d. Christopher Nolan / 2010 / USA / 148 mins
Screen 4 @ Picturehouse Stratford East

Still from Inception

It’s become pretty much de rigueur to say it now, but I’m really not sure what to make of Inception. I didn’t have any difficulty following its labyrinthine structure, and I wasn’t at all concerned by its apparent open-endedness – I’m just not sure what to make of its very existence.

For starters, I’m still not entirely convinced we should be considering this ostensibly ‘intelligent’ blockbuster a ‘risk’ on behalf of Warner Brothers, particularly considering Chris Nolan’s highly capable auteurist tendencies, his rabid fanboy following and, crucially, his ability to attract top-line stars. And let’s not forget that Nolan’s previous film – The Dark Knight (2008) – grossed over $1bn, a 540% return (excluding substantial P&A) on Warners’ $185m budget investment.

From that perspective, and with another Batman film looming on the horizon, it’d be no surprise to discover that the studio backed Inception partly as a sweetener for Nolan’s involvement in Batman 3. After all, Nolan is no dummy: his continual shunning of the current fad for 3D technology and his preference for IMAX (Batman 3 will be shot completely on 70mm IMAX) is proving more and more prescient as the limitations of 3D become ever clearer. And the fact that Inception has performed so spectacularly well – earning over $800m worldwide – can only strengthen Nolan’s hand.

When I saw the film, it was at an early afternoon, cheap-day session, some weeks after the film’s initial release. Even at 1.45pm on a Monday, the screen was a near sellout, with an audience that seemed to genuinely enjoy the whole spectacle. The ability of audiences worldwide to gain enjoyment from such a ‘difficult’ film suggests to me one of two things: either the film isn’t as smart, or tricky, or ‘hard to follow’ as we all think it is, or mainstream audiences are much more intelligent, more visually literate and more willing to be ‘led up the garden path’ that Hollywood are ever willing to admit. The key to the film’s success, of course, is this very unwillingness to compromise, to play down to audiences, as well as its ability to reward repeat viewings.

The fact that there was very little idle chatter in the screening I attended also indicated to me that people were both interested and intrigued. The biggest proof, however, that this audience went all the way with Nolan’s vision came with the final frame of the final scene which – cut short to leave us hanging – drew an almighty (but good-natured) groan from the entire audience.

I’m certainly not suggesting, as some have, that Hollywood should be making smart, complex, engaging and original films like Inception around the clock, merely that an intelligent, big budget brainbender wouldn’t go astray every once in a while. Surely the studios can afford to bump at least one of their ’80s remakes or boardgame adaptations, can’t they?

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