feeling he wants to be the first to make someone else's career, a la Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight.

I'm sorry, but I'm one of those people who don't feel it's necessary to engage in the shallow form of "diversity" that leaves casting directors scouring the earth for people of color and minorities to fill poorly constructed roles. Then, we'll have a mountain of reviews like this Inception review that talk about how "underutilized" everyone is. However, I do agree that the thought of casting people of color wasn't something that really registered in Chris Nolan's mind when we was imagining the movie.

I don't think it was an

I don't think it was an "intentional decision" to not cast more women or people of color in the film. I actually think Chris Nolan wanted to fill the film with Batman actors that he's obviously worked with in the past and liked (i.e. Michael Caine, Ken Watanabe and Cillian Murphy) and fill in the rest with new, hot, young actors like Ellen Page, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Tom Hardy. I get the feeling he wants to be the first to make someone else's career, a la Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight.

Heath Ledger was already famous before The Dark Knight. Also, I'm not sure I follow your response to Babbycakes. Are you suggesting we should assume benevolence on the part of another white male director as it relates to racial casting? I hope not. Personality, I don't find any of those actors hot or young, and clearly they weren't picked because they have any appeal beyond fans who require their film choices to be populated with straight, white, cisgendered, able bodied young people and bristle at the notion that others do not.
"In real life as in Grand Opera, Arias only make hopeless situations worse." - Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

*spoilers* AND one reading

*spoilers*

AND one reading of the film could definitely be that a vast majority of it is a dream and these characters are really just manifestations of Cobb's sub-conscious that are leading him in a certain direction (I think the end of the film with him and his children isn't the 'real' world - perhaps the direction he's being led in is to a point of just not being concerned with what is real and what is dreams?). Which would explain the general 2D ness

That WOULDN'T be original.

I choose not to believe that nothing was real, because that would be the cop-out to end all cop-outs. Think about it: it was all a dream? That's even worse and more cliche than the I Am the Cheese, you're-mentally-ill-and-imagining-shit ending. And in any case, it doesn't excuse the lack of women. Personally, I thought Page's character was far and away the most developed, but the fact that ALL of the other protagonists were male, for no apparent reason, still bugs me.

WOW - Spoilers below

I really, really disagree with this review. First of all, Inception is not derivative in the least. Personally, I've never seen anything like it--the world it was trying to create, the dreamscape, so to speak--and I've watched a lot of sci-fi movies. This film is smart and grapples with complicated issues surrounding the nature of memory, remembrance, and loss.

I think you don't give the female characters much credit either. Ariadne--Ellen Page's character--was named after the Greek heroine who was able to successfully lead a hero to safety. And this is what she does in the film, so she's hardly a minor or unimportant character. She is the moral center of the film and the voice of reason. I don't really get this criticism: "Cotillard's beauty, maturity and soulful depth (remember, this is the actor who won an Oscar playing Parisian icon Edith Piaf) exist to suggest similar qualities of Cobb." Well, YES. She's HIS projection. As such, she's only a shade of the real woman. That's kind of the point. I actually don't think much of Cotillard's acting abilities (she was overrated as Edith Piaf, imo), but she was terrifically nuanced here as the emotional center of the film (as Leo's projection) AND the villain of the piece! As such, I think the female characters were not only greatly utilized in the film, they pretty much WERE the film! Leo's character's journey (and the film itself) cannot exist without these characters, but could, for example, without Joseph Gordon-Levitt's character.

I enjoyed Inception and I came in with very HIGH expectations. I liked (not loved) Nolan's previous work, but this project seemed very promising, and I came in with the expectations that I was going to enjoy myself. It not only accomplished that, but it made me reflect about the nature of my dreams, the reality of both my friendships and romances, and my childhood memories. You said it was too long, but--much like the people in the film who share dreams with one another--I barely felt the minutes go by.

I also disagree that as a heist film it was unsuccessful. I'm extremely critical of heist films because most of the time I think they cheat the audience, but the twists and turns to get to the point of inception were masterfully executed. And, the emotional stakes were so high you actually CARED whether the inception itself was successful. One of the most poignant scenes was Cillian Murphy's reconciliation with his father. I've never seen a heist film pivot around the success of an emotional catharsis.

