Friday, July 30, 2010

Movie Review - Inception (The authenticity of reality)

I was going to write a review of Inception, but some of you (Wunelle) beat me to the punch and did a good job with it. I'll have a few words about my take on Inception later but I thought I'd first post a nice article by progressive writer David Sirota about the parallels between Inception and modern propaganda:

The Deception of Real-Life 'Inception'
by David Sirota

For all of its "Matrix"-like convolutions and "Alice in Wonderland" allusions, the new film "Inception" adds something significant to the ancient ruminations about reality's authenticity-something profoundly relevant to this epoch of confusion. In the movie's tale of corporate espionage, we are asked to ponder this moment's most disturbing epistemological questions: Namely, how are ideas deposited in people's minds, and how incurable are those ideas when they are wrong?

Many old sci-fi stories, like politics and advertising of the past, subscribed to the "Clockwork Orange" theory that says blatantly propagandistic repetition is the best way to pound concepts into the human brain. But as "Inception's" main character, Cobb, posits, the "most resilient parasite" of all is an idea that individuals are subtly led to think they discovered on their own.

This argument's real-world application was previously outlined by Cal State Fullerton's Nancy Snow, who wrote in 2004 that today's most pervasive and effective propaganda is the kind that is "least noticeable" and consequently "convinces people they are not being manipulated." The flip side is also true: When an idea is obviously propaganda, it loses credibility. Indeed, in the same way the subconscious of "Inception's" characters eviscerate known invaders, we are reflexively hostile to ideas when we know they come from agenda-wielding intruders.

These laws of cognition, of course, are brilliantly exploited by a 24/7 information culture that has succeeded in making "your mind the scene of the crime," as "Inception's" trailer warns. Because we are now so completely immersed in various multimedia dreamscapes, many of the prefabricated-and often inaccurate-ideas in those phantasmagorias can seem wholly self-realized and, hence, totally logical.

The conservative media dreamland, for instance, ensconces its audience in an impregnable bubble-you eat breakfast with the Wall Street Journal's editorial page, you drive to the office with right-wing radio, you flit between Breitbart and Drudge at work, you come home to Fox News. The ideas bouncing around in this world-say, ideas about the Obama administration allegedly favoring blacks-don't seem like propaganda to those inside the bubble. With heavily edited videos of screaming pastors and prejudice-sounding Department of Agriculture officials, these ideas are cloaked in the veneer of unchallenged fact, leaving the audience to assume its bigoted conclusions are completely self-directed and incontrovertible.

Same thing for those living in the closed-loop of the "traditional" media. Replace conservative news outlets with The New York Times, National Public Radio, and network newscasts, and it's just another dreamscape promulgating certain synthetic ideas (for instance, militarism and market fundamentalism), excluding other ideas (say, antiwar opinions and critiques of the free market) and bringing audiences to seemingly self-conceived and rational judgments-judgments that are tragically misguided.

Taken together, our society has achieved the goal of "Inception's" idea-implanting protagonists-only without all the technological subterfuge. And just as they arose with Cobb's wife, problems are emerging in our democracy as the dreams sow demonstrable fallacies.

As writer Joe Keohane noted in a recent Boston Globe report about new scientific findings, contravening facts no longer "have the power to change our minds" when we are wrong.

"When misinformed people, particularly political partisans, were exposed to corrected facts in news stories, they rarely changed their minds," he wrote. "In fact, they often became even more strongly set in their beliefs."

What is the circuit breaker in this delusive cycle? It's hard to know if one exists, just as it is difficult to know whether Cobb's totem ever stops spinning. For so many, meticulously constructed fantasies seem like indisputable reality. And because those fantasies' artificial inception is now so deftly obscured, we can no longer wake up, even if facts tell us we're in a dream-and even when the dream becomes a nightmare.

I liked the movie. The visuals are stunning and not fakey like most F/X-laden blockbusters. Most of the illusions look to have been done with camera tricks rather than computers. Inception has a nice cast, partularly Leo, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ken Watanabe, Michael Caine, Ellen Page, and Marion Cotillard.

