It appears as if my wife and I are the only two people on the face of the planet who hated Inception. She walked out about an hour and change into it—immediately before the tedious exposition that made the rest of the film thuddingly predictable—and I followed shortly thereafter. Spoilers follow under the fold.
As soon as the ersatz Ra’s Al Ghul from Batman Begins got shot the film screamed its circularity. Once the rules about dying in one dream level were explained, the mechanism of that circularity became obvious, as did the fact that the “cliffhanger” would consist of whether or not Cobb was really in the really real world or just in another dream. Which is pot-logic; by which I mean, the sort of thing you say when you’re listening to Floyd in your dorm and everyone has their own bowl and is abusing it.
“Man, but what if this was all, like, a dream?”
“I know, dude, but what if it’s not even a person’s? What if we’re all, like, in a dog’s dream?”
“And the moment it wakes up to lick its balls? We like cease to exist?”
“That is deep, dude.”
It’s an infuriatingly stupid conceit, and asking the audience to accept it in order to make a film work is insulting.* I’ll admit that film was finely composed: the plot circled back perfectly, i.e. the timing of the van versus the timing at the hotel versus the timing at the fortress and then Limbo. Limbo. What to say about that?
The less more likely the better.
Instead, I’ll just note that psychological complexity in this film was figured like a wedding cake: “depth” literally entailed layers stacked one atop the other, such that the “deeper” one went, the “deeper” one was. Which is deep, dude. But the perfect circularity of the plot had another unintended consequence: the film felt like an exercise in empty formalism.
I’m sorry, I misspoke: the film “felt” like nothing, because it generated sympathy for neither the characters nor the corporation at whose behest they toiled. When Nolan did attempt to make viewers care about the characters, he did so in the most grossly manipulative of manners: he killed a wife and quasi-orphaned some children. Only who cared? They weren’t people so much as necessary elements of his orderly plotting, without whom he couldn’t have knocked over that first domino.
“Dominoes” aren’t the operative metaphor here, though. Inception was the equivalent of watching a grandmaster play an uninspired game against the village idiot. There’s brilliance there, certainly, but it’s pointless and wasted.
*My personal theory is that no one had the gumption to tell Nolan this because The Dark Knight was the highest grossing film of all time.