13 July 2010
SPOILERS below, no doubt...
The more I think about this film, the more it sits well with me, which I think is a good sign, but the truth is, my initial response was a little more mixed. The truth is, my very first reaction was I felt some of the action sequences were way too actiony at the expense of moving the story along and that some of the exposition sequences were way too info-dumpy at the expense of the drama. My first thought was, this film is top-heavy, spending the first third or half with nonstop telling-not-showing, just so many expository conversations (and a couple of "as-you-know-Bobs" in there, too) and the second half was nonstop running around shooting guns and stuff. The actual plot was pretty good, no question, and the concept was decently explored for the most part -- very post-Dickian even if it kind of shortchanges some of its deeper thoughts, like cramming one of the major themes of (both versions of) Solaris into a couple of lines of near-passing-but-still-crucial dialogue. But the balance between delivery of ideas and delivery of action felt kind of off, and the balance of show vs. tell likewise, despite some special-effect kickassery.
But like I said, that's my initial reaction, and a couple of hours later it's already starting to settle pretty well. I had the privilege of talking to a couple of film critic friends about this movie immediately after seeing it, and in addition to noting that they didn't seem to have any of the problems I did with it, it also turned out that four of us (two critics; two movie-lovers) couldn't quite piece together a crucial point in the story's chronology on first viewing; we all remembered it slightly differently. (SPOILER!) The point in contention is when exactly during the fifty years they spent living together in Limbo did Dom Cobb implant the idea that reality wasn't real in his wife's subconscious? I thought it was very early on, as a way of making the inevitable fifty-ish years of entrapment more bearable; the others seemed to think it was at the end of the fifty years, to convince her to leave Limbo behind and rejoin the real world. The more we discussed it, the more validation seemed to arise to support both points. Like all Nolan films, this is one with clues throughout and a complicated backstory, and most likely a self-deceptive, somewhat self-destructive protagonist who is already, at the beginning of our story, living within the damage he's done to himself. The fact is, we couldn't reach a consensus, and the more we discussed it, the more the richness of this story seemed to present itself to me. No matter who is correct, there's no questioning this story isn't just some failed attempt at cerebral action: there's something there. I feel obligated to point out that on first viewing I was more critical than praising of The Dark Knight, and while that's not exactly a perfect flawless film, it's definitely an amazing and special one, more great than flawed.
The other thought I kept having as we watched was, this film has so much story I would have liked to see the exact same details, twists, layers, and chronology applied to a one- or two-year story arc in some kind of sci-fi drama TV series, where these crazy ideas and reveals and deeper layers (both to the dreams and to some of the characters' backstories) would have had more time to flourish and thrive, spread out a little. The exact same story felt rushed at every point in a two-ish hour film; I wanted these ideas to breathe a little, the reveals to feel less forced or less expository, and that could only have been done if Nolan had crafted a ten-hour story set in this world. But would that have been so bad? TV needs the new cliffhanger sci-fi series, right? So even though this was a good film, I kept wondering, how fun would it have been if Inception had been given the breadth of a TV series?
Bottom line is, I'll need to see this again to pass final judgment on the plot and all, but it's got way too much going for it for this to be anything less than great. So far, top three films of the year are Winter's Bone, Toy Story 3, and this -- in no particular order. Which, so far, is about as I would have predicted. This may not beat The Prestige, or maybe even Memento, but it's a hell of a lot better than almost everything else 2010 is offering us.
Seen at the Regal Lloyd Cinemas.