If women in general are not interested in this film it really is a shame and I hope your review doesn't scare anyone away.

I've never seen a heist film

I've never seen a heist film pivot around the success of an emotional catharsis.

Are you kidding, what do you think the "one last heist" trope is about, if not emotional catharsis? Since it's never about the material objects?

As such, I think the female characters were not only greatly utilized in the film, they pretty much WERE the film! Leo's character's journey (and the film itself) cannot exist without these characters, but could, for example, without Joseph Gordon-Levitt's character.

Poorly utilized in that they were not informed with any motivations other that what was required to propel Cobb's story. As catalysts for the key plot points, they were fine. However, I kind of desire MORE from female characters than that. Your mileage may vary.

Again, the review is my opinion, you're more than welcome to your own.

"In real life as in Grand Opera, Arias only make hopeless situations worse." - Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

"Are you kidding, what do

"Are you kidding, what do you think the "one last heist" trope is about, if not emotional catharsis? Since it's never about the material objects?"

When have the objects of a heist ever had an emotional catharsis? I think it was interesting that the emotional catharsis was not JUST about Leo coming to terms with himself (the thief) but also the target of the heist as well (Cillian).

"Poorly utilized in that they were not informed with any motivations other that what was required to propel Cobb's story. As catalysts for the key plot points, they were fine. However, I kind of desire MORE from female characters than that. Your mileage may vary."

I disagree. Ariadne was obviously motivated by wanting to work her architectural magic in an unstructured dreamscape. The dream gives the aspiring architect limitless resources and possibilities. To me, she was a typical grad student and wanted to expand her horizons (and at the same time getting frustrated and then adapting to when Cobb kept changing the rules on her!) Mal's motivations were fueled by Cobb's guilt because she was a projection of him. Which, as I said, was the point of her character. It's a little strange complaining about the motivations of the female characters in this film because it is so obviously Cobb's journey. Even so, I'm able to identify their motivations much more easily than, say, Joseph Gordon-Levitt's character.

"Again, the review is my opinion, you're more than welcome to your own."

Hmm. Well, yes. Of course?

Motivation

Ariadne was obviously motivated by wanting to work her architectural magic in an unstructured dreamscape.

Actually, none of the supporting characters seemed to me to be particularly well motivated, unless it was by money, which was barely mentioned at all. And I had much less respect for Ariadne's supposed brilliance when she failed to walk away from a situation where her safety was so endangered by Cobb's clear inability to control his demons.

I think she was in too deep

I think she was in too deep at that point in the project (which she helped create) and wanting to see it succeed. She even told Cobb she was sticking around to look after him and the others, since she knew what was up.

Cobb said, "She'll be back," when she walked away the first time because he knew that she would be lured back by the infinite creative possibilities of the dreamscape.

I don't know, but I guess money is a good enough motivation for me for all of the other secondary characters who weren't Cobb and Ariadne. The film can't go on discursive journeys exploring everyone's motivations and backstories. Or else your overly long movie would have really been too long! :)

In too deep?

Maybe, but my issue is that Nolan told us she was in too deep but didn't show us. As I suggested in an earlier comment, I think I would have liked the film better -- at the same length -- if it had more character development and less sfx.

::sigh:: He DID show us. He

::sigh::

He DID show us. He showed us Ariadne creating a new Paris, getting stabbed by Mal (his subconscious, really), her journey into Cobb's past and the prison of his memories. She experienced all of that, remember? She was into deep because she was the only one to have seen that part of him. She was also heavily involved in the design process, which they showed us.

Showing the audience what

Showing the audience what Ariadne can create is not the same as showing her motivations for creating it. That's screenwriting 101. Actions are not generally a stand in for motivation or desires. at least not in heists films, where character development and motivations are vital to successful execution of the heist formula. Chaperoning Cobb, again, action and not motivation. Perhaps you're not understanding what is meant by motivation.

"In real life as in Grand Opera, Arias only make hopeless situations worse." - Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

Perhaps I don't? Because her

Perhaps I don't? Because her saying she wanted to make sure that no one else was going to get hurt on the mission and her enjoyment out of creating new worlds seemed like enough explanation for me as to why she'd stick around? As soon as they said "grad student" and she was given the possibilities of going beyond the limitations of her academic/career interests (in her case, architecture) I can see this as well enough of a motivation.

