Seventeen Ways of Criticizing Inception

Truth in advertising.

Update: Related posts that may interest you:


Christopher Nolan, while presumably a rather likable fellow (he does give work to Michael Caine), is a depressingly artless filmmaker. To be sure, some of the concepts in this new one are clever enough (even if they play like weak snatches from Philip K. Dick): the military developed shared dreaming, which then became a tool for corporate espionage—sure thing. The great Dom Cobb and his team now must infiltrate a businessperson’s mind in order to plant the seed of an idea, rather than steal one—a nice enough twist, and a fine enough premise for a caper.

But Nolan then fails to dramatize his concepts. His primary—indeed, practically his only—tool for delivering information to the audience is character dialogue. Rarely does anyone shut his or her mouth during the 148 minutes that are Inception. Its actors are talking threadbare ciphers, eager mouthpieces for their director.

Examples abound. After failing in their mission to deceive Saito, Cobb remarks to his teammate Arthur: “We were supposed to deliver Saito’s expansion plans to Cobol Engineering two hours ago. By now they know we failed.” (A potential response: “Hey, dude, I’m, like, your partner. I know the score!”) An even better one: the line where Cobb points out to Michael Caine’s character—a university professor teaching in Paris—”You know extradition between France and the US is a legal nightmare.” Yes, Mssr. Professor Caine probably does, in fact, know that! But I’m sure that somebody way in the back row was happy to hear.

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There Will Be 2001

This is somewhat late to the party, but three years later I still haven’t seen this argument made anywhere else, so here goes.

Many critics have noted that Daniel Day-Lewis‘s performance in There Will Be Blood (2007) drew heavily from his fellow Irishman John Huston‘s turn in Chinatown (1974). See, for instance, here, here, here, and here. Or just compare for yourself:

…But that is only one level of mimicry. Paul Thomas Anderson’s feature itself is loosely based, structurally, on Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968).

Now, I’m not claiming that Anderson consciously aped Kubrick’s masterpiece. And I don’t want to suggest that the films share identical or even similar plots (although there are some points of comparison). Rather, it is the manner in which There Will Be Blood presents its respective story that it borrows from 2001.

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