Accepting | Excepting Inception
What time is it? What country are we in? Why are all the urban areas vague? Where are all the signposts and markers to ground us? When did we get to Sydney? How did we get anywhere in the movie? Can you remember? Clearly, following the rules of the game, the whole movie’s been a dream unfolding in Leo DiCaprio’s manly brain. Keep spinning, top!
Christopher Nolan uses the absolute minimum amount of CGI that he can in his movies. Which is laudable, applaudable, and remarkable considering how blockbustery he’s become. It’s not easy to reject the binary code infiltration of film these days—especially when you’re blowing up Gotham City and diving down a Leonardo DiCaprio rabbit-hole.
There’s a part of my brain, let’s call it the Disbelief Node, that rejects the notion of Leonardo DiCaprio as a bad-ass dude. (It also blinks and rolls its tiny node eyes whenever Angelina Jolie grips a gun on-screen.) The patchy beard, the cherubic face, the movie-star mug: Robert Mitchum he ain’t. Or even Robert Wagner. But somehow, during Inception, that reject-a-star Disbelief Node was curiously silent. Sure, DiCaprio’s been playing a lot of damaged men lately. And he also looks like he’s been diligent about drinking his protein shakes. But, I realized on the drive home from the cineplex, the real reason why he seems mightier and fightier in the film is that his character spends a lot of time bossing Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Ellen Page around. They’re both tiny and could, perhaps, fit in a fanny pack if you folded them up carefully enough.
When Nolan ends the film on that shot of the god-damn top spinning, I wanted to blow a wet, sloppy raspberry at the screen but I’m very conscientious about not disturbing my fellow movie-goers, so I just muttered some half-hearted invective under my breath as I heaved myself out of the comfortable darkness of the theatre and into the garish afternoon light. Really, you’re going to end the movie on a Final Ambiguity? One that whispers gently in the movie-goer’s ear, “Why don’t you just scoot on back to the ticket window and lay down your ten bucks to get another crack at this movie?”
My hopes were low and dim of Joseph Gordon-Levitt, late of the tediously cute hipster rom-com (500) Days of Summer, pulling off his fight scenes with the sort of aplomb I wanted from this action movie. (And let’s be clear, this is a heist movie that features the unapologetic Commando-like slayings of countless faceless enemies. ((And it had to be a heist movie. How else could Christopher Nolan get a zillion dollars’ worth of Americans to sit through the 100 minutes of exposition that open the film?)) ) But I was surprised and excited that his bony frame becomes distinctly slinky and wraith-like while he scuttles around the walls in the zero-g hallway duel.
Playing detective to clear up the Final Ambiguity is not on my agenda. I would, however, re-watch the movie to root out the Moments of Choreographed Normalcy that Nolan slips in there every once in awhile. My favorite moment in The Dark Knight is a bit of Choreographed Normalcy that pops up in the very beginning. The film opens with the clown gang in the early stages of a bank robbery. Two of them zipline onto a rooftop and one clown doesn’t stick the landing. That’s it. I love that because it’s a nod to the reality of the totally fake situation. Yes, this clown-masked bank robber, if he were to zipline onto the rooftop, could perhaps botch his landing.
The reason Choreographed Normalcy mesmerizes me is because Nolan is such a super-competent director that you know those bits are in there on purpose. As a film-maker, he’s just so… competent. I can’t even think of a different word to use. Everything fits, everything works, everything is… you know. He lacks the bravado of Scorcese and the weirdness of Lynch, so his movies aren’t as gripping or risky, but they’re just so well-made that they inspire awe. Monolithically competent.
And, let’s be clear, the film is a logic problem wrapped up as a heist movie.
Image credit: thereelists.com