Inception Reception

Nolan on Inception set

Full Disclosure: I have not yet seen Inception. I plan on attending tomorrow afternoon with a friend.

However, leading up to this release there has been, of late especially, rather turbulent happenings in the film review community. A large-scale summer release by a director like Christopher Nolan is usually open ground for critical debate; following the inimitable The Dark Knight, wherein Nolan seemed to mostly bridge the gap between high-octane, low intelligence, superhero comic fare and substantial, considered and human, cinema, the discussion about his newest film was surely going to be nothing other than widespread and diverse. Prior to even being shown to the public there erupted a discourse that was at once as reactionary and vitriolic as it was glowing and laudatory. Jim Emerson of Ebert association has a nice piece about the film and the reviews it has garnered – as well as the reviews of its reviews/reviewers – here.

Has there already been a backlash against Inception, and has there subsequently been a backlash against the backlash against the film? Heady discourse all centered around a film that, until midnight last night, no one had yet seen.

To my mind, this can only signify that Nolan has crafted something worth discussing with his latest film. It is my opinion that only the most interesting films can generate such divisive conversation within their immediate wake. Though, perhaps it is less the film than the cult of personality that The Dark Knight fortified around the already critically lauded Nolan that these critics are pushing back against?

In any case, given the already established broad strokes to the plot of the film – Leonardo DiCaprio playing a man who is charged with planting an idea in the subconscious of another man – much has been made in the critical dialogue, both positive and negative, about the relation between this act and the role of the cinematic auteur. That film provides an ample opportunity for someone to plant an idea into the mind of another seems rather evident; film does not need strange or foreign technology to enter into the thought, it enters through the eye of the viewer via the images projected in thousands of frames.

The corollary between film-making and the dream/thought planting that occurs in Inception seems to me to be self-evident. However, what is perhaps more interesting is the manner in which the critical discourse itself is mimicking this process; each critic in her or his own voicing of their opinion about the film before a potential theatre-goer gets their chance to see it likewise plants their own ideas into their reader’s subconscious. Short of entirely avoiding all internet media, a Herculean feat by today’s standards, someone who attends Inception will be informed in a way by the critical conversation they have read, if not directly taken part of, online.

Without even having seen the film, Inception already exists as a field on which the criticism of film and film itself come together in sympathetic ends; each medium communicates its ideas into the (sub)conscious of its audience. Bearing this in mind I can’t see how the initial reaction from critics to the film could have been any different.

If film projection relies on the persistence of vision to achieve its illusion of movement, the unperceived space between frames is open to be filled by critical discourse. Between the static projected pictures lies the subconsciousness of a film; it is here that the audience, in its silence and perception, inserts itself.


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