Your point is well taken,

Your point is well taken, though I wonder if Nolan could have spared a few moments with Caine and Page to give the audience a chance to see what was at stake for Page's character. Just giving her a name evoking Greek mythology is uninspired screenwriting and a characterization cheat.

Cobb's line, "She'll be back" seemed another example of uninspired screenwriting rather than some sparkling prognosticating abilities. While I am not a fan of tedious use of backstory and flashback, I do think a character's behaviors should be informed by something other than the word of an unreliable protagonist (in the literary sense).

That said, I'm actively trying NOT to engage in spoilers, so I'll end my thoughts about Page's character there.

"In real life as in Grand Opera, Arias only make hopeless situations worse." - Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

When have the objects of a

When have the objects of a heist ever had an emotional catharsis? I think it was interesting that the emotional catharsis was not JUST about Leo coming to terms with himself (the thief) but also the target of the heist as well (Cillian).

The "just one last heist" trope usually involves an emotional component, which is often a vehicle for the protagonist to correct some critical error from the past or to resolve some inner turmoil. Again, the set up as you describe in Inception is hardly groundbreaking. Hell, you can find similar dynamics in the reboot of Ocean's Eleven!

It's a little strange complaining about the motivations of the female characters in this film because it is so obviously Cobb's journey.

What an odd thing to say on a site which boasts "the feminist response to pop culture" as its tagline.

"In real life as in Grand Opera, Arias only make hopeless situations worse." - Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

"The "just one last heist"

"The "just one last heist" trope usually involves an emotional component, which is often a vehicle for the protagonist to correct some critical error from the past or to resolve some inner turmoil. Again, the set up as you describe in Inception is hardly groundbreaking. Hell, you can find similar dynamics in the reboot of Ocean's Eleven!"

I understand that (and god, I hate Ocean's 11, but I see your point), but what I found original and unexpected about THIS heist film is that the target of the heist is the ACTUAL catharsis of emotion (as opposed to money or gold bars or a disk of information).

"What an odd thing to say on a site which boasts "the feminist response to pop culture" as its tagline."

But it doesn't make it any less true that he was the subject of the film (and, on a meta-level, we were the subjects too considering Nolan incepted us at the end)? Besides, the female characters did have motivations.

I understand that (and god,

I understand that (and god, I hate Ocean's 11, but I see your point), but what I found original and unexpected about THIS heist film is that the target of the heist is the ACTUAL catharsis of emotion (as opposed to money or gold bars or a disk of information).

*SPOILERS*

Except the catharsis was manufactured in service of the con/heist and was simply manipulation of the mark, which I couldn't take seriously at all.

"In real life as in Grand Opera, Arias only make hopeless situations worse." - Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

Initially I would have

Initially I would have agreed. But then I thought more on it and I think the heist ultimately made Cillian come to terms with his father and get some closure on his childhood.

I've never seen a heist film

Films Inception draws influence from:

Blade Runner
Eternal Sunshine
Le Jetee/ 12 Monkeys
Brazil
The Italian Job (original)
The Matrix
2001: A Space Odyssey
Angel Heart (those damn elevators!)

and those are the ones I can think of off the top of my head.

"In real life as in Grand Opera, Arias only make hopeless situations worse." - Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

Those are some good films

Those are some good films and I agree that Inception shares many of their themes and images. It doesn't mean it's derivative. I suppose what I object to is the word "derivative," which has a very negative connotation when describing a new film. I would say that it probably takes a lot of inspiration from previous films and genre formats (because nothing is really original), but what film doesn't? I think what it DOES with these themes and images (and also how it advances the genre of emotional sci-fi) is what was hard-hitting and special to me.

Regardless of how you feel

Regardless of how you feel about the word "derivative" its use in my post is apt. Inspiration/derivative is merely splitting hairs. In either case, Inception was a great film, but hardly original and not exactly the best executed of films tackling its themes. This takes nothing away from the film, which I have stated was GREAT.

"In real life as in Grand Opera, Arias only make hopeless situations worse." - Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

OK, fair enough. By the

OK, fair enough.

By the way, I really enjoy this website. :)

Inception influences

She even used the word for one of the movies from which this one is said to draw, "Dreamscape." :D

I thought it would be better

I thought it would be better than "dreamverse" :)

Been reading the below thread...

