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David Hudson

By this point, long after that euphoric wave of first impressions, a roundup on Christopher Nolan's Inception is going to have to include more than snippets from the latest reviews; mention, at the very least, will have to be made of the reviews of the reviews, fired off in comment sections and hate mail over the past couple of weeks — in short, we'll have to touch on the reception of Inception. But first, Jonathan Kiefer in the Faster Times:

"As the logical extension of whatever through-line might be drawn from Memento to The Prestige to The Dark Knight, this new film has all we'd want from Nolan: the puzzles and personal demons, the propulsive chases through big-city streets, the dorm-room philosophizing. What's more, it has panache. Which is crucial for a science-fiction thriller about subconscious corporate espionage — that is, about people stealing ideas from other people's dreams — wherein plot points arise from the volatile osmosis between memory and fantasy, or the deep disorientation of sudden awakeness. Nolan isn't daunted by the perpetual moviemaking risk of belaboring the dreamlike; to the hallowed ranks of Bergman's faceless clocks and Fellini's smothering gridlock, he eagerly adds such novelty as a whole city block folding itself in half."

AO Scott in the New York Times: "Admirers of Ridley Scott's Blade Runner and Stanley Kubrick's 2001 will find themselves in good company, though Inception does not come close to matching the impact of those durable cult objects. It trades in crafty puzzles rather than profound mysteries, and gestures in the direction of mighty philosophical questions that Mr Nolan is finally too tactful, too timid or perhaps just too busy to engage."

Sean Burns for the Philadelphia Weekly (where Matt Prigge writes up an annotated list of "Six Movies Set Largely in Dreams"): "Inception is the kind of weirdo pet project that could only happen in the wake of The Dark Knight, when somebody lands a couple hundred million dollars for helming one of the biggest blockbusters of all time, no questions asked. It's an expansive brain-fuck rooted in base genre satisfactions — half Solaris, half Matrix. Simultaneously goofy and inspired, Inception is a thrilling, ultimately exhausting headlong rush through its creator's science-minded pulp fatalism. If Nolan only knew when to say when, it might have been a masterpiece."

"Like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Inception is ultimately interested in the responsibilities — even the perverse romanticism — inherent in understanding what makes another person tick." Time Out Chicago's Ben Kenigsberg: "The movie's first two-thirds are breathtakingly clever, firing new concepts so rapidly it's almost inevitable the barrage can't be sustained."

Slate's Dana Stevens notes that MC Escher "is a good reference" and that the film poses questions "reminiscent of the shape-shifting and romantic trickery of A Midsummer Night's Dream." Then: "In a convoluted opening sequence, we learn that Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a master of 'extraction' — the art of infiltrating people's dreams to steal their secrets. Along with his partner, Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), he's hired to engineer elaborate dream worlds that the victim mistakes for reality. A Japanese tycoon, Saito (Ken Watanabe), hires the team to pull off a feat never before tried: Rather than harvest a previously existing idea, would it be possible for them to implant a new one in someone's mind?"

Let's have the Telegraph's Tim Robey pick it up from there: "A dream team is assembled: newbie world-designer Ariadne (Ellen Page), identity forger Eames (Tom Hardy, a dry gift here), pharmacist Yusuf (Dileep Rao) and Cobb's regular point man Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt). Their target is Robert Fischer (Cillian Murphy, precise and valuable), the son of an ailing energy tycoon (Pete Postlethwaite) whose business empire Saito wants broken up after his death." His bottom line, by the way: "Inception's not the deep wow we might have hoped for, just the big one we needed."

Now then. "I went and wrecked the Inception Tomatometer and should be giddy with the power," sighs David Edelstein, whose review in New York is, shall we say, less than enthusiastic. But he is not giddy with power. "I began my career as a critic in the era before Tomatometers, and I never think of them unless they're forcefully brought to my attention. With The Dark Knight, it was the fanboys who did the forceful bringing." You may well remember those flame wars. Dennis Cozzalio certainly does and sees the same battles, more or less, being wearily fought all over again. These fanboys can be as vicious as the Godardians who jettisoned spitballs across the Atlantic at the philistines in Cannes who didn't immediately hail the sheer genius of Film Socialism at the hour of its premiere, when, of course, like the vast majority of the fanboys attacking certain reviewers of Inception, they themselves had not actually seen the film. The behavioral patterns of true believers have been discouragingly identical throughout human history, no matter where they've placed their ossified faith.

