In the Dark

Advertising Himself

Inception
Written and directed by Christopher Nolan
Produced and distributed by Warner Brothers

 

It took me a while, but I finally realized what Christopher Nolan’s Inception is all about.  Simply put, it’s about how it got to be itself.  Or, to be less gnomic, Nolan has undertaken to advertise his own moviemaking skills in a two-and-a-half-hour compendium of every popular film that has ever influenced him—beginning, it seems, with Buster Keaton’s 1924 comic investigation into the nature of film itself, Sherlock Jr.  What’s more, he had Warner Bros. foot the bill at $160 million.  Nolan’s audacity is riveting; unfortunately, his film is not.  It is a series of dazzling cinematic demonstrations that never add up to a compelling whole.  Keaton did a better job of integrating effects and story at the merest fraction of the cost and with nary a computer generated image in sight.

Nolan’s title signals what’s wrong.  In British usage, as the London-bred Nolan doubtlessly knows, inception means earning a university degree, particularly the doctorate.  Watching Nolan’s film is more than a little like witnessing an apt pupil take his oral exam in cinematics.  The professors pose questions, and he aces one after another with recourse to his most recent project.

“What,...

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