*Spoiler alert: according to your level of intelligence, this blog post may or may not give away the ending. Then again, if you’ve ever seen a Christopher Nolan film and know a little bit of film history, you have nothing to fear. Fredric Jameson’s notion of pastiche is at work here and there is no way you won’t guess what’s coming. If you don’t have a film education, maybe you will get one from reading this blog. Perhaps you can also benefit from Nolan’s layers of dream… I choose to think of them as layers of homage or intelligent plagiarism; you choose which is the misnomer*
Where does one even start talking about a film titled Inception? The connections to beginnings are endless: from Ellen Page’s Juno and her troubled portrayal of the creation of a life to Joseph Gordon Levitt’s Tom, who fails to launch of an (in-plot) epic love story in (500 days of) Summer, Inception bursts with associations to foundation and origin. Oh, and it does so in its storyline too. Ok, since you insist in discussing the intra-plot intricacies, why not say what this film is really about: endings, or the difficulty of success when attempting to achieve them. Nolan is a crafty, young filmmaker. The end of his career is nowhere in sight. However, his opening sequence is dreadfully prophetic in showing a wrinkled Ken Watanabe remembering ‘better’ times. Time is at the crux of Nolan’s film: whether the one that has elapsed, or the one that will. Of particular interest is the present time, the 2 ½ hours that transpire as our eyes remain affixed to the screen watching a curious broken time/space continuum that unfolds in front of us linearly in life but not so on screen, and that may make the weak hearted question if it really does… or even what world we are living in. This “Matrix effect” is achieved in a not-so-similarly racially charged manner. Far from the progressive black savior who enlightens Neo (beginning again!) into the path of truth, Nolan’s film regresses to post WWII notions of the “yellow peril”.
In Inception, Saito (played by Ken Watanabe) is evil, manipulative and extortive, a real exponent of the ‘Nippon terror’ that flooded the US in the 1940’s. This villain makes our beautifully white-faced hero enter a dangerous ring of corruption, and for his own attempt to plant an idea in Cobb’s head or claim supremacy over a member of the land of the free, he must be punished with death. We have seen this story before… many many years ago.
Is Saito (Ken Watanabe’s character) a Japoteur?
And not just once, as his ailment translates to each and every single layer of the “dream”.
In addition to race, this film also scores points in the gender arena. Nolan may have learned the teachings of David Mamet, who in the film The Spanish Prisoner educates audiences of the devilish quality of the female gender.
The film’s tag line: “Can you really trust anyone?”
The answer is no, especially if she is a woman. Remember the “Femme Fatales” of film noir?
Like Susan Ricci (Rebecca Pidgeon’s character in The Spanish Prisoner), Marion Cotillard’s Mal is as evil as Brigitte Helm’s Hel/Robot in Metropolis. With a short name that in a different language can be associated with evil, the two latter women exemplify the evil that Ricci artfully conceals. Can you trust anyone?, Mamet asks. Dom Cobb and his subconscious representations of Mal prove that old noir adage that women are dangerous even in dreams. But luckily for us females, films and dreams are not real. The pervasive patriarchal structure of the allegedly “real world” unfortunately is. Will we ever wake up from it? Let’s spin a dreidel, shall we?
The totem dreidel in Inception
Centuries ago, philosophers wondered about the dreamlike quality of life. Calderon de la Barca and Descartes explored this notion in print, sparking endless pages of discussion. Many Earth rotations later, the so-called “Dream Factory” continues to do so, in updated ways. David Mamet circa 1987 in House of Games, and David Fincher after him in (the almost remake) 1997 The Game have posited that maybe life is some sort of entertaining ludic fantasy.
David Fincher and his notion of a game.
The structure of the unsettling final plot point has been explored ad nauseam by directors throughout the history of film. As a new chapter is being penned, Christopher Nolan’s name seems to appear written in indelible ink, and rightfully so. His intervention provides a crack at the age-old question but presents it in a novel way hence ensuring his page will not be ripped out of the Film 101 manual. In the long list of quotes on his IMBD page, he tells the world that “The term ‘genre’ eventually becomes pejorative because you’re referring to something that’s so codified and ritualized that it ceases to have the power and meaning it had when it first started. What I’m trying to do is to create modern equivalents that speak to me of those tropes that have more of the original power.” But indeed he is not the first who has tried to repackage film noir, though he may be one of the few that have succeeded. Looking at the bare bones of Nolan’s film and the predicament it poses, Inception is a long-treaded story with a shiny exterior, an absolutely brilliant execution of a clichéd desire to travel through time and beat death. Ending at the beginning, life is a circle. Sometimes, it can also be a dream.
