Re-Watchterpiece Theatre: Inception (2010)

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.

“Basically, I’m in here so you can explain all the rules to the audience? Greaaaaaat.”

The Re-Watch
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.


Filed under Movies, Re-Watchterpiece Theater

16 responses to “Re-Watchterpiece Theatre: Inception (2010)

  1. I do really love this movie, though it never clicked for me in the theatre. It wasn’t until I saw the Blu-ray that I really began to take a shine to it, and it still impresses me each time I watch it. It really is the quintessential Nolan action flick. I liked it much more than Memento and The Prestige, which I still liked.

  2. 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.
    Well said John! That’s exactly what I thought about it. An excellent action film. But, it ends there for me because I thought it didn’t had the edge of The Social Network or Black Swan. I frustrated many people with this argument but I think with the step back and re-watch that it is more than evident now.

    • There have been a lot of huge internet arguments had between those two factions. It’s funny how gang lines are drawn over Inception.

  3. Phil

    Yes, I agree. It was great seeing a non-sequel, non-superhero, non-toy based blockbuster. I’m more interested to see what Nolan does after the Dark Knight than the Dark Knight movie this summer.

    • According to IMDb, there’s not much listed. Nothing under “Director”, and only the Superman reboot and (dammit) Batman reboot as a writer.

  4. surroundedbyimbeciles

    Although the exposition was obvious, I believe it was needed to explain this new world of dream infiltrating. Like other films I watch over and over, the explanatory dialogue gets in the way as I don’t need it as much anymore.

    • For the most part, I agree. Although I think there’s some that could’ve gone away. There’s also some visual inefficiency going on.

  5. Inception’s definitely a movie that changes on a rewatch. It gets an unfair amount of backlash after the fact I think but some of it is warranted. If this is on numerous times (I have HBO where it’s on all the time) you definitely move away from trying to figure out “dream or reality” and see the flaws more clearly. Great analysis.

  6. I have no problem with the expositions,since it is such a brand new idea,audience do need time to absorb,and for me,it is an even better part than the rest.I do not like the action scenes in this film at all.

  7. Dan

    This is an interesting project. I was blown away by Inception in the theater, so I picked up the Blu-ray when it was released later that year. I still really liked it, especially in terms of the scale and the concepts. The one thing that I did notice (like you say in your post) was the fact that I didn’t connect too much with the characters. It didn’t hinder the movie too much, and I still consider it a 4 star movie (out of 5). It just keeps it from reaching that top echelon of classics.

  8. yaykisspurr

    I just saw this like a week ago. It was a stellar movie but rather boring in parts…some scenes were slightly too long or duplicated where it was unnecessary to do so. The characters needed a bit more work, especially Arthur who had a ton of potential…I think they relied on the girl too much, so much so she became a device rather than a person. It needed a little perspective to make it a 5 star movie. (A bit better writing and a tad better editing.)

    I’m borrowing a friend’s Blue Ray so I’m planning on watching it again next week to see how I feel on a rewatch…I did enjoy the movie…I think when a movie is really good it’s flaws tend to pop out at you more than if it was an okay movie. Great analysis! Cheers!

  9. After a couple of rewatches, this film dropped quite low in my esteem. There are still attributes I admire about it, but I think the film is way too bloated with a lot more exposition than it needs. Also, there’s a good deal of setup with the Ariadne character that never gets a payoff. And the last act still comes across as lazy, generic action film-making. Still an interesting and admirable film, but not one I see myself revisiting anytime soon.

    • I’d settle for it being influential in that more generic action movies aim for something like Inception, and I wish people would put to bed the notion that it’s a truly great film.

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