Posts Tagged ‘the cell’

I didn't realize the tagline was a WARNING.

Imagine the most boring person you know describing their dream from last night to you.  For 2 and a half hours.

There is a moment during Inception when Ellen Page’s (groaningly named) Ariadne beholds DiCaprio’s dreamscape and gasps with wonder: “You made this?” We are meant to be dazzled by the vista; this, after all, is the film’s purest version of creativity unbridled and the human mind unfettered. But all we see is endless, faceless skyscrapers extending into oblivion. Welcome to the creative vision of Christopher Nolan, apparently.

One need only compare it to Tarsem Singh’s The Cell to understand what a colossal failure of artistic innovation Inception represents. Nolan opens the Pandora’s Box of a film set in the dream-world only to slam it closed and bind it shut in ludicrously constrictive rules: characters can calculate MATHEMATICALLY AND EXACTLY how long a dream will seem (this expands exponentially, and with no loss in precision, as the dreamworlds concatenate); if you die in a dream you wake up – except of course when you don’t, due to another set of stupid made-up rules.  I never imagined a movie about dreaming would be so obsessed with timelines, guidelines, caveats, and mechanics.  Say what you will about Jennifer goddamn Lopez, but Singh’s The Cell (and to a lesser extent, The Fall) is a film where both the characters and the story recognize and exploit dream-logic both in world-building and navigation.  Inception is a categoric failure of imagination – a film with the budget and concept to literally get away with anything, but damningly low on vision.

For example, in a scene where DiCaprio recruits Page as a kind of dream-architect, he follows at her heels, whining at her for fucking too much with reality because she buckles a bridge or adds some accent mirrors. In the shot now famous from the trailers, Page realizes how much power she now has as she folds Paris in half overhead, and takes the job because as an architect, she gasps, “there’s nothing quite like it” – but she never dares do anything like this again.

Apparently given a world free from physics and limitations, the world’s greatest architect designs worlds that look pretty much exactly like downtown Chicago. Sounds a lot like Nolan himself, actually.

Chicago Street View

Behold! The pinnacle of the human imagination unbound, as captured by Google street view.

I think the most telling and damning moment is when Gordon-Levitt explains the Penrose Stairs to us. Rather than giving us a gleeful MC Escher moment, the film weaponizes and euthanizes all the joy and fun out of this possibility. “A paradox”, he grimly intones both times he uses them, so he can beat up another Agent Smith. And then the camera FULLY PANS DOWN AND SHOWS US THE TRICK. The Penrose Stairs, instead of being an impossible-thing-made-possible, are just a way to service a story riddled with plot-holes and half-baked character concepts.  One of the biggest:

There are few problems that cannot be solved by moving to France.The grubby denizens of the interweb (above artist unknown) have been gleefully skewering Inception’s many glaring plotholes for months, but in the film’s defense, there are few problems in life that cannot be solved by moving to Paris. (exceptions: “I am crippled by debut-de-siecle ennui”; “I am attempting to overcome the collapse of my relationship with Chuck Bass“; “I am being mercilessly persecuted for my racio-ethno-religious identity”.)

The film is indeed a descendant of Kubrick-by-way-of-Tarkovsky – full of shrewish dead wives (Poor Marion Cotillard – still, Polly Pocket Femme Fatale is still better than all-suffering wife in Nine) and long hallways of great import – but the difference is that both these directors used their rules (and broke them) precisely because they knew that their power came from the something terrible, the something senseless, hovering at the margins. Nolan’s world has no such danger. It’s just another lifeless heist movie – it just placed its routine action sequences in a nesting doll rather than sequentially.

Which is fine; don’t get me wrong, I love a good action movie (though i don’t think they need be quite so stiff and humourless in order to be potent).  But Christopher Nolan found a magic lamp, and when the genie emerged, he asked for…a regular lamp.

Don’t even get me started on this fucking nonsense.

Final Grade: 6.7/10