When the film ended my first thought was, "Oh my god, it's a dream!" And who knows what really happened when DiCaprio located Old Watanabe when the latter was hanging out in limbo? It was left unresolved to support whichever way you want to interpret the ending.
I don't think Inception has the same emotional core as other Christopher Nolan films, all of which I've watched except the films he made before Memento. When I say that I mean that the emotional core isn't as strong as Bruce Wayne's quietly seething need for vengeance in Batman Begins or Leonard's confusion and frustration, emotions which drove the narrative in Memento. Cobb's disturbing mourning of his dead wife can be considered peripheral to the main action, which is uncharacteristically (for a Nolan film) quite empty of any emotions. Sure, Cobb's subconscious comes in every now and then to mess up the main plot, but the scenes involving Cotillard feels secondary to the primary storyline in the sense that it didn't really have a significant impact on its outcome. Cobb's desire to reunite with his family is what made him agree to take on this assignment, but it feels more like a plot device than anything actually organic - the film tells you that he wants to see his family again, but it doesn't succeed very well on the showing part,
Despite this though, the sheer genius and creativity that went into conceiving of such a story is just incredible in itself. In a way, Nolan was smart in not trying to do too much with giving Cobb's struggles to deal with his wife's death a more central role. The film is already jam packed with twists and turns, forcing the audience to pay absolute attention to details of the collective dreaming; if he'd tried to do anything more, it might end up feeling like he was doing too much.
As it stands, the experience didn't feel empty to me. I was very moved by the scene in which Cobb held his wife in his arms as she died from the gun shot wound inflicted by Ellen Page's character when they went to the fourth level of dreaming, and when the film ended my first response was that the ending - Cobb reuniting with his kids - was a dream. And I actually found that really sad. It wasn't on the level of "omg, poor tortured Bruce Wayne!" that I felt watching Batman Begins, or even the shock, the horror, the immense sense of pity and an urge to reach out to Guy Pearce's Leonard and hold him tight that I still remember feeling at Memento's conclusion. But the idea that Cobb didn't succeed in getting back what he wanted, in going through all that trouble just to come up empty-handed, and indeed, the very idea that Cobb's preferred reality - that of seeing his children again - could only exist in a dream is rather gut-wrenching.
This is both the film's strength and its failure: It's probably Nolan's most cerebral outing to date. And because of that it compromises the film's emotional core. I don't feel for Cobb the way I would probably have felt if his desire to reunite with his family had driven the narrative; the focus on his inability to let go of his wife, while definitely heart-wrenching, didn't feel urgent or purposeful enough to take the driver's seat. But that's precisely because the film isn't really about that. It's about an idea, of how dreams and reality can sometimes be interchangeable, how the lines between what is real and what is not isn't actually that clear. Wei Chuen said it quite right when he said that your reality is simply what you experience, and in this way Robert Fischer's reality changed when the thought that his father didn't want him take over the company was planted in his head. Instead of thinking his father died disappointed in him, he now thinks that his father didn't want this life for him at all. It's sad that it's not actually true; but something is as true as what your mind tells you is true.
Mag said it's a giant mindfuck, and she's absolutely right. I wondered in passing, for fun, what it'd be like if real life, my waking moments, is actually a dream, and that my dreams are actually my real life. And it's this idea of dreams, the subconscious, the unknown, or not-yet-known, or barely known, that gives the film its intriguing premise. The New York Times reviewer complained that the film doesn't represent the madness of dreams enough, that what occurs in the dreams as depicted in the film are too ordinary. While I appreciate his pointing out that dreams are sometimes downright weird, I must also point out that I recently dreamt about my work and how I was worried that my boss might miss a deadline. I suppose the weird part of the dream occurred when I was running all over the place trying to find a computer with Internet access so that I could get the work out on time, but it definitely wasn't in the realm of other-worldly weird. It was actually quite ordinary.
Anyway, I think Nolan has outdone himself in terms of coming up with a story complex and intriguing enough to sustain my attention for two-and-a-half hours. But in terms of his best film, I think I'd always think that Memento is most special because of its mind-bending storytelling, its non-linear narrative. My personal favourite is always going to be Batman Begins, simply because I love the way he turned what could have been a typical superhero movie on its head and created a deeply-absorbing character sketch about a superhero who is just a normal human being. But that's just the girl in me speaking, the girl who prefers character-driven stories to plot-driven ones.
I think that's the most glaring thing about Inception as a Nolan film: It's actually plot-driven. It's not even theme-driven like The Dark Knight is. There's nothing wrong with plot-driven stories per se, but I have to say it's uncharacteristic of the director. It doesn't make it bad though; it's still deeply intriguing and immensely watchable, and it makes you feel smart when you start connecting the dots. And of course, its entire premise, based on dreams, makes it worth watching alone.
My parents are damn weird though. They think the movie is dull or stupid because it shows the characters dreaming the majority of the time. Sigh, they clearly missed the point.
Anyway, in other news, NUS Wall Guy brought a huge bag of trainers to tennis this morning and practised his serve. I was on the receiving end and it was honestly the first time that I appreciated how difficult it is to return a serve - a proper serve. Which also translates to: I appreciated fully how important the serve is. If your opponent can't control the return, the point is over in your favour.
It happened like that 90% of the time. I swear, everytime the topspin serve went to my backhand, it flew to the adjacent court - and I hardly ever hit balls to another court when I'm actually playing. I couldn't control it at all. NUS Wall Guy kept telling me to block it back but I had no idea what that even meant. I see Roger doing it all the time, but he's comfortable with only one hand on the racquet on his backhand side; I'm not. Last week I hit a backhand volley against Justin and I thought my arm was going to break. I only successfully blocked back the ball once, off the forehand (when whacking the ball back didn't work, I tried blocking it back - most times the ball didn't even go over the net).
Apart from that, today was generally not good. There were spurts of focused play but it started off bad and didn't really pick up. At one point I netted 3 forehands in a row. That usually happens with the backhand (which is uh, very hard to control when I'm tired. Which is half the time), which is where my kill shots come from but it's not as consistent as the forehand. I also totally lost focus when I noticed that it was time for the two uncles who always play at Court 2 every Saturday at 11 a.m., probably to 1 p.m., to show up, but they weren't there. That was SO distracting. Before I realised that I was playing quite well, moving quite well, timing things quite well; after I noticed that the uncles weren't there, I started wondering: Where are the uncles? How come they're not here? And when I heard footsteps coming towards me, I'd think, Is that them? I even looked over my shoulder in the middle of a rally to see if it was the uncles and I ended up losing. I also kept looking over at Court 2, expecting to see them, but they weren't there. And it really disturbed me.
I swear, I'm not OCD. But it was just damn weird not to see the uncles taking their usual court and I can't help but wonder what happened to them, if anything happened to them.
Anyway, lastly, I hit a nice whip forehand winner, entirely because the rally was more than 8 shots and I was fucking tired and I wanted it to end. But the positive thing to take away from that is that I sensed an opportunity to put the damn ball away, took it, and it paid off.
I do need to start thinking more on the court though. Mostly my aim is to get the ball over the net, in the middle - neutral shots, in other words. I do occasionally think about where I want to put the ball but that's not happening often enough. Apparently I also have to start thinking about my court positioning - my modus operandi is to go back to the centre, but NUS Wall Guy said it's better to cover the cross-court and take the risk of exposing myself to a down-the-line shot because the latter is a high-risk shot, not played unless opponent is super confident; and covering the cross-court, staying around that part of the court, would give me more time to get to the ball. Or whatever.
I mean, that makes sense, but I don't really think about it.
One thing at a time, yes?