Photo above by DJG (

“Deer” DJG*:

Remember two years ago when The Dark Knight came out and we called it The Dork Newt?  We thought it was a snoozer, and we suspected the film critics were raving simply because the film featured the recently deceased Heath Ledger.  Although I have generally liked Christopher Nolan’s movies more than you have, we have both criticized him for his character development.  In The Dork Knute, neither of us cared when Maggie Gyllenhaal’s character bought the filmic farm.  I experienced more emotion (i.e. laughter) when Meg Ryan’s character in City of Angels was hit by a logging truck, leaving fallen angel Nic Cage to cope all by himself when he discovered the pains of intestinal gas after eating White Castle burgers.

In our hands, my friend, Nolan’s films have historically been punching-bags for our criticism. Memento became Pimento (even though I liked that one). Insomnia became (The Cure for) Insomnia (even though I liked that one too). The Prestige became That Movie With David Bowie and All the Hats (Although I like and even own that one). Batman Begins became Batman Begins to Suck for both of us.  We hated that movie.  It was like watching Batman work as a tax consultant at H&R Block for two hours.  “Alfred, I’m sorry, but you can no longer list me as a dependent.  I’m Batman.”  Nolan’s films have all been admirably constructed, but lacking a human pulse.  I have always appreciated his work on an intellectual level but, like you, I want his characters to really live and breathe instead of walking around like movie meat puppets.

My friend, as over the top as this is going to sound, I give Inception a full five stars, my highest rating.  You and I both hate the hype machine, but occasionally it is right.  When Precious: A Novel By But Not Pertaining to a Writer Called Zirconium Whose Book is Now an Overly Obvious and Intentionally Controversial Film came out, we smelled something fishy a mile away.  And when people were throwing Oscars as The Blind Side, we said, “Hey, I think I’ve seen this before.  It’s called My Fair Lady-meets-Look Who’s Coming to Dinner.”  I went to see Inception with my wife and our friend Mike Coffee, and Becki and I were fully prepared to be carried out on stretchers, having been anesthetized by Nolan’s cold, calculated creation.  Well, color me wrong.  I loved this movie wholeheartedly.  It might have even cracked my all-time Top 10, or even my Top 5.  A repeat viewing will secure its place in my book.  Of this I am sure.

Reviewers have said Inception is a cold, calculated machine, but one that mesmerizes through and through.  I would say it is more of a Chinese puzzle box than it is a machine, and despite the fact that the film’s only Asian character is actually Japanese.   Most notably, I was impressed with the film’s intelligence, its rampant creativity, its epic scope, and Nolan’s obviously obsessive craftsmanship.  As a person with OCD, I know an obsession when I see one, my friend.  It probably started out as a simple idea in Nolan’s mind – a fossil unearthed, as Stephen King might say – and then Nolan could not let go of it.  He had to flesh it out and carry it to its logical conclusion and realize it as fully as he could.  By the time he was done, he had created a piece that had its own internal logic, its own mysteries and mechanisms, its own layers and secrets.

Inception is bursting with ideas, which means it is ideal brain food.  Imagine Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind or Synecdoche, New York as action films and you might find yourself in the right ballpark.  Friend, I am about to blaspheme, so cover your ears: Inception is much more complex and satisfying than Gondry’s masterpiece if you ask me, even if it lacks the whimsicality of Eternal Sunshine… I know.  Heresy, right?  But really, I mean it.

The key for your own personal enjoyment?

1)  Pay attention.

2)  Set aside everything you think you know about Nolan’s movies.

3)  Be glad Batman makes no cameo appearances.  While we both like Batman as a superhero, Nolan fashioned Batman’s costume out of lead and he had all the buoyancy of a lead balloon in his directorial hands.  Our least favorite vision of Batman is nowhere to be found here.

4)  Immerse yourself wholly in Nolan’s vision.  Participate despite your reservations.  (You will want to, I think.)

5)  Finally, think of the film as a new town you are visiting for the first time.  When you visit someplace new, you pay attention to every detail, lest you get lost otherwise.  “Inception” is a new town.  It is nothing like The Dork Knute Rockne‘s cinematic reinvention of Gotham City as The Jam’s “A Town Called Malice” either.

“What about all that movie critic crap about it being a bloodless, emotionless film?”  You ask.  Pure bull-hockey of the highest order. Inception is exactly as emotional as a film of its nature needs to be.  No more, no less.  In fact, I thought the characters were handled elegantly, and Leonardo DiCaprio’s character was developed with extra attention to depth and detail.  I cared about the characters as much as I needed to, and I liked all of them well enough. Even better, the acting was aces all around.

Most exciting of all for me was the introduction of complicated ideas in simple ways, and because of the way Nolan simply drops us into his reality, we are able to accept his ideas on face value, no questions asked, because of the way they are introduced.  Being able to distill an idea to its essence is (although this will sound redundant) essential for a film like this, and I think Nolan succeeds in doing this in Inception.  Even better, the whole affair feels effortless.  It’s like Nolan is bench-pressing 600 lbs., but it feels like he is only doing 200.

But like I said, pay attention.  Keep up.  Do not drift.  This is a film where every frame counts, where each idea sprouts roots beneath the film’s surface and all of roots from all of the other ideas in the film begin to intermingle.  Every element is a piece of a bigger puzzle.  To truly appreciate the film, you must appreciate all of its constituent parts. In other words, if Inception were an orchestra, paying attention only to the clarinet would be a most boneheaded move indeed.  Listen to all the elements, and you will hear a cinematic symphony.

Mark my words:  A new classic is born.  Hate it if you must, but only if you must.  I would recommend reserving a little space on your film trophy shelf for this one, my friend.  Nolan may just win you over yet.  If not, I am sure you will think of a suitable clever and derogatory name for this film.  Either way, I await your judgment.

Yours Truly,

Chad Thomas Johnston

*Danny goes deer hunting every year, you see.