dream factory

Saw Inception last night, quite simply a brilliant, epic movie. I can't remember the last time I watched a film that captured the experience of the 'cinematic' (as opposed to the merely visual) so well, in all the aesthetic dimensions this entails. The soundtrack, with it's ominous, brass-heavy score that impresses its weight on you. The performances, in which the actors didn't really have to do much considering the scenery and narrative basically overwhelmed whatever performance they gave, but they were nevertheless lean and accomplished (plus Joseph Gordon-Levitt's star turn from teen dork (10 Things I Hate About You) to ultra-slick sidekick is inspired, perfectly cast). The plot, which is schematically complex but not so much that you're ever lost - it's spatio-temporal structure replicates the diegesis itself so at all times you know what 'level' you are on, even if Nolan can't help himself and occassionally push this question (most brilliantly, frustratingly in the final scene).

Indeed, space and time are probably the two main preoccupations of the film as a whole, thematically and stylistically. The film flips and flops between conceiving of the subconscious as a mindscape or as a series of memories and events, and beyond that as a horizontal expanse or a vertical one. Regardless, within the experience of the film itself what is most fascinating is that the audience awareness of time alternatively telescopes and dilates in the exact same way that the characters explain dreamtime - five minutes of sleep feels like an hour in a dream, and if an agent pushes into a dream within a dream time exponentially increases, and so on. This effectively replicates the effect of cinematic time and space - many have realised that sitting in a darkened theatre, immobile, with giant sound and light filling our perceptual field is quite similar in many ways to a dream state, and in the two and half hours of Inception we effectively undergo many more hours and days of experience - through the usual editing but also through the more complex editing of different temporalities in the film - the plot of most of which takes place in the few seconds it takes for a van to fall off a bridge - a slo-mo shot that Nolan periodically returns to with great relish.

In many ways, one might conceive of Inception as an allegory of the process of filmmaking itself, about which I might have more to say later, but for now, why not read a highly technical and enlightening interview with Nolan and cinematographer Wally Pfister on the making of the film: