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Weekly Poll #12

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***Review contains spoilers***

Inception is as much an illusion as it is a film. Within each cranny of this well-traversed labyrinth of a movie is an assessment of reality and our incomplete understanding of it all. Our perception is guided (and even misdirected) by the meticulous management of director Christopher Nolan; he is the Architect, the Forger, the Extractor, and the Shade. He creates a holistic world in which we are simply just the Tourist, and as we know, “There’s no room for tourists on these jobs.”

Inception begins with an idea. Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a master thief whose lucrative method involves breaking into people’s dreams in order to steal their secrets. He is offered a job-specifically his last job-which is to plant an idea into a subject’s mind and to trick the mind into thinking it’s the subject’s own idea to begin with. What follows is an elaborate heist film that crosses several planes of subconscious existence.

And just like any idea, it begins to expand. We learn that Cobb is a deeply haunted person that has difficulty letting go. In a world where dreams are infinite, he is internally imprisoned by his own past. What helps him break free is the cast of peripheral characters: his right hand man, Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), an architecture prodigy, Ariadne (Ellen Page), a forger of identities, Eames (Tom Hardy), the one who hires him, Saito (Ken Watanabe), and the mark of the job, Fischer (Cillian Murpy).

The idea that Inception is an illusory maze now begins to manifest. We have the plot, the characters, the action, and the destination. What we don’t see coming is the way these factors come together.

The plot is cleverly reflective of the film’s ideas and visuals; it initially unfolds upon itself like the dreamworld we witness in the first half hour. Towards the end, the plot becomes buried underneath layers and layers of dreams and flashbacks, and while this sounds confusing, the narrative is surprisingly straightforward. It is actually very linear, but it is forged by successfully mindbending techniques, further clouding our perception.

I’m one to argue that people tend to do this. We, the architects of our own psyche, choose to complicate our minds with paranoia, misjudgment, and prejudice. However, our problems can sometimes be the simplest things to solve. The film acknowledges this frustrating paradox with its deceptive narrative structure, and I find it quite remarkable.

Similarly, the characters are utilized in a uniquely effective way. Aside from Cobb and his wife, Mal, all of the characters are bland, but their collective facelessness is a quality that enhances the surrealism of the dreamworld. As Cobb becomes unhinged by his subliminal demons, the rest of the cast becomes mute in the midst of action-covering their faces with ski-masks or floating idly in zero-gravity. The characters break into deeper levels of the subject’s subconscious, and the emotional arc of the story simultaneously becomes more singular. Cobb’s imprisonment parasitically evolves from simple, faded memories to an entire dimension of loneliness and torture.

Inception’s idea begins to spiral uncontrollably. With Cobb at the mercy of his guilt, the film takes us through several lapses of time and many unique dimensions of thought. Visually, we are struck with images of rain, snow, light, and darkness. Furthermore, Nolan’s hindrance as a poor director of action sequences is used to his advantage. Disorienting our perception with chaotically shot action is a perfect way to throw us off.

And beautifully, the idea comes to a halt. Cobb reaches his destination, and he is able to let go. However, Nolan uses the final moments of the movie to finish his illusion. Before cutting to credits, the audience is left with a question: Is it reality or is it a dream? We never get to see Cobb’s totem finish its action, and this ambiguity is all we are left with. So, does the totem fall? Or does it keep spinning?

Well, I have two answers…

1. It doesn’t matter. It can fall and it can not fall. Both conclusions make sense, and there is enough evidence to support either claim. With an ambiguous ending, we are expected to speculate and to make theories. We have ideas about everything, but these ideas are planted by Christopher Nolan, himself. Thus, Inception has been performed on us.

2. Although I just said it doesn’t matter, part of me likes the film more if he is still in a dream, and here is why. The film begins with the ending. Nolan is known to do this; he does it in Memento and The Prestige. When we reach the ending of the aforementioned movies, a metaphorical loop is closed, and everything makes sense. With Inception, the film ends where it begins, and this loop is seemingly closed. However, the very idea of loops is something Nolan plays with. He utilizes loops as a motif in the film, but he uses them as illusions-for instance, the paradoxical infinite stairs. By making the ending the beginning, and the beginning the ending, a loop is formed, but as Inception itself is an illusion, so is this loop. It’s a paradox, designed by Nolan, and Mr. Cobb is trapped in his dream.

What makes Inception so great is that it has multiple meanings. These are just my takes, and they are bizarre ones at that. Being The Tourist of Christopher Nolan’s mind is chaotic joy, and I hope to hear your opinions. Feel free to leave comments!

10 out of 10

After two frustratingly ambiguous teasers, the theatrical trailer for David Fincher’s The Social Network finally emerges, and it is surprisingly stunning. Enhanced by a musically effective and haunting rendition of Radiohead’s “Creep”, the preview suggests that this upcoming movie about Facebook should be taken seriously.

The film’s color and photography appear stylistically ominous, and the acting and writing shown indicate that the drama is just as engaging. Hopefully, Fincher can knock it out of the park, just as this trailer did.

The Social Network will open the New York Film Festival in September. It will then be released on October 1, 2010.

Admittedly, I think there’s something charming about dark humor. Opportunities to laugh at death, disease, and hopelessness are obviously rare and a bit taboo, but these occasions aren’t meant to disrespect our grievances. They are meant to alleviate our despairs. This brand of comedy is ironic and satirical, and I personally admire it. As a person who takes things too personally, I’m in constant need of a kick in the pants to remind me that life is too short. Now, since such a kick would be excruciatingly painful, I’d rather take an alternative: just watch Louis CK’s latest comedy series on FX, Louie.

Louie isn’t really a sitcom. It’s a collection of semi-autobiographical short films about Louis CK’s life as a newly divorced single father in New York City. Acting as bookends to these short films are segments of stand-up from the comedian himself, and the material could not be any more morbid. Yet, laughs are given in return and the show remains light on its feet.

This new series is surprisingly comforting. Yes, there’s something deeply sad about putting your dog to sleep, vaginal infection, homophobia, and death, but it is these misfortunes that Louie bravely confronts in order to connect us together as imperfect, lonely people. After watching an episode, it’s surprisingly hard to feel that bad about the misery that surrounds us in life. I guess that’s just how irony works.

If there is one thing the Harry Potter series has successfully crafted through its entirety, it is its own level of maturity. From the innocence and wonderment of a wizarding world as seen in the first two installments to the realistic danger identified in the later sequels, the series has expertly encapsulated the point of the books: growing up.

Now, with Mr. Potter near the end of the road, the stakes are higher, the challenges are more daunting, and the pressure is insurmountable. Transitively, the film appears grander, the music sounds more epic than ever, and the trailer, itself, feels incredibly fatalistic.

The one thing that irks me about this preview is the self-referential text poorly spliced together with the montage.

THE FINALE OF THE WORLDWIDE PHENOMENON.”

THE MOTION PICTURE EVENT OF A GENERATION.”

I think the trailer speaks for itself. We don’t need textual reminders.

Regardless of my dumb nitpicking, I’m looking forward to these upcoming months. Advertisement for the films has always been well done, and the series has been a part of my entire life. Of course, I’m more than excited.

The social network…We’re all a part of it. Now, thanks to adored director David Fincher (Se7en, Fight Club, Zodiac), we’ll get a chance to see it at its inception.

Starring Jesse Eisenberg, The Social Network takes a personal look at the life of Mark Zuckerberg and the founding of Facebook. Release is set for October 1, 2010.

The silver screen is not a dividing median that separates the moviegoer from the moviemaker. It’s a collaborative and reflective device that merges the two together. Filmmakers create ideas based off their own experiences, and the degree to which we enjoy them is based off ours. In a way, it’s therapy. We take a great deal of our personality to the theaters, and we leave an hour and a half later evolved, engaged, and affected. This interactive achievement is what some people refer to as “movie magic.”

