Inception (USA, 2010, Christopher Nolan)
Captain Picards' hollow deck meets Mr. Spock's 3D chess game on the cutting room floor of The Matrix.
I suppose how you feel about Inception depends on whether you compare it to Nolan's Batman movies, which I have not seen, or his brilliant breakout film, Memento, which I have seen more than once. Perhaps both of these comparisons are misguided and Inception should be evaluated in the company of other big budget, head-trippy futuristic fare, with or without sci-fi trappings; Minority Report, Vanilla Sky, Total Recall, Brazil, and no doubt lots of other stuff I've never seen. Be this as it may, I am inclined to compare Inception to Memento because the former so plainly presents itself as a thinking man's action thriller, with a complex psychological premise we are expected to find as engaging as the one around which Nolan constructed Memento.
It would be easy merely to dismiss Inception's failure on this score as being the result of it saddling its complex psychological premise with way too much action thriller baggage. Clearly, the intense drama achieved by the low-budget, street life, daylight Noir of Memento is not even approximated by the capital-intensive, fantasy land, CGI overload of Inception. But the real problem with Inception has to do with its complex psychological premise in the first place.
In the first place, it's truly not complex at all. Set aside all the mumbo-jumbo tech talk about how there are concentric rings of the unconscious that can be induced, invaded and controlled by others from without. What remains is the most banal, coffee-table Freudian stuff. So much smoke and mirrors about how to manipulate the inner workings of the mind through the power of suggestion, only to trot out and ride the tried and true hobbyhorse of a father figure fixation. Jesus, why not simply put the billionaire victim in intensive (and expensive) psychotherapy, let him take forever to get over daddy, and take over his inherited company while he's preoccupied on the couch.
In the second place, the psychological premise is way too complex. On this score, the demands of the action thriller really are at fault. In order to establish the changing situations that facilitate the variety of thrilling action, the Byzantine architecture of the head-trippy plot takes on ever more inconsistent proportions that must be justified by ad hoc explanations in the dialogue. The constitutional articles of the psychological premise are continually undergoing congressional amendment. Just when being murdered in a dream is the mechanism for waking up in reality, this ceases to be the case and an entirely different mechanism is introduced. Just when there is definitely a mechanism of some sort - any sort - to ensure waking up in reality, this ceases to be the case and an entirely different and deeper ring of the unconscious is introduced, from which it may be impossible escape. The tolerance of the audience is over-taxed. And in the opinion of this taxpayer, the whole conceptual government deserves to be voted out of office. The incessant explanation of the psychological architecture saddles the action just as much as the action saddles the psychology; i.e., the supposedly thrilling action ain't that thrilling.
In the third place, and most of all, the psychological premise of Inception is based on an utterly false model of the human mind. The unconscious is not OFF while we are awake and ON while we are asleep. Any type of so-called "depth psychology" (as distinct from any sort of behaviorism) begins with the notion that there is an UN-conscious that is so because it is SUB-conscious. A depth psychology may make much of the workings of the unconscious while we dream during sleep. But any such particular emphasis is on behalf of and not at the expense of grasping the workings of the unconscious in general, including while we are awake. The interpretation of dreams may be considered the most immediate way to encounter the unconscious, but the contradictory relations between it and the conscious mind are more readily apparent when the mind is, in fact, conscious. And the whole point about the simultaneous running of our necessarily irrational subterranean wheels and our potentially rational surface wheels is that these two sets of gears are not working in tandem, to put it mildly.
Inception treats the unconscious as even more than working in tandem with the conscious. The film presents the unconscious as nothing other than a replication of the conscious, a mechanical template that adheres to the same rational rules of motion, freaky-deaky surreal special effects notwithstanding. With this in place, an infinite number of templates may be cast in the service of the plot, but the result is a bogus technologization of the mind that reduces it to the levels of a video game.
This is most unfortunate. The psychological premise of Inception is tremendously ambitious. The film attempts to explore collectively experienced dream-states or socially inter-penetrative mental constructions. It goes about this in a manner that is significantly less psychologically materialist than the still dramatically far-fetched exploration of anterograde amnesia without retrograde amnesia in Memento. Nevertheless, Inception does not have even the most modest reliance on quick-fix metaphysics or wacky spiritualism. The whole business is conducted under the influence of external brain stimulation, both physio-chemical and socio-communicative. It's all mumbo-jumbo tech talk, of course, but I listened raptly to every word until it became so much shell-game speech without a pea of psychological substance.
As far as Leo product goes, I much preferred Shutter Island.