It seems an odd thing to complain about in a movie that some people have found so revelatory, but I thought Inception would have been much better with about 95 percent fewer rounds of ammunition being fired. At a certain point I started asking myself: Why, in a movie about descending through dream layers and opening secret “basements” and “safes” of the subconscious, does someone always have to be firing a goddamn gun?
And it was that inane James Bond gunplay, where the protagonists are chased in a van by eight cars full of men with AK47s, or through narrow alleys by groups of men with AK47s, and brick dust or automotive glass is exploding around the heroes’ heads, but nobody gets shot. At a certain point you concede that their not being hit is built into the gunmen’s parameters or something – “They’re just projections; projections can’t aim for shit” – and so why should you have the movie stress response regarding endangered heroes instead of just a building weariness at the literally monotonous chk-chk-chk-chk-chk-chk of gunfire that – who are we kidding? – isn’t going to hit anybody (and even if it does, it’s only the dream guy, not the real guy…sigh). In the climactic mash-up of dream-layers, several of the operatives mount a hill, on skis, and look upon a magnificent snowy vista, and you think, ah, so peaceful, respite from the endless motorized chasing and futile machine-gunning, but then this scene devolves into a chase of our heroes by men on motorized skis wielding, yes, machine guns, which they fire without pause but which don’t hit anyone because the guys firing them are just projections, and projections can’t aim for shit, apparently.
Partway through the movie I had an intelligent-seeming thought in defense of the film’s mode of portraying dreams – against critics who said its dreams were undreamlike, and in the bad way of being not weird enough, not Lynchian enough. I love Lynchian movie dreams because I think they are accurately dreamlike in their uncanny weirdness (and I have this odd idea that the secret inner purpose of movies is to be dreams, to achieve surreality, so that every filmmaker is secretly trying and inevitably failing to be either Lynch or Buñuel (I did say it was an odd idea)). But I thought, wait, these are shared dreams. People dreaming together would impose an order on the symbolic flux that lone dreamers don’t have the perspective for. The shock of another (sub)consciousness would force them to leave aside their silly, private, random tokens of dream-meaning and strive for something communicable. Shared language would be the means of ascending from sub- to self-consciousness and so, with others’ help, we could be dreaming but also awake. I had about a half-hour of feeling like the Jürgen Habermas of movie dreams, grooving on the idea of the ordering power of dream discourse, dream intersubjectivity, but then we ended up in a dream that was just Leonardo DiCaprio’s and he apparently didn’t need anybody else’s help in ordering his dream into something dumbly expository and undreamlike, styled as a kind of noir pop-psychology, the combined sensibilities of Raymond Chandler and, like, Oprah. So after all that, I ended up agreeing with the sophisticates and the snobs who were bugged by Inception‘s populist dream logic. I mean, with all those different dreams, they could have had at least one where Leonardo goes to pick up a gun but he can’t because his hands have turned into flippers, or he goes to fire a gun but he can’t because the gun barrel is sort of drooping, and then the camera goes to Leonardo’s face, which has an embarrassed but not entirely surprised look on it.