Re-Watchterpiece Theater is a series that explores the organic way that attitudes about films change after you watch them a second time, a third time, or more, further down the line than the original viewing. This time around, I’ve checked in on a film that I liked a great deal just two years ago- Christopher Nolan’s Inception. The re-watch was inspired when I received a copy on Blu-ray from Warner Home Video as part of their Blu-ray Elite program. Normally, the re-watchterpiece series involves films that are much older. But I’ve read a great deal of criticism about Inception since the initial viewing, and I thought it’d be great to re-watch it with those critiques in mind.
The First Viewing
Like most people, I had my first viewing of Inception in the theatre. Since it wasn’t that long ago, I actually have the email I sent to a friend where I gave my initial reaction. Here it is verbatim:
Inception was very good. Nolan has a knack for making summer blockbusters that don’t insult anyone’s intelligence. I loved the subtext of filmmaker as “architect”/film goers as Cilian Murphy. After all, Nolan created this whole world with infinite possibilities for the audience.
I gave it 4 out of 5 on Netflix. When it was nominated for the Best Picture Oscar, I was glad to see it nominated… but also would’ve been disappointed if it had won over Black Swan, Winter’s Bone, The King’s Speech, and The Social Network. In the months leading up to the Oscars, I saw a lot of articles pointing out two very specific criticisms. For the second viewing, I kept these in mind.
The first of those criticisms was that Nolan had overdone it on exposition, that the film was bogged down with establishing boundaries and rules. I have to admit, I think that critique rings true. But I also don’t think it’s nearly as big a detriment as some critics claim. There are plenty of scenes that could’ve been edited, both visually and in the script phase, that would’ve made the film much more tidy and neat. It gets bloated and inefficient at times. Of course, the reason this isn’t THAT big of a deal is that it’s a fascinating concept, and it has a huge payoff. I’d also add that if Nolan were going to err in regards to exposition with such a dense concept, it’s best to err on the side of giving too much rather than too little. Spelling everything out for the audience insured that it’d have a wider net for appreciation amongst less advanced filmgoers.
The other criticism is that the amount of exposition prevents audiences from becoming engaged emotionally with the characters. I think this one rings true as well. Other than Cobb’s backstory with Mal, what do we really know about the other characters? They’re simply cogs in the dream machine, performing their assigned tasks.
The notion of Nolan as our own personal architect is a really cool subtext. The movie is about a team of people who come together to recreate an entire world for individuals, a place where the outside world can’t interfere. In other words, they’re just like filmmakers and their crew.
I’d hate to leave you with the impression that I dislike the film more now. That’s simply not true. The re-watch proved to me what I already knew- that it’s a blockbuster action film that does a really wonderful job of digging deeper using high concept. And it has more than enough going for it that the flaws don’t sink the film.