Sunday, July 18, 2010

The Inception of a Good SF Movie

We had the pleasure of seeing two excellent movies in one weekend. On Friday, we saw the harrowing country noir, WINTER's BONE; and this afternoon we saw the SF noir, INCEPTION.

INCEPTION is a big-budget studio movie with an independent film sensability -- the kind of movie a director like Christopher Nolan could make only if he previously delivered one of the top-grossing movies of all time, which he did with DARK KNIGHT.

Although INCEPTION features several of the actors from the Batman movies, it actually owes more to Nolan's movie MEMENTO, in that it is an intricately structured puzzle that connects together multiple layers of simultaneous storytelling. Further, different parts of the story are taking place at different speeds. Nolan's task is to connect all this together, and still create a story about human beings that we care about. Amazingly, he does all that. The result is a bit chilly (as you might imagine with a story that demands so much thought on behalf of the viewer) but it definitely works.

INCEPTION is also well-structured as a science fiction story. Scientifically, it's all smoke and mirrors -- the story makes no effort to explain how the central conceit (entering another person's dream) actually works; and it's so far from any known science that it's practically magic. Still, the story follows an SF discipline in taking the one outrageous concept and then following its logical consequences -- the "ask the next question" model of science fiction. And although it has the requisite scenes of characters sitting around and explaining what they are doing, those scenes are interesting enough visually that they don't weigh the story down.

I don't know how well the story will play to mainstream America. At least one person I saw in the lobby after the showing complained, "I will never understand it, no matter how many times you explain it to me." But I'm glad that we can occasionally enjoy big budget SF movies that engage the brain, the eye, and the heart.

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