Inception, Or, What Happens When You Substitute A Soundtrack For A Storyline


So, I finally got around to seeing Inception.

I know: day late, dollar short, right? I’m sure most of you have already seen it, and you’ve already articulated your own responses to the film, but what’s one more perspective? (NB: mild spoilers ahead.)

On the plus side: Ellen Page and erstwhile boy-kisser Tom Hardy are both great to watch. (Joseph Gordon-Levitt is easy on the eyes, but he’s not given much to do other than ride the galloping exposition pony.)

Also on the plus side: The thought of being able to spend two lifetimes with your beloved is beautiful. Infinity would’ve been too easy and also ridiculous; two seems nice and sensible and fair. It’s enough to make anyone who’s ever known love a little sad and jealous.

That’s about it for the plusses.

In the minus column: The score is terrible. In fact, it’s so bad, so sloppy, that it kinda ruined the whole movie.

About 3/4 of the way through the film, when DiCaprio & Co. entered the third level of the dream, a laborious action sequence kicked off, and with it, an endless assault of crescendos. It sounded like what John Williams’ talentless, half-wit cousin might compose if he were really high and listened to a lot of Philip Glass. By the time that Joseph Gordon-Levitt began wrapping people in ethernet cable (seriously), I noticed that the score had been building for at least ten minutes. I covered my ears, tried to ignore the music and focus on the visuals, and when I did, I realized that without the relentless beat, the story was nearly empty. If you haven’t seen the movie, you can hear a little of what I’m talking about in this trailer:

It’s like a poorly endowed, middle-aged man tooling down the road in a Ferrari convertible: someone’s compensating for shortcomings.

Also in negative territory: there were far too many people in the cast, and they had far too little to do. By now we’ve seen enough Matrixes and Aliens and Event Horizons and whatever to know how the team scenario works: teams exist to give focus. Members of the group get picked off, leaving us with one or two survivors and a nice story arc. In Inception, everyone lives happily ever goddamn after, proving what we already knew: that the stakes were too low and the characters too poorly drawn for us to care about any of them in the first place.

But here’s the worst of all: like most sci-fi, Inception takes itself way too seriously. You can spot bad science fiction from a mile away because it’s so busy trying to establish the rules of its universe (usually with clunky expository monologues) that it can’t be bothered to make jokes. “If people laugh, they won’t take this world seriously”, or so the thinking goes.

But it’s humor and humanity that make us care about characters and the films they inhabit. Look at Dr. Who: the universe its creators have built is utterly ludicrous, but we don’t give a shit. We forgive the plot gaps because the writers and directors and actors are so good at drawing us in, making the characters engaging, and telling a damned good story. Technically, Inception‘s storyline is fine, but there aren’t any likable, interesting characters to see it through. As a result, Inception works far better in theory than in practice.

2 thoughts on “Inception, Or, What Happens When You Substitute A Soundtrack For A Storyline

  1. I think Inception would have been heaps better if they left out the tired and overwrought storyline between Leo DiCaprio and Marion Cotillard. It felt tacked on – gotta have a love story! – and distracted from the possibility of the film being just a fascinating puzzle. I’d have loved to see more Joseph Gordon-Levitt, more of Tom Hardy (esp. if “more” = “naked”) and if the love story was gone maybe Ellen Page would have had more to do than just mirror Leo’s emotional state. I actually could have done without him altogether, since his acting is mediocre at best. As a friend of mine Twittered after seeing the film “Hi, I’m Leo, I’m here to read my lines!”

  2. Honestly, Tom Hardy’s lips and chubby body were the best part of the film. Even the much-touted dream sequences were just OK in my mind. And the whole thing was too damn long.

    But the Italian melodrama “I Am Love,” starring beautiful alien Tilda Swinton, made my movie-starved summer. Subversive, sexy and sumptuous — this film manages to traumatize you as you’re falling in love with it. Amaaaaazing…

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