Note: blog formatting issues continue, but a reformatting should be complete in about 48 hours. Until then, thanks for bearing with me 🙂 The medium of film has long provided practical theologians
with unique insights into God, the world, and the human condition. Inception has created as much buzz in
people of my age group as any film since Crash.
I must admit, embarrassingly, that I haven't seen it. However, I am hoping to
rectify that over the next couple of weeks.
So, I am blessed to provide you instead with a review of Inception
from someone who really knows film. Dr. Mark Woodward (my Father-in-Law) taught
the film (among other subjects) at Oklahoma Christian University for many years.
I offer this guest blog to you for your thoughts. What did you think of Inception? What else might you add?
Those Who Plant Ideas! A Review of Inception
Beware Preachers! Beware Bloggers! Planting ideas in
other people’s minds can lead to an unexpected and uncontrollable future!
If it were about a message, that might be it, but, in my
opinion, Inception (2010) is not a
message movie, it’s not a character-based film, rather almost completely an
intellectual experience. That sentence verges on the esoteric as well,
doesn’t it, so let’s unpack it a little bit.
I know you thought this was a Leonardo DiCaprio film, but it isn’t. Inception will be another plus in a career that was stumbling
before DiCaprio really started playing adult roles. He was just too
boyish for a while, but since his role as Howard Hughes in The Aviator (2004), he has done some good work (The Departed (2006), Blood Diamonds (2006), you
can argue about Shutter Island (2008)
if you want to).
The true star of Inception
is the British-born writer/director Christopher
Nolan, who also wrote Memento (2000),
Batman Begins (2005), The Prestige (2006), and Batman: The Dark Knight (2008).
Stringing these excellent films of Nolan’s together let’s you see a couple of
common threads that will help you with Inception.
First, these films are all about characters either trapped
or trapping others in strong moral dilemmas. The protagonists are complicated
characters, often good at the core, but morally flawed—just like Cobb in Inception, who is a thief willing to
cross all kinds of moral boundaries for the sake of familial love. We like
these kinds of characters because they remind us of our own struggles with evil
for the sake of good.
Secondly, Nolan—as are many filmmakers—appears fascinated by
questions of reality. When I was teaching film at the university, I would
often begin a course by reminding my students that nothing that they see on the screen is true, nothing is real! The
images are composed, the sounds are created separately, day and night are
stage-produced, characters are not real, kisses are not real, murders are not
real, time is not real—NOTHING IS REAL. Even the motion itself is an
illusion since what you are actually watching are still images moving in front
of your eyes at a speed that tricks your brain into seeing motion. So the
apparent obsession of filmmakers with reality is not just some post-modern
quirk, it is built into the nature of the art itself.
however, Nolan attempts to do in plot what Ariadne (Ellen Page) does
during her initial introduction to dream control, when she sets up a mirror
against a mirror and produces a never-ending reflection of a reflection.
Whereas, movies like the Matrix
series took us to alternate realities, Inception
layers those realities as an essential part of the plot. Imagine Neo
being on the matrix and being plugged in again to another matrix world—and
being plugged in again from that one to another! That’s where Nolan is
asking the viewers to go in Inception—and
it is fascinating.
Inception has lots
of special effects, but is not dependent upon them. For me, the popcorn
explosions of the dream constructs were interesting, as well as the
anti-gravity scenes in the hotel hallway, but don’t go see this film for
I know she is a rising star, but I did not like Ellen Page
for the role of Ariadne, the architectural genius. She appears too young for
the ensemble and not old enough to be a love interest which could have added a
bit more tension to the film. I don’t understand, for instance, what motivates
Cobb to pour out his whole story to this college girl, when he has never told
Other than the corporate competition that drives the main
action stream, the subplot that adds emotional conflict is between Cobb and his
wife Mal (Marion Cotillard). Is she good, is she bad, is she dead, was she
murdered, is she alive, is she crazy—is she real? Without this subplot,
the film is just an interesting action film. Her sudden intrusion into Cobb’s
life, plans, mind—however you need to describe these moments—are Nolan’s
attempt to bring emotion to the intellectual dilemmas that he is portraying.
I did not think he always brought it off. You may disagree.
So instead of a character-based film, instead of a message-based
film, I believe Christopher Nolan has given us an experiential film. You
will not lose yourself in the characters, but you will struggle to determine
what is real and what is not! You will not walk out of the theater pondering
the symbolism, but you will definitely walk out wondering what was true and
what was not.
And thinking about what is true is a good thing, isn’t it?
Just don’t get lost! And if you like to plant ideas in other people’s minds—be
Read other movie reviews and more at www.markwoodward.org