..and I don't think Esther's comment:

"I think you don't give the female characters much credit either. Ariadne--Ellen Page's character--was named after the Greek heroine who was able to successfully lead a hero to safety. And this is what she does in the film, so she's hardly a minor or unimportant character. She is the moral center of the film and the voice of reason. I don't really get this criticism: "Cotillard's beauty, maturity and soulful depth (remember, this is the actor who won an Oscar playing Parisian icon Edith Piaf) exist to suggest similar qualities of Cobb." Well, YES. She's HIS projection. As such, she's only a shade of the real woman. That's kind of the point."

was given enough credit, nor was Nolan's vice, through DiCaprio & Page's I believe supurb acting. Page as a sketch of a person because of DiCaprio. She's almost the Virgin Mary of the story, perfect but not touchable, or even real. I thought it was great.

Snarky- I have a bone to pick with you. Picking on anyone becuase of age, and how old they look? Really? that's like singling someone out because their boobs are too big, or you don't like thier widow's peak. I think you are the one who has a problem with age, and you need to get over it. I will not buy into any childish BS tirade about age bringing wisdom, because quite frankly some of the most awful people I've met in my life were "seasoned" and some of the most delightful and wise were damn-near children. Ageism is a real problem in this country, and you can tell me I'm over-reacting, but how many times have you been fired from a job because the people you speak to can't take you seriously because their children are older than you, and after every seminar you give, the first question you have is: How old are you?- regardless of your qualifications? We cannot pretend that just becuase we are lucky enough to wake up again every morning we are instilled with new wisdom by the intelligence fairy in our sleep. that is silly. So someone has a baby face- that does not deplete them of any of their talents, artistic or otherwise.

PS- Skip Titantic- Rent This Boy's Life, The Basketball Diaries, and What's eating Gilbert Grape.

Snarky- I have a bone to

Snarky- I have a bone to pick with you. Picking on anyone becuase of age, and how old they look? Really? that's like singling someone out because their boobs are too big, or you don't like thier widow's peak. I think you are the one who has a problem with age, and you need to get over it. I will not buy into any childish BS tirade about age bringing wisdom, because quite frankly some of the most awful people I've met in my life were "seasoned" and some of the most delightful and wise were damn-near children. Ageism is a real problem in this country,

Yes, ageism IS an issue, however the concept applies to OLDER folks and not younger folks who you realize are in fact privileged as it relates to Hollywood. Pick all the bones you want, but don't misapply the label of "ageism" to do so. Personally, I find it tiresome that Hollywood immediately seeks younger and younger actors for roles that would be wonderful in the hands of older, seasoned actors. The way the film brushed aside Michael Caine, who has given some his best performances of his career in the last couple of years, as though he were Grandpa Simpson is just ridiculous. Clearly, you have bias regarding older folks and again, that's your issue and doesn't actually address the material as I have written it.

"In real life as in Grand Opera, Arias only make hopeless situations worse." - Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

Too long for what it delivered

I agree that 148 minutes was at least 40 minutes too long for what was essentially a heist movie, particularly one that failed to engage me with its supporting characters. I kept getting the feeling that scenes that might have actually fleshed out the motivations and interests of the non-Leo members of the cast ended up in the trash, replaced by ever more eye-popping effects (an amusing bit between Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Ellen Page's characters went nowhere).

I also felt particularly cheated by how little use was made of Michael Caine, who I feel could have supplied some much needed humanity, humor and gravitas to the film.

The movie felt like a rollercoaster ride that went on too long: for a while it was fun, then I got tired, and by the end I was starting to feel a little sick.

this could have been way better

I was also bummed by the way the movie failed the third part of the Bechdel test (do they talk to each other about something besides a man?), and most likely the first two as well (SPOILER: does it count if female character #2 is imaginary?). But I believed none of the characters—Marion Cotillard was the only one who seemed to have any life to her. I didn't care about Cillian Murphy's daddy issues, though I love the actor. All the character development just seemed extremely lazy. And yeah, the dream visuals could be kind of cool, but we are talking about a movie set entirely in the world of dreams. ANYTHING could happen. I actually thought the dream architecture could have—and should have—been way more out there. (SPOILER) I mean, come on, Leo and Marion spend fifty years building a world from scratch, and they fill it with gray skyscrapers?!