But I digress. Henry Stewart surveys a mess: "Angry Christopher Nolan fans came out to Nick Pinkerton's thoughtful negative review of Inception over at The Village Voice and taught him a thing or two about how to be a film critic. Here are 12 facts about film criticism we learned from them, which will hopefully help us to do our jobs over here at The L better."

Jim Emerson looks out over the wreckage, too, but he isn't having as much fun: "I just know there's a (not-so) new game in town and it's about criticizing, interpreting and projecting the returns as they come in — like election night TV: Never mind the issues — just tell us how many are red states and how many are blue states."

Let's have some more reviews: Simon Abrams (New York Press), Sam Adams (Philadelphia City Paper), Michael J Anderson and Lisa K Broad, Chris Barsanti (PopMatters), Adam Batty, Peter Bradshaw (Guardian), Josef Braun, Richard Brody (New Yorker), Ty Burr (Boston Globe), David Cairns, Dave Calhoun (Time Out London), Ed Champion, Richard Corliss (Time), Dennis Cozzalio, David Denby (New Yorker), Roger Ebert (Chicago Sun-Times), Jim Emerson, Philip French (Observer), Tim Grierson (The Simon), Michael Guillén, Kurt Halfyard (Twitch), Nick Hasted (Arts Desk), Ann Hornaday (Washington Post), Hua Hsu (Atlantic), Glenn Kenny, Peter Keough (Boston Phoenix), Benjamin Lansky (This Recording), Shawn Levy (Oregonian, where he also considers Nolan's oeuvre), Guy Lodge (In Contention), Paul Matwychuk, Todd McCarthy, Patrick Z McGavin, Wesley Morris (Boston Globe), Adam Nayman (Reverse Shot), Dan North, Andrew O'Hehir (Salon), Christopher Orr (Atlantic), Ray Pride (Newcity Film), Nicolas Rapold (L), James Rocchi (MSN Movies), Nathaniel Rogers (Towleroad), Joshua Rothkopf (Time Out New York), Nick Schager (Slant), Duncan Shepherd (San Diego Reader), Tom Shone, Steven James Snyder (Techland), Matthew Sorrento (Bright Lights), Roger Erik Tinch, Scott Tobias (AV Club), Noel Vera, Armond White (NYP), Stephanie Zacharek (Movieline) and Steven Zeitchik (Los Angeles Times).

At Techland, Graeme McMillan points us to a nifty comic prequel, Inception: The Cobol Job: "Written by one of the movie's producers, Jordan Goldberg, with art from Udon Studios, [it] both sets up the movie and teases even more about what's behind some of the stunning images seen in the trailer, not to mention suggesting a possible cross-media spin-off once the movie makes a bajillion dollars this weekend."

Scott Foundas talks with Nolan for the Voice. The Telegraph's John Hiscock interviews Marion Cotillard. Video packages (interviews, clips, you know the drill) can be viewed at the Guardian and the Telegraph.

Updates: "[W]hile the evolution of the web has seen a welcome opening up of the conversation around film, it's also had a depressingly totalitarian underbelly — with what feels like a vast rapid rebuttal unit fiercely guarding a few specific movies against pretty much anything short of breathless adulation," observes the Guardian's Danny Leigh. "What's also interesting, to me at least, is the way the situation echoes the mood of the wider movie industry. In uncertain times, Nolan's opus has simply been too big to fail — for glossy film magazines in particular, the need to keep readers excited about something in an otherwise ho-hum summer tends to mean you won't find much nay-saying about Inception in their pages."

