Inception: When Reviewers Get it WRONG

Reviewers have every right to their opinion, every right to express it. They’ve paid (or not) to see a movie, read a book, watch a TV show. Even if they haven’t paid, they’ve consumed the product and are entitled to express their feelings. The creators (and being one, I get this) have to suck it up and deal. But when reviewers 1) don’t pay attention, or 2) pay attention and don’t understand, the validity of their reviews suffer.

Case in point: David Edelstein’s review of INCEPTION in New York Magazine.

But let me back up. Walt reads all reviews, all spoilers, before he ever sees a movie. I read nothing. I don’t want to know anything. He likes to tease me, and I often slap him. This time, though, he told me to NOT read anything about what was happening, and to especially not read the NYMag review. So I didn’t. Until this morning when he gave me permission. ;)

When talking about Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s role as Arthur, Edelstein says in his review:

Gordon-Levitt doesn’t have much livelier material, but he does fight a bad guy in a zero-gravity corridor and tie together a group of sleeping people with cords, then float the human assemblage into an elevator. (I had no clue what he was doing, but it’s one of the few wittily irrational images.)

The problem with this is, Arthur SAID what he was doing right before he did it!

The rest of this post will contain spoilers, so don’t read on if you don’t want to be spoiled.

While the rest of DiCaprio’s team has moved to the dream within a dream within a dream (the 3rd level), Arthur is in the second level (the dream within a dream). His job there is to “kick” the others awake. The kicks are a big deal. It’s shown in the first scene of the movie that the dreamers need a kick to wake up.

In the first level, the original dream, the whole team is in a van that is falling off a bridge. The van is suspended, and the dreamers inside (who are at the second level; the driver is still dreaming at the first) are suspended during the fall. Because of that, Arthur needs gravity to “kick” them awake. And he says something like, “How to manufacture a kick without gravity,” just before he ties the level three dreamers together and floats them to the elevator as Edelstein mentions above. (Arthur is not affected by the van falling because he’s wearing headphones and listening to music that allows him to keep his equilibrium.)

The elevator provides the kick. Arthur puts his stack of dreamers inside, then floats up and sets charges on the cables, rigging it to fall. Kicks have to involve falling and the jolt at the end of the fall, whether it’s into a tub of water, off a hotel balcony, over a bridge in a van – or in a free-falling elevator. It’s really so simple that I can’t believe the reviewer would admit that he had no idea what was happening.

I will agree with this bit of the review . . .

Nolan, who wrote the script, thinks like a mechanical engineer, and even when you can’t follow what’s happening, you can admire in theory the multiple, synchronized narrative arcs and cute little rules for jumping around among different flights of consciousness.

. . . except, again, there wasn’t a minute where I couldn’t follow what was happening once the premise was explained. The opening is crazy fast and complicated, but it makes perfect sense in hindsight.

6 thoughts on “Inception: When Reviewers Get it WRONG”

  1. Hmmmm…. but Arthur IS affected by the free fall — he’s floating just as much as the others. The point of the headphones is so that he can properly SYNCHRONIZE the kick — it is shown several times throughout the movies that when the headphone-wearers start hearing music, they know they are “running out of time” in the level above. Like the original Architect hearing music in the opening sequence, or the forger hearing music in the snowscape.

    There were still parts that I didn’t understand, though. Like why Fischer would wind up in Cobb’s Limbo after he “died” in the snowscape third level dream — wouldn’t he end up in his own limbo? Or the limbo of the original dreamer , who I dont believe is Cobb? When my husband and I discussed the movie afterward, we concluded that what we were to get from that scene is that Cobb’s dream life was so powerful by that point, that he had spent so much time in dreams that his subconscious was always going to bleed into other people’s dreams — which is why Mal kept showing up, and why Limbo would be created from his subconscious, not from Saito’s or Fischer’s or the other “dead” dreamers.

    Which I think bears out because the Limbo Cobb goes to after he “dies” by drowning in the level-one van (by not “kicking” out of Limbo as Ellen Page and Fischer do by jumping/falling out of the building –as it’s shown that you need to “kick” in EVERY level) is the limbo of the beautiful Asian-inspired beach house that in the first scene (which it turns out is a second level dream) Mal says “judging by the decor, this is YOUR dream” to Cobb, right before Cobb is kicked awake in the tub in the “first level” love-nest dream.

  2. Hmmmm…. but Arthur IS affected by the free fall — he’s floating just as much as the others. The point of the headphones is so that he can properly SYNCHRONIZE the kick — it is shown several times throughout the movies that when the headphone-wearers start hearing music, they know they are “running out of time” in the level above.

    Yes, he is floating, too, so I didn’t explain that quite right (even in my own head!), just that I knew the headphones and music related to the kick. But there was also a mention of the equilibrium at some point, unless that was the sedative. I need to see it again to put everything in order.

    About the limbo thing, wouldn’t the fact that it’s shared dreaming explain that? I dunno. Unless it’s like you said how Cobb’s dreams (as in the train) couldn’t be contained.

    I still don’t get why the reviewer didn’t get the elevator thing!

  3. I think it might be a repeat-viewing thing, too. I needed to watch Memento a few times, too.

    I don’t get why the interviewer didn’t get the elevator thing, either. Not watching close enough, I guess. I thought the whole weightless-hotel thing was awesome — my fave part. It was really beautiful filmmaking. I also love Joseph Gordon-Leavitt. I’m so glad his career is going well. Have you seen BRICK? It’s a Noir, with him playing the private dick role.

  4. I may go one day this week and see it just to study the plotting. It really amazed me how everything clicked. On one of my writers loops, a woman said all the authors she’d been talking to said it was too convoluted, and I’m like, huh?

    I haven’t seen Brick, no. I’ll look it up. My daughter was telling me about his role in The Lookout, also haven’t seen.

  5. I haven’t read the NY Mag review, but I too totally understood what was going on, as all of the expository material was clearly explained throughout the film. this was done as each player was brought into the story, and had their respective role explained to them. I loved this film and felt that it totally adhered to its own internal logic,and kept me going throughout the length of it. Perhaps the NYM reviewer was distracted by the pretty pictures and all of the wicked-cool SCI.

    Personally, I was able to look past all of it and WATCH THE FILM, but then again, I’m clearly a better reviewer than him (IMHO).

    The Perfessor

  6. this was done as each player was brought into the story, and had their respective role explained to them

    The reviewer did say that Ellen Page’s only role was to be an “exposition magnet,” and I can’t totally disagree with that. She had a lot of what we here call, “As you know, Bob,” moments. But, yes. Watch The Film.

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