Anyone who has read my entries for the last 14 years will know that I am not sympathetic to what might be called the extra-sensory perception world of ghosts, mediums, minding reading and all that. Many years ago a music hall performer convinced me that mind-reading is always based on sleight of hand tricks that are invisible to the audience.
So I approached the new highly-praised movie Inception with low expectations.It deals with someone who has perfected the art of entering peoples dreams in such a way that the dream is made into reality, which can be exploded by simply waking up, or being awakened by some traumatic, dreamed event, such as a gunshot.
At least, I think that is what the movie was about, because I had one of those rare experiences in which I was not able to grasp the subject of this movie from the first moment on screen. I never had, from the opening shot, the slightest idea of what these people were trying to do, and furthermore, I was given no reason to care, one way or the other. As far as I could tell, there were two basic sequences: people sat, or lay, around in hotel rooms (or elsewhere) having been placed under, as it were, by which I mean they were placed in comas by the administration of some substance, which was enough to set up the outside sequences, both presumably dreamed, and real.
The outside sequences, however, defied explanation, except as a demonstration of the American love of violence. These sequences had people shooting at each other for reasons that I certainly never understood, and racing around in cars that were crashing into each other. Also, landscapes were disintegrating; people were falling into the sea; they were in the Arctic (again for unexplained reasons) where they were fighting over some building, and trudging over the snowy landscape.
I went to the movie with a couple of highly intelligent young people. Throughout, I was nursing this fear that they were getting it, getting something that was beyond my understanding, so I occupied my time by carefully rehearsing how I would give them my opinion. My opinion was that this was the most pointless film I had ever seen in my life, an opinion that I feared might bring down upon me the wrath of god.
I need not have worried: when we got into the street, my son exploded with exactly the same opinion I had myself (a rare enough occurrence), and his companion agreed. They had been as much in the dark as I had been. We laughed over it and excoriated the movie for the next two hours.
Now this movie, according to the internet site Rotten Tomato, which collects this sort of information, was approved by 84 per cent of the critics, which I take to be an indication of the corruption of American thought.
But wait: a small minority of critics shared our opinion. One wrote in New York magazine: "I truly have no idea what so many people are raving about. It’s as if someone went into their heads while they were sleeping and planted the idea that Inception is a visionary masterpiece and—hold on … Whoa! I think I get it. The movie is a metaphor for the power of delusional hype—a metaphor for itself".
Another wrote: "Despite its big budget ... Inception is full of second-rate aesthetics, yet when shoddy aesthetics become the new standard, it’s sufficient to up-end the art of cinema..." And A.O. Scott wrote in The New York Times: "But though there is a lot to see in Inception, there is nothing that counts as genuine vision. Mr. Nolan’s (Christopher Nolan, the director) idea of the mind is too literal, too logical, too rule-bound to allow the full measure of madness."
So at least we were not alone. But there is a further dimension to this aberration. The movie cost $160 million to make, and another $100 million has been budgeted for its marketing --- which presumably explains why it has received such a favorable reception. A hundred million dollars will buy a lot of praise in the United States.
That added dimension comes from the social consequences of spending this kind of wealth on this kind of product. It comes, for example, hard on the heels of the tragedy of Haiti, where the lives of ordinary people have been reduced to almost a nullity. A few days before seeing this movie I read the report of Medecins Sans Frontier on their six months of action following the Haiti earthquake, a terrible tale of human and physical devastation, impoverishment, and societal dissolution, caused, essentially, by the lack of resources available to its victims. The $260 million dollars wasted on his epic movie would go a long way to relieve the suffering --- not only in Haiti, but in many other places --- but this sort of accountability, this sort of societal consciousness, appears to be almost totally lacking even in the new, Obama-driven America.
Another thing I had planned to say in my careful reaction was: "There was one thing I feel I can praise in the movie. It is Ellen Page's neck. She has an exceptionally beautiful neck."
Ellen Page is this remarkable little, young Canadian actress, who is cutting a swathe through the movie industry with her genius. In this movie, as one of us remarked, she had a look on her face throughout that seemed to say, "Whoa, there, fellas! What the fuck is happening here?"