Anthony Kaufman at Moving Image Source on the science of it all: "[D]espite the movie's preposterous vision of architects constructing dreamworlds and multiple sleepers slipping into these collective unconscious spaces, Inception draws on certain popular beliefs about dreams that are based in actuality. Whether it's adopting fundamental theories about the function of dreams as psychic manifestations of our emotional lives, or taking on recurrent dream memes — such as being pursued, killed, or falling — as plot devices, there's a lot that Inception gets right."

Update, 7/17: Via Kristopher Tapley at In Contention, an endorsement from the former Vice-President of the United States: "I have never recommended a movie before on algore.com, but I am making an exception this weekend for a movie that I had an opportunity to see when it premiered in Los Angeles last Tuesday: Inception. Do yourself a favor and see it! It is, in my opinion, a real work of genius by the writer and director, Chris Nolan, with brilliant performances — especially by my friend and fellow environmentalist, Leo DiCaprio — incredible special effects, and a truly great musical score by Hans Zimmer."

Zimmer, by the way, is also interviewed at In Contention.

Updates, 7/19: "We think there might be another inception going on in Inception." Bilge Ebiri, at Vulture, with spoilers. Also: Nick Confalone's interview with Dileep Rao.

Sam Adams in Salon: "In the vein of our explainers for Memento, Mulholland Drive, Battlestar Galactica and Southland Tales, we've come up with what we think is a definitive recap of the movie's spiraling plot, as well as a list of answers to questions the movie doesn't quite answer directly."

Listening (74'22"). IFC's Matt Singer and Alison Willmore discuss Inception and "then trace common themes from that film through Nolan's career to date."

Jennifer Stewart and Ryland Walker Knight begin an exhange on the film.

At Cinematical, Christopher Campbell notes that, according to the IMDb's list of the "Top 250 movies as voted by our users," Inception is the third greatest movie of all time. As in: Ever.



IFC Films is re-releasing Nolan's feature debut, Following (1998).

Update, 7/20: The LAT's Steven Zeitchik asks several critics about the relatively quick swing from the initial raves to the more sober assessments: "Many students of film criticism point out that this cycle isn't new — it's just faster. 'Dwight Macdonald noticed this phenomenon years ago: The daily critics say the obvious thing. The weekly critics feel inspired to correct them. The monthly critics set themselves up as adjudicators,' Ebert said in an email, citing the 20th century editor, critic and essayist. 'Of course, with the Internet, this process takes only a weekend.'"

Updates, 7/21: FirstShowing's Alex Billington interviews Ken Watanabe and Nicole Kidman calls up Marion Cotillard for Interview.

"In a number of important ways," argues Caleb Crain in Paris Review Daily, "Nolan's dreams are unlike actual dreams. A real dream, of course, can't be shared while it is being experienced, though that may be chalked up to the movie's poetic license. More important, in a real dream, problem-solving is impossible; there are usually jump-cuts far more Godardian than anything attempted by Nolan; spacetime is much more fungible, if not irrelevant; and crucially, there is a wish, or rather, a congeries of wishes, governing the structure of the dream.... Nolan's dreams more closely resemble video games. That explains, I think, the movie's brooding over the fate of the bodies left behind by the dreamers. The movie doesn't merely worry about the bodies left at the 'top level' — the dreamers' physical bodies. It worries about the representations of their bodies left behind on all the intermediate dream-levels. It probably doesn't make sense, therefore, to class Inception with Paprika, Mulholland Drive, and other movies about dreams: it belongs rather with The Matrix, Existenz, and Avatar — with movies about the mind-body problem in the age of gaming."

Jonah Weiner in Slate: "At root, the movie presents a world in which corporate-capitalist powers are capable of controlling our dreams: a bleak world, as a friend put it to me after seeing the film, 'that has increasingly less room for a Freudian-Bretonian unconscious to go spinning revolutionary visions.'"

A roundup from Alex Billington: "Inception Aftermath: Theories, Thoughts, Oscar Buzz & More." And from Catherine Grant, another: "Christopher Nolan Studies."

Updates, 7/25: "Film culture on the Internet does not only speed up the story of a movie's absorption of a movie into the cultural bloodstream but also reverses the sequence. Maybe my memory is fuzzy, or maybe I'm dreaming, but I think it used to be that 'masterpiece' was the last word, the end of the discussion, rather than the starting point." The NYT's AO Scott revisits the reception of Inception.

