Monday, July 26, 2010

The History of 'Inception'

A scant two weeks have passed since 'Inception' opened. In that time, and before that time, there has been a wild conflagration of commentary. Dizzy swooning proclaiming the movie is pure genius was quickly followed by indignant back-biting mostly concerned with, not whether an opinion was right or wrong, but whether one or another person with an opinion about 'Inception' was an idiot or hit the nail on the head or was out of line for having an opinion or should be ignored (or imprisoned) for voicing their opinion.

Most of this transpired before 'Inception' played even once for the public, and has continued enthusiastically since its debut.

A.O. Scott has compiled what amounts to a brief history of the rollout of 'Inception':

...a burst of raves went up all over the Internet. The name of Stanley Kubrick was duly invoked, and the word “masterpiece” sounded like a trumpet through the blogosphere. The early score on was a perfect 100. But then a second round of notices tarnished that luster. David Edelstein of New York magazine, Stephanie Zacharek of and Armond White, the reliably oppositional critic at The New York Press, published pans that ranged from frustrated to weary to vitriolic, decrying the rush to inscribe “Inception” in the pantheon of cinematic greatness. For their efforts these and other similarly unimpressed writers were treated like advocates for national health care at a Tea Party rally, their motives, their professionalism, their morals and their sanity questioned, and not always politely. What seemed to provoke the most ire was that these critics had shown the temerity to mention what other critics had written, and to respond to the aggressive marketing and the early effusions.

The next stage involved a series of commentaries reflecting on these earlier phases, and wondering what it all said about the state of criticism in (oh, my) the age of the Internet. The rage of the movie’s defenders was a particular cause of dismay, since their intemperate howling seemed to attack the very basis of civilized discussion and to impart a personal, emotional tone to the whole debate. How dare you not like what I like? How dare you cast doubt on my reasons for liking it? Shut up and let me watch the movie — which I am sure I will love even though I haven’t seen it yet!

I was astounded at all this. Not so much the gushing about how good the movie is/was before it opened, but by the response to the second wave of less than stellar reviews. It was beyond uncivilized, (even for the internet where, often, civilized discourse is not a priority). Scott sums up the tone nicely -- it was very much 'how dare you not like what I like'.

Yes. Many of those who were drooling in anticipation of seeing 'Inception' cried foul when some critics had the temerity to point out that, (in their opinion), the movie contained flaws. 'Inception' has been determined to be super-awesome! DO NOT suggest it isn't, you idiot!'

It was as if voicing the notion that 'Inception' was something less than a masterpiece was reason enough to suffer that most dreaded of punishments: having your internet connection shut off.

I know there is a lot of juvenile behavior online, both from obscure bloggers and major players, but the 'Inception' rock fight was a thing to behold. It was transcendental. 'Juvenile' behavior was tossed out the window in favor of furious, hate-filled, embittered, almost mindless indignation. The response could well have been classified as 'reptilian'. Insults were hurled. Righteous anger trumpeted. Bloggers were spitting mad, frothing at the mouth. I wondered how many keyboards were pounded to pieces during the composition of diatribes against those who dared to suggest 'Inception' was not a singular gem among cinematic accomplishments.

Since when are opinions about movies cause for riots? Why were we warned that early positive buzz about 'Inception' might be something to be concerned about? What's happened to us?

Do we respond so passionately to the assessments of others because, due to the democratizing effect of the internet, opinions -- everybody's opinions -- are perceived to be valid due to the simple fact they are posted online (as are ours, which we know to be valid) and, therefore, are a direct threat against us if they represent a way of thinking which differs from our own?

Have we become part of a grand Pavlovian experiment? Are there researchers somewhere who monitor us and giggle at our silly and quick knee-jerk reactions and indignant eye-twitchings when we read an opinion which differs from our own?

It's just a movie. Could be a masterpiece of historic significance, could be a fun summertime popcorn thriller. Depends who you ask -- and whether you care to listen.

If 'Inception' becomes legendary, it will probably be for the passionate praise, and the fanatic insipid insults for those who failed to praise, that served as a prelude to its opening.

Now, thankfully, the debate is about the meaning of 'Inception' rather than whether the movie is great or not. But, while the cross-fire is less heated, it's also a bit more superficial. Does the movie have a twist ending? What effect does the last few seconds of 'Inception' have on what preceded? Does this change the way I should live my life? (Should I believe what you have to say on the matter)? Are you conspiring against me? Are you an idiot for having an opinion, or an idiot for not having one? Is your response a trick?

The meaning? I have to agree with Scott's observation -- such pondering shrewdly invites a second viewing, possibly a third. Certainly, should the meaning of the movie be fully appreciated, the DVD must be rented or purchased. Then, when it becomes available, at a small additional cost, the director's cut must be viewed.

The meaning of 'Inception'? Are you kidding me? It's a movie. it?

Perhaps we have become part of a Pavlovian experiment. But, in this case, it's not researchers conducting scientific work who are pulling the strings, it's Hollywood marketers, and the chiming of bells we hear is the ringing of box office cash registers across the land.

It's as if 'Inception' has hypnotized us, caused us to argue wildly and call each other names without regard to how silly we look and, during the heated exchanges, a master thief has picked our pockets of moneys spent on tickets to see the 'Inception' repeatedly so that we know exactly what we are arguing about, and, on his way out, made off with our dignity, our respect for others, and our sense of what really matters for use at a later time.

You can wake up now, and when you do you won't remember what you have just read. And, if you do remember it you won't be able to understand it, no matter how hard you try.

Perhaps, you'd care to wipe the drool off your chin. I'll put dinner on the table.

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