Take the same shooting script, delete the interminable chase/shootout scenes and let Michel Gondry have at it, I say.

"I mean, come on, Leo and

"I mean, come on, Leo and Marion spend fifty years building a world from scratch, and they fill it with gray skyscrapers?!"

I kind of like that aspect of the film. I think it would have been expected that someone fill their dreams with weird buildings and landscapes. It was intriguing that they chose conventional urban landscapes that populate their everyday world. It shows how very "modern" the characters are and the future they live in.

Agreed! I suspect it was

Agreed! I suspect it was probably difficult to create a dream world real enough to pass for reality. Unfortunate, because I was hoping for some polka dot elephants and the occasional bit of randomness. It seemed really orderly for a dreamworld. I thought the whole point of dreamworlds were they were devoid of what the waking would consider "order".

"In real life as in Grand Opera, Arias only make hopeless situations worse." - Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

definitely agree w/Page being underdeveloped! (SPOLIER)

I totally agree with the comment that Page's character was totally underdeveloped. Every time I saw her past the first few tests DiCaprio gave her, SCREAMED of this fact. And her character had such potential: she's the BEST architect (better than DiCaprio, according to the Grandpa); and she questioned the role of being an architect though we saw NOTHING of that. Instead of showing her challenges and success or trouble with dream architecture (all she got was a "I've never seen anyone catch on so quick" DiCaprio), her character existed simply to be a mirror to DiCaprio's character and to prod him to open up emotionally (hmm big surprise). Her character was a big dissappointment, in my opinion.

I thought she was

I thought she was well-developed for the type of character she was suppose to play (because she may have very well ALSO been a projection in Leo's own dreams). She very much had her own creative ambitions in this film. I felt like she was a character who was up for architectural AND emotional challenges.

Funny, I thought she was

I thought she was Inception's Smurfette.

Perhaps. Doesn't mean she

Perhaps. Doesn't mean she was an under-developed or bad character.

Esther, in the feminist

Esther, in the feminist context, that's exactly what it means. Underdeveloped, flimsy female characters tend to be the default in many major releases. Stating the male characters were crafting in a similar fashion does not negate the sexism at work in the crafting of Page or Cotillard's characters. Critiquing film from a feminist perspective means sometimes finding undesirable aspects in films you otherwise enjoy. Such is the case with Inception.

Moreover, the more successful a film featuring these lightly sketched female characters happens to be more the more likely it is Hollywood will seek to reproduce the characters in hopes of mirroring the success currently enjoyed by Inception. For a non sci-fi example, check out the entire film career of Kathryn Heigl.

In a summer where most blockbusters features female characters lacking nuance or agency, it asks a lot of a feminist film critic to overlook this element of Inception, specifically from a writer-directed lavished with so much praise.

"In real life as in Grand Opera, Arias only make hopeless situations worse." - Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

I was speaking more about

I was speaking more about the cynicism of the definition linked in Babbycakes post. That when a movie/TV show is aimed mostly at a male, rather than a female, audience, a token female character is cast and as such doesn't tend to be developed in a significant way (and, at worse, is the subject of the Male Gaze). I was saying that *perhaps* (because we don't know for sure) Ellen Page's casting in the role of The Architect was cynical and Chris Nolan just wanted a woman in there for whatever reason, BUT that doesn't mean the *role* of the The Architect was under-developed or flat or whatever. Ellen Page happened to fill out the role quite nicely and was a strong/important character throughout the film even if she might have been the victim (or victor?) of cynical casting agents.

maybe...but how would we know? (SPOILER)

I believe she would have been up for architectural and emotional challenges but we didn't see that except the end result of her architecture. I felt her journey was grazed over... And yes, she was up for DiCaprio's character's emotional challenges but as for her own, we do not know because it was never addressed or opened. The ending obviously left everything open so projection or not, I felt her character could have been more developed.

Well, if you felt that her

Well, if you felt that her journey was grazed over it was because this movie wasn't her story. It was Leo's. As such, her journey, for the sake of the narrative, has to be somehow connected to his. I think she was pretty well-developed for the *type* of character she was suppose to be. Most of the male characters in this film did not get the same treatment.