In the Observer, Vanessa Thorpe reports on the various theories floating around out there as to what it all adds up to.

Updates, 7/28: In Contention's Kristopher Tapley's got an Inception infographic mapping out who's dreaming what when and where.

Leo Goldsmith at Not Coming to a Theater Near You: "While I realize that seeing Lost Highway and Inception in one weekend paves the way for an unfair comparison, it's still amusing to me that Nolan's film, so ostensibly concerned with the depths and wonders of the human subconsicous, is yet so bereft of imagination."

Viewing (1'15"). At Boing Boing, Cory Doctorow's got "a YouTube clip showing some of the nice attention to detail in the film: the two major musical stings in the movie (a threatening, bassy throb and a grainy Victrola of Edith Piaf singing 'Je Ne Regrette Rien') are, in fact, the same song, played at very different speeds."

Update, 8/3: Listening and viewing via Catherine Grant, Dan North's podcast and College Humor's skit.

Update, 8/5: Sculptor John Powers on "The Architecture of Inception: Combat Archeologies."

Updates, 8/6: Kristin Thompson and David Bordwell go long, Thompson opening the proceedings, turning the floor over to Bordwell before she returns — and Bordwell adds a coda.

"[I]t's obviously a film intended to be zeitgeist-ish, an indicator of the further digitalization of cinematic reality, just as The Matrix, Dark City, eXistenz, et al. were," writes Adrian Ivakhiv. "These are all in the tradition of the paranoid-conspiracy film (that Fredric Jameson has a good chapter about in The Geopolitical Aesthetic, though it could certainly use some updating by now). But unlike most of those, Inception has an essentially life-affirming feel to it, less The Matrix and more I Heart Huckabees or Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, at least if you take away the 'car chase[s], hotel suspense, and Alistair McLean-style mountain assault' (as Ty Burr puts it)."

Update, 8/11: Henry Jenkins comments on what he sees as a misconception of his stance on Inception. In short, the movie's not just for gamers.

Update, 8/12: At the House Next Door, Tom Elrod surveys Nolan's films, "looking at what works in each of them and what they have in common. I think by both taking Nolan seriously and putting him in perspective we can see what is good about his movies, what we can take away from them, and why, perhaps, they inspire so much passion."

Update, 8/14: "Perhaps the ambiguity imposed by the final image and the cut to black can be looked at slightly differently," writes David Deamer. "Perhaps what really is at stake in the film is something else entirely. To discover what this might be we can turn to the cinema books of Gilles Deleuze and his exploration of what he calls dream-images."


Updates, 8/16: "Perhaps the most clear message Inception offers is one about the market value of ideas," writes frieze's Dan Fox. "Although Inception shares none of the fuzzy warmth of whimsical magic-realist-lite advertising, the film nevertheless speaks in a similarly mediated language: a language that describes our world as one that is able to spin on a coin of creative fantasy at any moment — the big-budget fantasies of an advertising executive or Hollywood movie director. There is none of the weirdness, creepiness, intimacy, fun, eroticism, bewilderment or plain neurosis that really fuel dreams. Ironically, the film's visual style looks just like one which might be used to sell fast cars or luxury hotels to the sort of big business types the film depicts. Inception is science fiction, business class."

"[W]hile most discussion on the film is largely played out, I did want to draw attention to [Chris Laverty's] interesting interview with the film's costume designer, Jeffrey Kurland, on the excellent, self-explanatory website Clothes on Film," writes Guy Lodge at In Contention. For one thing, "Kurland casually shoots down one widely floated theory about the film's ending by confirming that the clothing worn by Cobb's children in the final scene is different from that worn earlier." From the interview: "Not wanting to date the film, I was trying to create an upscale world of business and intrigue with architecture being a constant metaphorical thread running throughout… definitely forward thinking, without being futuristic. That enabled me to travel from reality to dreams and back, keeping a certain amount of stylization that would serve all the situations presented in the script."

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