Marion Cotillard. Enough said.
As a mere audience member (and perhaps a little bit of film academic mixed in to bring out flavor), I can only wish that while the credits of my life roll against the background of a black screen, Edith Piaf’s voice reminds me of Marion Cotillard’s overall fabulousness. And maybe of a mysteriously abandoned Dior handbag.
Seen above is one of the four episodes created for a Dior campaign (one of which was directed by Olivier Dahan in a noir style, also responsible for “La Vie En Rose”). Shanghai, intrigue, a rarified atmosphere and lots of blue seem to line up perfectly with David Lynch, director of the short embedded here.
With Sundance closing its curtains, the crowd-pleasing premiere of Marc Webb’s 500 Days of Summer, starring indie darlings, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel (a festival regular and go-to-muse) marked the first stop on our 162 days to the film’s release on July 24. Ironically publicized as “not a love story,” and decked with linguistic magnets like “postmodern” and “indie,” this Fox Searchlight soon-to-be hit solidly caters to the lofty expectations of its vintage-groomed fans. Teaser already displays all the self-incriminating evidence:
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While most reviewers have found the Morgan Freemanish narration to be irritating, mechanically heralding “500 Days of Summer” at least 4 times (discounting subliminal echoes), I view this gesture by whoever made this trailer to be a giddy, uproarious send-up to the frothy romantic inquiries of Jean-Luc Godard, whose political ambitions were better explored in his earlier studies of male-female relationships as doomed transactions between need and desire, tedium and escape, Marx and Coca-Cola. Before embarking on his iconic Breathless, Godard was head of PR at Twentieth Century Fox’s Paris office for two years. No wonder he was so meticulous when it came to his future ad campaigns: leaving behind a unmistakable fingerprint on every poster printed and every teaser shown. Witness the assault of primary colors dropped on the viewer in the much iconic preview to Contempt, lead by an equally bold duet of voices listing all those moments one demands from art cinema: an unfulfilled caress, a forlorn glance, a cameo by Fritz Lang, and by default, those same qualities found in the budding business of trailers-as-art: black intertitles w/flashing words, and random clips from the feature film. Spot something similar?
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Much credit must be given to the lost heritage of 60s and 70s advertisements produced in the post-studio-system Hollywood, characterized by a stoic, fatherly voice-of-God inviting us to view the latest gritty entry of urban corruption and social unrest. Repeating the title of the film excessively with in-between montages consisting of purely outrageous scenes, pins the perfect mental memo for any moviegoer who wants to have his camp and eat it too. With the corninest of strategy and the best of focus-group psychology, how could anyone fall into the cracks of amnesia? Most of these enduring titles also happen to be in the new classics canon including West Side Story, Don’t Look Now, Strawdogs, and Klute.
Circling back to 300 Days, why the anachronistic homage to a forgotten practice, distancing your core audience with the most “annoying” of marketing weaponry, when kids these days are more prone to easy breezy wit over heavy meta in-joke? Given the sums of money Fox Searchlight poured into their yearly investments, it’s almost granted that the trailer acts as an invitation to the film’s reportedly unconventional time-skipping structure, a disciplinary device to assuage familiarity through readymade musical popcoctions, and what a hypnotic song–-Sweet Disposition by Australian band Temper Trap—is, washing away the initial discomfort with a Greatest-Hits reel of contemporary rom-com’s triad of affections and affectations: boy, girl, photogenic city. Last year: Nick and Norah’s NYC, Micah and Jo’s San Francisco. This year’s crime-free lovers’ spot: Tom and Summer’s Los Angeles.
As a sidenote, we will be returning to the indefinable figure of the Indie Darling, a kept creature of her times, from Anna Karina to Zooey Deschanel. In a future post, spurred by an unsatisfactory aftertaste of Andzrej Wajda’s New Wave feature, Innocent Sorcerers, we hope to dig not deeper behind the surface, but let that surface says something about our investigation. For those of you who have seen this film, keep those thoughts in mind.