A little O/T, but...

Snarky, have you read the graphic novel series "Y: The Last Man" ? I was trying to find some feminist critique of it on this site but my search is failing me. In any case, I'd be interested to hear your opinions on it. Perhaps for another blog post...

Great writers always say:

Great writers always say: Write what you know.

And, seeing as how Mr. Nolan is a MAN, it makes perfect sense for him to write films with a male lead, does it not? Especially when said film deals (almost exclusively) with the inner workings of a man's psyche! In fact, many of the actors interviewed have claimed they came to view their characters as projections of Nolan himself.

Yes, it was "derivative", but isn't EVERYTHING?! Besides, the idea is to take the best parts of what inspires you and combine those into something that come off seeming fresh & original. It's nothing new! Shakespeare did it, so did The Beatles.

And I know this is a feminist site, but c'mon! Tilda Swinton?! Psssssh.

You also have to think of this from a financial aspect. No matter how great Tilda Swinton might have done in the role, no way in hell is any studio going to greenlight a $200 million (non-franchise) film without a big name actor.

You do bring up some good points about Ellen Page & Marion Cotillard coming off a bit two dimensional. But looking back, I think that was precisely what Nolan intended!! Remember, the whole idea is that we're supposed to be second guessing everything, "Is he dreaming now, or is this part real? Is any of it real for that matter, or is the entire movie a dream?!" In essence, Nolan is asking his actors to play their parts as genuine as possible while simultaneously remaining ambiguous & vague, quite a complex feat in itself which only an ensemble of top-tier talent like these wonderful individuals could pull off.

But I feel it's the scene near the end of the film, where Dom finally confronts Mal and puts his demons to rest, that really goes against everything you've stated about the film's lack of a well constructed feminist message. When Dom tells Mal that she's merely his limited projection of who the real Mal was; and how he could never come close to recreating her in all her real, complex, womanly glory, it was a bittersweet moment. In that moment, I feel Mr. Nolan is speaking through Dom, saying, "Yes, I am a man, and being so, I could never even begin to comprehend the intricate nature of what it is to be a woman, therefore I couldn't create a worthy facsimile in my mind, nor would I want to."

How many big-budget films have an honest message like that?!

In the end, Mr. Nolan made the movie he wanted to make.

Lucky for us.

Sounds like a cop-out to me

Are you saying that because Nolan can't create a believable female character, it's somehow feminist for him to make a film with a facsimile of one and say it's OK because a man can't comprehend what it's like to be a woman anyway?

That doesn't seem to have stopped other writers and directors from trying to create fully-realized female characters.

You realize you're on Bitch:

You realize you're on Bitch: The Feminist Response to Pop Culture right?

I can't even begin to address the litany of problematic statements in your comment. Suffice to say, it's antithetical to the tenets of feminism like whoa.

"In real life as in Grand Opera, Arias only make hopeless situations worse." - Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

an easy solution

Well, I guess if we are frustrated with one-dimensional female characters written by men, who don't even attempt to write convincing female characters because hey, how could they possibly understand the intricate nature of what it is to be a woman, we should make a concerted effort to go out and support and buy tickets to films written and directed by women!

At least, that's my solution. Who's up for seeing "The Kids Are All Right" this weekend? I would also see "Winter's Bone" and "The Contenders."

No mention of Paprika?

As soon as I saw trailers for this movie, bells started to go off in my head. Maybe this is just because I'm a colossal nerd (but not, apparently, enough of one to go back and spell check "colossal"), but SOMETHING about this movie reminded me JUST A BIT of the truly excellent animated movie Paprika, directed by Satoshi Kon, with a few minor differences in the genital department...Like all of SK's movies, Paprika is bizarre, mind-bending, fun-to-watch action but maybe most importantly it was based on strong female characters (Dr. Atsuko and her dream-avatar Paprika) navigating a dream world that is falling apart. Why did Chris Nolan decide to completely rip-off something thats been done before by people far better at him at portraying rich, powerful dream worlds and why did he have to turn it into a patriarchal fantasy land while he was at it?

QFT! I definitely saw shades

QFT! I definitely saw shades of Paprika!