Like most Christopher Nolan directed movies, Inception tweaks your noggin' a bit. I still like Memento more, but maybe that was because it was a bit more modest in scope and Nolan was not the big Hollywood director he is now with franchises like Batman in his back-pocket.

The concept of recursive dreams is cool to think about. I'm pretty sure that I wasn't the only one whose dreams were a bit odd the week after watching Inception. I found myself trying to control them a bit ... to no avail. Grade: B

"Propaganda does not deceive people; it merely helps them to deceive themselves." - Eric Hoffer


CyberKitten said...

I loved it and thought it was one of the best films I've seen in the last 3-5 years. I particularly loved the non-Hollywood ending.

I described in @ work as 'wonderfully ambiguous' - which caused several people to roll their eues at a 'typical' comment from me [grin]

I was particularly impressed both by DiCaprio and especially by Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

dbackdad said...

Yeah, I like things not ending up tidy.

I am consistently impressed by DiCaprio. The thing about his performances is that they never seem to be mailed in. He doesn't appear to take roles just for a paycheck.

Consider his last 9 films: Inception, Shutter Island, Revolutionary Road, Body of Lies, Blood Diamond, The Departed, The Aviator, Catch Me If You Can, and Gangs of New York. That's 4 Scorsese films, Nolan, Ridley Scott, Sam Mendes and Stephen Spielberg. Plus another movie political in nature about conflict diamonds. That doesn't even count the environmental shows (11th Hour, Greensburg) that he wrote and produced. The boy is not slacking off at all. There are few great actors out there that don't occassionally put out a piece of shit. Leo's certainly replaced De Niro as Scorsese's go-to guy.

CyberKitten said...

dbackdad said: Yeah, I like things not ending up tidy.

I sat their in the movie theatre saying "end it now" and it did. Much to my delight and, from the noise, the delight of most of the people in there.

I *hate* trite endings and they can, and have, ruined an otherwise good film. AI is the obvious example that comes to mind.

wunelle said...

I love the ending that leaves you hanging or otherwise fails to wrap things up. I made my in-laws watch The Talented Mr. Ripley some years back and they almost mutinied at the ending! But I love that not following the playbook can have such pungency.

wunelle said...

And I'm so with you about Leo DiC. He's on an amazing streak of great performances.

Shaw Kenawe said...

I agree with you on Memento. It's definitely in my toop 20 all time great movies.

I also liked "Inception," even though after I saw it I told my friends it was a movie about people who like to nap.

The visuals were stunning.

I'd see it again.

dbackdad said...

Shaw -- " ... movie about people who like to nap" -- lol, love it.

I'm definitely going to go see it again. It's so rich in detail and symbolism that I think you could watch it several times and still pick up something new.

Sadie Lou said...

I had a few problems with the movie. I loved the story/concept. However, I felt like parts of the movie were edited poorly. The scene with the guy dragging his sleepy friends through the hotel to get them on the elevator, while the van full of people was going off the bridge, while the others were in that second layer of the dream, was pretty long winded and could have been scaled back.
I also didn't not like the dramatic music overscoring just about every scene in the film. The movie theater we went to had that cranked up so loud my ear drums were bleeding.

Lastly, having just seen Leo in Shutter Island, I felt like he was carrying around the residual character from that film, into this one and I didn't feel like he brought anything new to the table for inception. I loved all of his co-stars though. I particularly thought the young woman from Juno did well but her charisma was in such contrast to Leo's brooding non-passion, it seemed out of balance.
Overall, I give the movie a B- losing a whole grade for the editing and Leo's nonchalant, unoriginal performance.

download free movies said...

Inception is truly a masterpiece of this summer. It is a must watch movie. And you have presented the movie so beautifully in words. Thanks a lot for sharing the blog.

Inception said...

I had to really zoom in to read your review on my 22 inch screen. Just wanted to say i'm glad i took the effort, true and superb writing.