NOTE: If you love Inception and get angry at people who don’t love Inception, you should probably just close this tab, because you will not like this piece. If you are a closet Inception-hater, then we hope this piece offers your soul some reprieve. If you too speak loudly your loathing of this movie, please contact us immediately so you can be a guest on our podcast.
NOTE TWO: This piece probably will not be funny. That is because no movie makes me angrier than Inception. So mostly this will be angry. But then again, if you think about a human being becoming angry about a movie, that’s kind of funny, I guess.
THESIS: A lot of people speak loudly their belief that Inception is awesome. There are many problems with this claim, but the main problem is when we look closely, we realize that Inception really sucks. In this exegesis, we will extrapolate upon five reasons why Inception is a stinker of a film.
1) Inception only references itself.
In our Inception/Interstellar podcast episode, we decided that Inception’s tagline should be, “Think about Inception!” That’s pretty much what the movie makes the viewer do. It forces the viewer to use his/her mind to keep track of the logic that Christopher “Chris” Nolan devised to make sense of the movie. We at General Snobbery fully support using the mind, but we do not support using the mind for pointless reasons. Inception is a pointless reason to use the mind. It tricks people into believing that it is about profound things, but really it is about a briefcase, special effects, and Cillian Murphy’s face. It suggests nothing about our human condition. The Matrix used action in order to further a plot that commented on our drone-like existences as we neared the new millennium. Inception uses action so that people will think it’s overly cognitive director is cool. Fuck this movie!
2) The plot isn’t actually innovative.
Right now, you might be thinking, Yeah it is, you stupid snob! You might argue that the dream logic is “interesting” and “cool”. The problem is, it’s far less innovative than it’s incepting you to believe.
Let’s be clear about something. The dreams are not the plot. The plot is that they have to stop Cillian Murphy from continuing his father’s company by entering his dreams and implanting an idea into his mechanistic mind. So the dreams become the framework, the structure, the setting.
From a craft perspective, the dreams are no more than an excuse to have four bad action movies rolled into one. In the first action movie (“reality”), we have a plot of corporate espionage and conspiracy involving Ken Watanabe. In the second action movie (i.e. “The second level of the dream”), we have a heist/kidnapping movie. In the third plot/level, we have a hotel with Matrix-rip-off stunts. (Okay, the rotating room is pretty cool, and we give credit to "Chris" for using practical effects for this scene.) In the fourth action movie, we have a Goldeneye-style snowfield shootout complete with high-speed sledding and ski goggles. Each one, on its own, is tired and boring. Each one provides a new excuse to shoot guns and make things blow up. Then there’s “limbo”, which isn’t an action movie but more like the “real world” from The Matrix or the entire set of Dark City. But “Chris” is clearly trying to make us think it’s all really innovative and deep. Damn you!
Our position is that for something to be considered “deep”, that something must inform our perspective on life (as in real, lived experience) and challenge us to see the world differently. This movie makes people think they are questioning their existence, when really they are just thinking about the movie. Okay, there’s a chance it will make them question relativity of time. But if you really want to question that, see Interstellar, which frames those questions in the infinitude of the universe, not in the limitations of “Chris’ weird version of Leonardo DiCaprio’s version of his version of Cillian Murphy’s mind.
3) Inception has no emotion.
For Inception, “Chris” assembled a team of some of the best actors of the current era. DiCaprio, Hardy, Page, Caine, Cotillard, Levitt, Murphy, Berenger, and Watanabe all appear. Wow! The problem is, “Chris” really stinks at directing actors, and he also stinks at writing real people. One Inception-defender told me, “Well, Jonathan (“Jonny Boy”) Nolan actually writes the characters.” That may be true, but “Jonny Boy” played no hand in the writing of Inception. This one was all “Chris”, baby.
Most of “Chris'” films’ attempts at emotion are quite silly. How many people actually felt bad when Rachel blew up in The Dark Knight? Who actually had an emotional response when Harvey Dent became Two Face? (I’m sorry, but thinking “That makeup looks really bad” does not count as an emotional response.) We feel nothing, I submit, because “Chris” has become so cognitive he has lost sense of his emotions. Writers have to feel emotions if characters are going to have emotions, and characters must have emotions if actors are going to channel emotions. The great actors “Chris” assembled for Inception did their best, but the writing was so bad there was no way they could transmute any actual emotion to the audience. It’s an idea of emotion. It’s a thought of how emotion can be used to get an audience more involved in a movie. It’s a Hans Zimmer score intended to rile up a reaction. It all fails miserably.
