The emperor marched in the procession under the beautiful canopy, and all who saw him in the street and out of the windows exclaimed: “Indeed, the emperor’s new suit is incomparable! What a long train he has! How well it fits him!”
Nobody wished to let others know he saw nothing, for then he would have been unfit for his office or too stupid. Never emperor’s clothes were more admired.
“But he has nothing on at all,” said a little child at last. “Good heavens! listen to the voice of an innocent child,” said the father, and one whispered to the other what the child had said. “But he has nothing on at all,” cried at last the whole people.
– Hans Christian Andersen in the fairy tale The Emperor’s New Clothes (1837)
Given all the hype and hoopla surrounding Christopher Nolan’s latest film Inception and the hyperbolic praise heaped on the movie, you have to ask yourself what the f*ck is going on here.
Group-think triggered hallucinatory hysteria? Possible.
Insane desire to equate confusion with genius? Certainly possible.
Folks, we just returned from the midnight show of Inception at a theater on the East Coast.
And, here’s our verdict – the wildly over-hyped Inception just does not live up, either, to the stratospheric expectations or the fulsome praise lavished upon it.
As the bard would have exclaimed, Much ado about nothing.
Cockamamie Nonsense – Well, Almost
Unlike our Indian film-makers, it’s not every day that you find big-name Hollywood directors trying to pull the wool over the viewers’ eyes.
But for some decent visual effects and Hans Zimmer’s soundtrack, we’d have been readily forthcoming to completely dismiss Inception as a cockamamie flight of fancy.
Alas, those twin saving graces cannot totally salvage the film from the rubble-heap of a gibberish story, self-inflicted damage wrought by the astonishing hubris of director/writer Christopher Nolan of Memento, Insomnia and Dark Knight fame.
Nolan made his name in Hollywood with Memento, yeah, the one incorporating novel non-linear narrative technique, a method the director first dicked around with in his black and white film Following.
Surely, all ye desi schmucks remember that Memento was also the carrion on which the Indian vultures feasted for the two Ghajini films and helped burnish Nolan’s reputation with movie-fans in the sub-continent.
Unless you are hiding under some rock in the Maoist jungles of Chattisgarh, the broad outlines of the Inception story are already common currency.
The tedious movie is built within the broad framework of the heist genre although the crown jewels at stake here are of a rather sui generis nature – valuable secrets and ideas buried in the subconscious of targets.
Leonardo DiCaprio is cast as the brooding Dom Cobb, a specialist in subconscious security who can extract ideas and secrets for his shadowy corporate masters through the laughably silly technique of sharing dreams with the victims/targets.
Extraction to Inception
After one of the ‘extraction’ missions fails, Cobb is dangled an attractive bait by a corporate chieftain Saito (Ken Watanabe) – Instead of extracting secrets from the subconscious, Cobb is tasked with the unusual mission of planting an idea into the mind of a business rival.
Assemble your team, Mr.Cobbs, orders Saito and choose your men more wisely.
The goal – to get Saito’s rival, the business heir Robert Fischer (Cillian Murphy) to break up his father’s corporate empire amid vague references to energy dominance in the world (lo behold, the evil corporation is never far behind).
Inception is the name for that onerous ‘planting ideas’ job to be accomplished by sharing dreams – now, don’t you dare laugh again – with the target.
Piffle of Dreams
Well, there are dreams.
And then there are the multi-layered dreams – dreams within dreams within dreams.
Plus projections of dead people into the dreams.
Fights within dreams.
Limbo states in the dreams.
Oh yea, there are even ‘Kicks’ to exit the dreams and more piffle.
Ah, the sheer conceit of it.
If these cinematic equivalents of the sleights of hand don’t confuse you, don’t blame yourself.
Blame the director Nolan.
Wait, why would Cobb accept the Inception job given that he had planned to head to Buenos Aires and lie low for a while after his previous failure.
You see, the attractive prize that Saito tempts Cobb with for accomplishing the seemingly impossible is to fix his vague legal problems (explained later) that are preventing him from returning to the U.S. and be with his two young children.
As if all these weren’t bizarre enough, we have the strange spectacle of Cobb’s late wife Mal (the fantastic Marion Cotillard of La Vie en Rose) appearing as an agent saboteur on his missions.
Leap of Faith
Sure, movies often dive into the phantasmagorical realm (Remember Johnny Depp’s Pirates series) in their elusive attempt to dramatize, titillate, amuse and ultimately entertain the audience.
But phantasmagoria is not the same as silly. As in Inception.
Inception also fails, and in big measure, in injecting an emotional, dramatic core into this weird dream-trip, apart from several illogical elements.
For instance, a mere telephone call from Saito is supposedly all that’s necessary to make Cobb’s legal problems go away.
Poof, just like that.
With such magical powers at your disposal, why would you even need to hire some ‘extraction’ experts. Seriously.
The core is so hollow that there’s just no emotional connect with the audience.
All these are compounded by the deliberate confusion of what is real and what’s a dream.
Some have surmised that it takes more than one viewing to appreciate the genius of Inception.
Now, that’s a double-insult to the audience.
The duo never roar to life as the Joker (Heath Ledger) did in Nolan’s last movie, The Dark Knight. Unlike the Joker’s crackling sentences, the dialogs in Inception never rise above the pedestrian.
The diminutive Ellen Page (of Juno fame), roped in to architect the dream space, looks flummoxed. As if a reluctant accomplice in the entire charade.
In the words of Saito, Nolan asks Cobb, and ultimately the audience,to take a leap of faith in his journey. While Cobb readily does that, it’s going to be harder to get the audience to do the same.
You see, Cobb really had no choice. But the audience does.
For the opening show at a mid-Atlantic theater on the East Coast, the hall wasn’t even full. No crowds outside.
An ominous sign not boding well for a summer release.
Hans Zimmer’s soundtrack is one of the highlights of this film.
As are some of the computer-generated ‘gravity-denying’ special effects.
But in the absence of the heft of a gripping story, imagery of a freight train barreling down a L.A. street, an avalanche or Paris compressing on itself can only do so much. And they are nowhere near enough. Mere saving graces.
Guys, if you surrender to the hype machine around Inception and drink the Kool-Aid, the con is on you.
Do not be seduced by the sheen of Nolan’s reputation or the panegyric scribbles of other reviewers.
This weekend, fear not to lift your collective middle fingers to this poppycock assault on the senses!