In a year of disappointing movies, Pixar manages to once again capture that magic perfectly in Toy Story 3. To this film, we bring everything we’ve endured since the last installment’s release 11 years ago. Since then, I’m sure we’ve all gone through triumph, death, and heartbreak; whatever the results were from those moments, they are what brought us to wherever we are right now.

So the remaining question is: where are our favorite Pixar characters right now? Well, Woody, Buzz, and the rest of the gang are in a toy box, ignored. Andy-he is now making preparations for college, and playtime with the toys is expectedly absent. His intentions are to stock them in the attic, but through a series of mishaps, they are mistakenly placed in the donation box destined for Sunnyside Daycare Center.

Upon their arrival, the toys are cordially greeted by the daycare’s senior members. At the helm are Lots-O’, a huggable teddy bear that smells of strawberries, and Ken, the renowned counterpart to Barbie. The illusion that Sunnyside is a sweet sort of retirement home is immediately shattered when the gang becomes treated like jailbirds. What follows is an epic prison break.

Right away, Toy Story 3 makes it clear what the story is all about. We know where the inevitable point B is for Woody, Buzz and Jesse, and the narrative’s various beats lead us right to it. The time spent following these characters to their bittersweet conclusion doesn’t necessarily feel like anything new. Specifically, our heroes don’t grow or change perception, and the newly introduced characters merely act as roadblocks. There aren’t any emotional arcs for our characters to discover. Simply put, they reach a point that signifies the end of the trilogy.

In no way is this a fault. Rather, I think it’s the point, and it’s a poignant one at that. As Buzz says early in the film, “Our mission with Andy is over.” For these toys, their purpose isn’t of much use to Andy, and similarly, Andy’s purpose as owner is no longer effective. They are both obsolete to one another, and because of that, the next logical step is to separate. This becomes the hardest thing for our protagonists to do, but their understanding of why it must be done is perfect.

Similar to the way we get out of touch with people, perhaps it happens because there’s nothing more to be gained from them. I don’t mean to pontificate this point with pessimism although it might seem so, but what I’m trying to say is: when we break up, when we are fired, when we move on…maybe it is because we are supposed to, maybe we gave all we had to give, and maybe we learned all we had to learn from the experience. It’s not an existential crisis; it’s an existential understanding, and for Woody and the gang, this understanding is the last lesson to be learned. In doing so, they simply have to get to the previously mentioned Point B and say goodbye to Andy.

As they always are, farewells are difficult. Our lives have been invested in this franchise, and the glory of nostalgia can sometimes be insurmountable. Pixar beautifully sends off its characters by allowing Andy to give each of them a nice little description. Some might say this curtain call is too on the nose, but I say it’s absolutely necessary. It’s necessary for Andy; the acknowledgment of his childhood is the perfect way to cap off his character. It’s necessary for the toys; one last time with Andy is all they wanted, and hearing him explain why he loves each and everyone of them allows them to fully realize their importance. Finally, it’s necessary for us; outwardly expressing inner thoughts is that therapeutic motion that leads to closure and acceptance.

I understand that this is more of a contextual analysis rather than a movie review. As I said before, much of our response to film is subjective, and right now, my relationship with Toy Story is triggered by emotion. For those looking for objective critiques, I do have some. I do believe Lots-O’s characterization is fairly weak, and the infrastructure of the prison-like Sunnyside Daycare Center needs more development. The writing and the comedy are less witty, having to refer to obvious jokes (Ken’s masculinity, Buzz’s Spanish malfunction) to extract laughter.

I’d like to close with a quote that my Differential Equations professor once shared. “It’s most important to know when you don’t know.” Transitively, I think one of the hardest things to learn is the fact that you may have nothing left to learn-whether it’s from a parent, or a friend, or a significant other. Moving on can be difficult when it most often seems hopeless, but Toy Story 3’s understated advice is comforting.

9.5 out of 10