Inception is a vanity project. Eight years is far too long to develop a script for a movie. I fear that in that time Christopher Nolan became uncompromisingly attached to the material and unhealthily obsessed over plot intricacies. I say this with a negative connotation because watching Inception feels like reading a book, except of course you can’t open to any page or reread any passages (though you’d want to). It is literate rather than musical, or if musical at all, is a symphony written, conducted and performed by robots.
If nothing else, Inception is a direct conduit into the thought processes of a particular type of person. People in literary professions or even just Creative Writing/English majors often like Nolan’s work, and he indeed probably would make a good novelist. It is clear enough that he is meticulous and calculating regarding his scripts. However, as a film director, as a visual storyteller, I can’t help but find him lacking. A film’s “literature” (whenever I say this regarding movies, I’m referring to the ins and outs of its narrative), as I mentioned in my Shutter Island review, doesn’t interest me much. Film is a medium of tonality and style, i.e. storytelling through aesthetic choices rather than literary ones.
I’d argue that Inception totally fails as a motion picture because it was such a literal handling of inherently abstract material. Its aesthetics were, without warrant, quite similar to those of The Dark Knight: urban, gritty, and hyper-realistic. I can’t be so arrogant as to assume Nolan’s intentions, but portraying things as vague and transformative as dreams in such a concrete way is at the least a haphazard clash of fundamentals. This isn’t even my real issue, though, rather it is the standardization of dreams. Dreams are deeply personal experiences; to dream is to meditate on one’s desires, fears, even fetishes. Inception turns dreams into a shared experience, into a virtual space that can be tread by anyone. Inception turns dreams into public transportation. While I’m willing to acknowledge that this could have in fact been the Point, as in blurring (actually more like erasing via Etch-A-Sketch) the line between dreams and reality, such irresponsible invasion of the subconscious is a premise that I just can’t get behind.
Vanity projects do have incredible value on one level, though: the unequaled insight into the mind of the author. Inception’s story deals with a man lost in the labyrinth of his own surrealties, the ever-encroaching walls of which haphazardly realign and rearrange the rules of reality. Even the film’s aspect ratio (2.35:1) felt claustrophobic and awkward, furthering the angular and mathematical madness. This is admittedly fascinating if interpreted as Nolan subconsciously reconstructing his mind onto film, but for me as a viewer, it was a nightmare. Journeying into the subconsciousness of another is truly traumatic. It also, again, directly conflicts with the film’s narrative, where the characters hop from brain to brain like visiting each others’ apartments. For all intents and purposes I hated Inception and found no joy in its viewing. I liken the experience to someone violently shaking me and yet somehow me being utterly bored by the action. And yet… it is such an ambitious film, and I have no reservations about assuming it was a project of supreme personal significance. I hope that, like Inception’s protagonist, somewhere amongst, underneath, and inside his convoluted construction, Christopher Nolan found what he was searching for. I sincerely do.