Cinema as Dream Machine


Here is Gideon Lewis-Kraus with an amusing re-write of Nolan’s film.  I’d pay to see this one.

All right David Denby.  You score mightily with your New Yorker piece on Inception.

The film “is a stunning-looking film that gets lost in fabulous intricacies, a movie devoted to its own workings and to little else.

Denby also has a review of Salt (August 2, 2010 issue), which I enjoyed very much.  He mentions Angelina Jolie’s character extracting venom from a giant, hairy spider…but in the film, she actually takes it from a small spider, about the size of a big toe nail.  My favorite part of Denby’s article:

The movie has an air of momentousness, yet most of it is conventional, though well-directed, pop mayhem. The director, Phillip Noyce, stages the action with a decent amount of space around the fights, rather than the usual closeups of whirling limbs. I can’t say if this nicely crafted nonsense will sell as a franchise, but I know that I miss the unpretentiousness of the “Bourne” movies. Jason Bourne, after all, is merely trying to defend himself and retrieve his erased identity. In the person of Matt Damon, he’s a sombrely appealing man—tormented and, for all his violence, rather soulful. By contrast, Jolie’s unending stare says that Evelyn Salt is impervious; her cool lies in how little she responds to what happens to her. She’s an advanced fighting machine, an attempt at instant myth. I find her iciness repellent, yet she certainly dominates the movie. Chiwetel Ejiofor and Liev Schreiber play Salt’s superiors in the C.I.A. Schreiber, saturnine as always, growls a lot, and Ejiofor reacts to everything with openmouthed wonder.


“Cinema as dream machine.”

These words appear in the fifth sentence of Amy Taubin’s July/August 2010 Film Comment interview with Christopher Nolan on his film Inception (2010).  While I did not come away from the theatrical viewing experience as entranced as many others, Taubin is a favorite critic.  It’s also always entertaining to read filmmakers talk about their work, from the production nitty-gritty to the aesthetic, thematic intentions and non-intentions.  An artist can have an agenda in mind (or not), an artist can spin flesh and blood into his work desiring to convey one idea over another, but it’s still up to the consumer to decipher the work.  What one person experiences can differ subtly or vastly from what another person sees.  Toh-mae-toh.  Toh-mah-toh.  Magenta, red-violet.  Forgetfulness, carelessness.

The prologue to Taubin’s interview chimes like this:

Christopher Nolan’s Inception is one of those rare movies in which everything is excitingly new and yet tinged with deja vu.  Was that that airport promenade from La Jetee that I saw out of the corner of my eye?  Was that the mountain where Gregory Peck’s mind wipes out in Spellbound?  Not that this is a movie about other movies–or rather, it is, insofar as those movies and the hundreds of others that you may see or imagine you see in this thrillingly kinetic, breakneck-paced psycho-caper-action-adventure are part of our collective dreamscape.  Nolan has taken a premise that has inspired avant-garde filmmakers since movies were invented–cinema as dream machine–and has written it huge” (32).

The first question Amy Taubin asks is from where the idea for the film came.  Nolan’s response includes this bit:

About 10 years go, I started thinking about fusing a film about dreaming with a heist-film structure.  At that time there was a subgenre of film–The Matrix would be one of them–that suggested the world around you isn’t real.  I guess Memento was part of that subgenre.  I wanted to use the heist-film or the con-film structure to turn that idea on its head, so that you could invite someone into someone else’s dream or break into someone else’s dream.  You wouldn’t be stuck inside a single consciousness” (32).

On the cinematic allusions in the film, Nolan remarks that Inceptionis a story about people sharing a dream, so you want to be limitless in your references.  I bring in the language of action films because it’s made on that scale.  But once you start tracking the language of movies, you find how cinematic tropes trickle down.  A few weeks ago, I watched the Criterion DVD of Last Year at Marienbad.  I’d never seen that film before, and yet there are moments in Inception that are similar to Marienbad because I’d seen movies by filmmakers who had seen it” (32).

It took Nolan a decade to complete the script for Inception because he struggled with getting past the “glamorous and fun” and “gamemanship” of heist films; “…when you look at the world of dreams, you’re looking to dig deeper into emotional states and into the human psyche” (33).

The director did not do any research on dreams.  “…it’s all stuff I made up,” he told Taubin.  “I tend not to research because you either confirm what you want to do, or you realize something isn’t true but you want to do it anyway” (34).

I’m sure if he were doing a period piece he’d at least make sure anachronisms that are avoidable would be prevented from popping up in wardrobe or props.

Taubin asks him about time and space.  Nolan’s answer indicates that he employs slow-motion very rarely if ever (prior to Inception) but is a die-hard fan of crosscutting and parallel editing and movement.  Events happening at the same time.  He notes, “The audience doesn’t know what [slow-motion] means but it gives something a visceral resonance” (35).  I find this comment odd because in what way does a viewer not comprehend what slow-motion expresses?  A slow-motion instant replay isn’t a mystery.  Does Nolan suggest that the significance, the function of a certain slow-motioned action is often lost because it is firstly perceived too literally?  T he  s l o w i n g  d o w n  o f  t i me r a t h e r  t h a n  s o m e t h i n g  r e l a t e d  t o  t h e  c h a r a c t e r s ?

Nolan filmed on film.  …”.35mm anamorphic and a little bit of VistaVision, and a few dialogue scenes were shot in 65mm” (35).

Another satisfying read.

Jonathan Romney‘s article about the Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn and his film Valhalla Rising is a good read too.  Romney’s voice is informative (“The film demands a leap of faith: either you go with it or you don’t, which itself suggest that Valhalla stands to attract a devoted cult following” [29]).  It doesn’t come across as a news bulletin or a book report, but I don’t connect with it as much as I do with the prose of Taubin and David Denby.

When, oh when will it open in Atlanta? or be available to purchase on DVD? Click here for a trailer.

If you want to read the rest of the Taubin interview with Nolan or Romney’s piece, go to your local bookstore or newsstand (or university library) and buy a  copy.  The July/August issue also has the first installment of an essay about film criticism in print vs. in web/blogs by Paul Brunick, which you can read here.

Read more about La Jetee, Spellbound, and Last Year at Marienbad.

Yes, I did re-interpret the Inception poster.
Click here for more pictures from the film.

5 thoughts on “Cinema as Dream Machine

  1. Phil

    Je n’ai pas vu “Inception”. Mais, dois-je le voir?

    Dans ta critique, tu as dit qu’il te a fait dormir pendant douze minutes et qu’il te a donné un mal de tête.

    Puis, j’ai lu cet critique corruscating .

    Est-ce “Inception” juste un autre exemple de overblown Hollywood dreck?

    Peut-être que je passerais mon temps et mon argent plus judicieusement. Au lieu, je pense que je devrais voir “The City of Life and Death”.

    1. sittingpugs Post author

      Je n’ai pas vu “Inception”. Mais, dois-je le voir?

      Ca depend… The film has so many layers to it narratively and thematically that it would sweep someone away and give them that “whoa,” mind-blowing experience if they ordinarily don’t over-analyze everything to death.

      Inception invites discussion. It’s a post-viewing text as much as it is a viewing text. I still haven’t finished reading the Amy Taubin piece, but I’m beginning to believe that reading about other people’s experiences watching the film or thinking about the film is more enjoyable than watching the film itself.

  2. jammer5

    I was disappointed in Inception. I thought it could have been a great movie in that by delving into the mind, as it relates to dreaming, it could have been an eye opener, but it instead relied on effects. It reminded me of Flatliners, from the early nineties.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s