Monday, July 19, 2010

Conflicted at the Movies

Last night I saw INCEPTION, the new SF movie about dreams, reality, transnational energy monopolies, tortured father-son struggles, fugitive con men, murderous suicidal wives, and half a dozen other things. The plot is very complicated. I don't want to give any of it away in spoilers, so here are my general impressions, for whatever they're worth:

The plot is unusually complicated.

I was absorbed throughout the entire movie. At times I was also lost because:

The plot is really complicated.

Some of the film is moving: specifically, the parts involving Leonardo DiCaprio's family.

Ariadne's involvement, motivation, and quickness at understanding Cobb (faster than people who have known him for years -- in fact, almost instantly) make no sense. But they are necessary because she is necessary to explain things to, because:

The plot is amazingly complicated.

Leonardo DiCaprio turns in a heartfelt performance.

There is way too much shooting, being shot at, and fleeing shooting people on foot, in cars, on skis, and in null gravity. Way, way too much.

I recommend the movie, even though its central ideas could have been explored better IF:

The plot had not been so extremely complicated.

INCEPTION is, in microcosm, the state of much current SF. It is so complex and self-referential that much time is spent figuring out what is happening, rather than inhabiting what is happening. Is this good or bad? I guess that depends why you like stories. If you want them to be puzzles, then INCEPTION is brilliant. If you want them to be reflections of human experience, then INCEPTION is still good but not as good as it could have been if the film maker, Christopher Nolan, had kept things a bit simpler (for one thing, characters could then have spent less time giving us info dumps). However, judging from the enthusiastic audience reaction last night, puzzles are what is wanted. People applauded at the end. Lobby comments afterward were positive (I eavesdropped). This is, apparently, what SF means to a mass audience.

And I, too, am glad I saw it. However, for me, less would have been more.

12 comments:

Chris Riesbeck said...

much current SF... is so complex and self-referential that much time is spent figuring out what is happening, rather than inhabiting what is happening.

Do you mean written SF here? Particular examples in mind?

EFKelley said...

A 'go see it' from Nancy is practically a divine mandate. I suppose I should actually head out then. I don't want another 'Usual Suspects' incident.

Ben said...

Do you suppose as interactive media (Video games) get to be more like movies that movies, will have to get LESS like movies to compete? In this vein are people enjoying Inception because it is closer to something else that requires MORE from the viewer than simply viewing? Is perhaps the audience looking for some way to get more for their 10 dollar tickets than a sit back and relax (or more than the "3D experience" that is being pushed now.) and are in fact looking for some way to engage in the story a little more?

I'm going to assume that is what people are looking for in a story these days, some way to get involved.

bluesman miike Lindner said...

Couple o' months ago, I riffed a blues verse about shadow books. And you said, Nancy, no one had ever written a song for you. That's intolerable. Let's correct that right now.

LITTLE NANCY'S BLUES

My name is Little Nancy
And I'm a very cranky girl
Yeah, my name is Little Nancy
And I'm a very cranky girl
Jimi Hendrix flew his freak flag high
I keep my cranky flag unfurled

I'm cranky in the country
And I'm cranky back in town
I'm cranky in the country
And I'm cranky way downtown
Ain't no place on God's green Earth
I don't lay some cranky down

I'm disappointed, people!
But it's the movies
That add pounds to my frown

The popcorn is stale
And the soda pop is flat
The popcorn is stale
And the soda pop is flat
And the yapping bitch in front of me
Is wearing a 10-story hat

I just know she's trolling for trade

A little 3-year old girl
Should not be at ZOMBIE ATTACK
A little 3-year old girl
Should not be watching ZOMBIE ATTACK
What's her mother thinking?
I should give her such a smack!

Makes me cranky in the basement
And cranky way upstairs
Makes me cranky in the basement
And cranky way upstairs
Makes me crankier than hornets
Crankier than hungry bears

Crankier than alien hornets
Cross-bred with mutant bears
Crankier than alien hornets
Cross-bred with mutant bears
How?
See my next novel!

All you big directors
Had better take a care with me
All you big directors
Had better take a care with me
Or I'll put you back where you belong
Directing dog food commercials on tv

Which will make my poodle cranky!

Nancy Kress said...

Okay -- I am NOT cranky about INCEPTION. I liked it. I just think it could have been better. An example of SF that is (in my view) overly complex and self-referential is Charlie Stross's "Lobsters," although I know many people loved it. And I think that over-complication results not in more viewer/reader engagement but in less. One is outside the story when thinking "Huh? What's going on now?" rather than engaging in it so fully that one is THERE, inside the narrative, living it. That is true of either movies or print fiction.
Just my opinion.

JDsg said...

"Unusually complicated" plots seems to be Christopher Nolan's trademark. It took me several viewings of The Dark Knight to completely grasp all the intricacies of that plot. I am tempted to wait until Inception comes out on VCD/DVD so that I can watch the movie several times within a few days so that I can "unravel" the puzzle a little bit more quickly.

earthling said...

I have a theory that breaks down some of the plot's complication, but I'm not sure how many people have seen it yet.

Would it be okay to comment with it, as long as I attached a spoiler notice?

Bryan H. Bell said...

I enjoyed the movie, but I was also puzzled by Ariadne's character. I kept expecting it to turn out that she was the actual mark. However, here is an interesting theory (warning: spoilers) that makes her character seem more plausible.

P.S. I'm currently reading Steal Across The Sky and quite enjoying trying to figure out what these Atoners are up to. Thanks.

earthling said...

Bryan -- that's exactly the theory I came up with as well. It does make the beginning of the movie a tad difficult, but last three-quarters make a whole lot more sense.

Nancy Kress said...

I had a similar theory when I saw it but with a very specific person in mind (I don't want to do a spoiler here!) based on the movie's ambiguous final image -- that tells you who, and why. But if so, it's not good story telling because it's TOO vague. In my opinion, a reader/viewer may end up wondering what story events say about the world, but he should at least know what those story events were.

陳水卉陳水卉 said...

Many a little makes a mickle..................................................................

DaveG said...

Re Hal Phillips' spin on Inception, I have another idea, although I can't back it up with Hal's level of detail. I agree the film was a dream, not reality. Someone was running an inception on Cobb to allow him to come home; I think that was Mal in the real world: she never actually committed suicide, but was instead saving him from his delusion. Her name, Mal, indicates that she was an evil character, although I can't figure out why.