"In real life as in Grand Opera, Arias only make hopeless situations worse." - Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

Wow. There's a buttload of

Wow. There's a buttload of comments (i'm #50), so this is completely gratuitous, but here are my thoughts:

1.) Yep. I didn't feel overwhelmed by it though. I found the repetition not at all overdone. some of the editing was a little ostentatious (did we need to see the car dropping in slow motion 20 different times? we get it!), and so i guess some could've been cut, but i felt pretty good about it.

2.) Yep. the beautiful beautiful beautiful beautiful Cotillard and her tremendous talents are tragically underused. The script doesn't give her a lot. And I think Ellen Page is an extremely magnetic performer, even in a role that basically exists to give exposition. Cotillard and Page make a whole lot out of a script that doesn't give them much. But to be fair the males are 'poorly utilized' as well. The emotional stakes aren't established that well. In fact the whole dead wife/children thing, which is the only reason we're given to care about the main character, feels like a real afterthought. Emotionally involving characters really hasn't been Nolan's strong suit.

3.) Cillian Murphy is the exception to what I just said. He actually has a somewhat nuanced emotional role (if completely cliche story). Ken Watanabe is surely a badass.

4.) I disagree. I came in with the same high exceptions I had for Avatar, and enjoyed them both, even though i ultimately gave them the same verdict: visually stunning, but not a lot to get involved about. The Inception script (still much stronger than Avatar) isn't up to par, despite its masterful technical nuance; it felt kinda like taking the SATs and the characters weren't exceptionally drawn. The script's main problem is the brainful of exposition that's frantically shouted every few minutes. Ebert points out that it's almost inevitable in a movie like this; it has to alternately disorient us and then give us big chunks of exposition to catch up. But it does weigh the film down.

5.) I agree. i've never fallen in love with any Leo performance, but he is consistently good. He makes a lot of good choices. One that sticks out to me is *semi-spoiler* his scream when someone jumps out a window. It's really surprisingly natural and not movie-ish, and thus really affecting.

and yes! Solaris is like the perfect version of this movie. But I still found Inception extremely impressive, and it is definitely one of the year's best. It is inevitably going to get several Oscar nominations, and I emphatically think it deserves them, especially this year.

5.) I agree. i've never

5.) I agree. i've never fallen in love with any Leo performance, but he is consistently good. He makes a lot of good choices. One that sticks out to me is *semi-spoiler* his scream when someone jumps out a window. It's really surprisingly natural and not movie-ish, and thus really affecting.

This is so true. It was a great scene. Thanks for pointing that out.

"In real life as in Grand Opera, Arias only make hopeless situations worse." - Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

Mal

In all the feminist analyses of Inception I've found so far I think they've got the interpretation of Mal wrong. She doesn't exist but is a manifestation of Cobb's subconscious. This is interesting in itself, she is not actually female but a man's reimagining of her, and a reimagining in a dream-world. Cobb says in his last scene with her that she is merely a facsmilie of his wife and doesn't include all her perfections and imperfections. Because we can't remember people properly and we particularly can't remember them when there is guilt and regret associated with their memory, she is not really a 'female character'.

So no, she's not an emotional mirror. She is a project of a male psyche. THIS is what is interesting about her.

As a young woman who deeply

As a young woman who deeply related to Ariadne, never once had to wonder at what her motivations might be, and came out of the movie actually really pleased by what I saw as some very pro-feminist ideas, it was really distressing to find out that most of the feminist community hated it.

I don't really know how to respond to the negative reviews of Ariadne's character because I related to it so strongly. I have a hard time not taking it a little personally, or being depressed by the fact that I must be similarly incomprehensible in regard to my own motivations.

As for "Mal", she was never supposed to be a woman, she was the shade of a woman in a man's mind. The fact he ultimately realized that nothing his mind could create would ever compare to the real human person he had known? That he realized the fact she had been a separate, whole, and unique being was of inherent worth and that without those things no image of her could compare? Seems sort of like a feminist epiphany to me. I'd love it if more men realized that the "crazy women" in their lives might just be the result of them projecting their own shit onto female images- and then decided that the real women in their lives were worth more than those images.

A female character I could relate to, and a man realizing that women-as-people are worth more than women-as-anima, rolled into a beautiful and action packed movie? I loved it to bits.