It is clear "Chris" has come to realize this issue with his process, for with Interstellar, he tried harder than ever before to make audiences feel emotion. Why else would he have McConaughey screaming “Murph!” over and over again? We hereby submit a prediction, a prophecy if you will: Dunkirk is going to be described as a “tear-jerker”. For "Chris" is crafty, and he knows that war movies are the second most effective devices for tricking people into feeling emotions. (The first most effective is a very violent Jesus story, as discovered by the great Mel.)
4) Inception’s characters are extremely flat.
This is a direct follow-up to the problems addressed in point 3, but these atrocious characters must be deconstructed in full.
Do you remember any of the characters’ names? Do you remember any of their traits? Quite likely, the only name you might be able to call to mind is “Dom Cobb”, which is probably because it’s one of the dumbest names ever conceived. In fact, only one character in the history of cinema has a dumber name, and that is the character of “Coop” (played by Lincoln-riding McConaughey) in “Chris'" next non-Batman movie, Interstellar.
Regarding Inception, I’d imagine you, like me, think of the characters in terms of the actor. We got Tom Hardy. We got Ellen Page. We got Cillian Murphy. We got Ken Watanabe. None of these are characters. They are familiar faces present to help advance a plot that stinks like a butt.
You might argue Dom Cobb is a round character. But we argue there are but two elements of Dom Cobb’s backstory we learn. 1) He used to be a great Inception-er. 2) His wife (Marion Cotillard) jumped off a building and he became sad. These traits do not make a round human being. These are traits a high school student could think up in two seconds.
Let it be known that we at General Snobbery are fine with flat characters (i.e. Cameron Poe in Con Air, President Marshall in Air Force One, Danny McGrath in Billy Madison), but we become quite snobbish when directors try to trick viewers into thinking a flat character is complex. That is the case with Dom “Dom” Cobb. The aforementioned elements of Dom’s backstory do not make him a complex character. They make him a manipulative assemblage of shallow ideas attempting to guilt audiences into sympathy, all channeled through Leonardo DiCaprio’s anguished face.
Here’s Dom Cobb in a sentence: A guy was good at his job but struggles now because of a tragedy for which he feels responsible.
But the voices of dissent ring out! It’s not that simple, you stupid snob! It’s complicated because it has to do with dreams! The subconscious, man!
As much as "Chris" wants you to think he’s super innovative with his use of dreams, he’s actually using them to disguise the tired and pointless plot. And O! How horrid is his vision of the dreamworld!
5) Inception reduces dreams to logic.
Dreams remain one of the greatest mysteries of the human mind. Civilizations throughout history have interpreted dreams in multitudes of fascinating ways. Some see them as visions and messages from other worlds. Some see them as insights into the depths of the soul. “Chris” sees them as a limited machine filled with obvious symbols and bad action movies. Dreams are illogical, “Chris”. We cannot understand what they mean, and we never will. That’s what makes them so fascinating. We can do so much with them, learn so much through their strange content. But then “Chris” comes along to brainwash the masses into thinking that they have three “levels” and beyond that is “limbo”. Come on, asshole. You know nothing of limbo. You probably only read the first three Cantos of Dante’s Inferno. You have never traveled to limbo. We at General Snobbery have, and it has nothing to do with a train. Dreams have infinite levels. The further you go, the more amazing and insightful they become. It’s not about fucking with other people’s minds. It’s about learning more about who we are as individuals and as a species. It’s about learning new ways to spread compassion. Read Carl Jung (might I recommend the Liber Novus?). It will better your life, “Chris”. And it will better ours, because you will stop making billion-dollar movies that don’t aid our individuation in the slightest, likely providing more harm and confusion than good.
Need some help? Just watch Richard Linklater’s Waking Life again. This beautiful film demonstrates that dreams are limitless in possibility and content. We can meet people from our past, and with mindfulness, we can use our dreams to gain insight into the perplexity of existence. Inception says that dreams are explosions and Ken Watanabe. God damnit. Learn to lucid dream you butthead.
CONCLUSION: If you have made it this far, wow. We greatly appreciate your patience. If you still think Inception is a good movie, and you did not conclude that you hate us, then bravo. You are a better than us. Yet let it be known that this post is but the first set of five reasons, and many more will come as this Snobbing Journey unfolds. For how could we forget about the spectacle of the spinning top, Cobb’s totem…
A FINAL THOUGHT FOR "CHRIS": Uncle Ben once said, "Peeetaahh..." Uncle Ben also once said, “With great power comes great responsibility.” “Chris”, we ask you to learn from Uncle Ben's maxim, because as it stands, you are using your power to make people think you are super cool, when really you're just being a big old stinker.