Jul 17, 2010

Why would anyone want to dislike 'Inception'?

 (Stephen Vaughan/Warner Bros.)

Why do I do this to myself?  What is the point?  I've seen the sort of hate that spews onto the internet when a professional film critic like David Edelstein publishes a negative review of a movie everyone is dying to see.  People want him dead.  Or at least fired.  He is an "unprofessional" "retarded" "arrogant" "pretentious" "school yard bully," about as "useful as a poopy flavoured lollypop," and—even worse—he's "worse than Armond White."  His sin is simple: he disliked Inception, and was brazen enough to say that he was frustrated by the near-fanatical Hype surrounding what he believes to be a "clunky and confusing" movie.

Also, he disliked The Dark Knight, therefore he must be bad.

The thing is, I thought Edelstein's review in New York Magazine was well-reasoned, honest, and articulate.  His confusion and frustration is clear, and I think it's appropriate (if not downright necessary) to address the Hype head-on; to ignore it would have been to pretend he wasn't aware of what was going on around him; namely, that Inception was quickly becoming the most talked-about movie of the summer (of this new decade?), long before it ever reached theatres. 

Who among us hasn't been in this position before, utterly baffled by the near-unanimous response (positive or negative) to a popular movie, a response that we simply cannot agree with?

I have not seen Inception.  I can't speak to the details of Edelstein's opinion of the movie (though I can admire his prose; when he marvels that Marion Cotillard is "clock-stoppingly gorgeous," it seems both an efficiently handsome and subtly informative phrase).  But here's the thing: when I finally do see Inception, I want to dislike it.

...I think.


It's not that I like being contrarian (a label that has lately been tossed in the direction of both Edelstein and Toy Story 3-hater White as if it were the greatest indignity).  The more great movies that exist in this world, the better.  And the more people that see and like those great movies, well, that's pretty great, too.  So with this fresh, new, and (possibly) exhilarating and inventive movie on a silver platter in front of me, why would I want to send it back?  Am I just a mindless part of the new New Media cycle, fulfilling the prognostications of an impending and inevitable backlash?

In a word, yes.

I want to have an honest reaction to Inception.  If it's thrilling, I want to be thrilled.  If it's mysterious and confusing but ultimately thought-provoking, I want to be provoked.  I don't want my reception to be skewed by some external force, as part of a shifting movement toward Hype (as represented not just by applauding mainstream film critics [like Roger Ebert—always level-headed] but more so by the zealous fans who so fiercely and single-mindedly attacked David Edelstein).  I don't want to be in a position where I've either got to align myself with one camp or another; I don't want to camp at all.

But the volume of both sides (though especially the fervor of fanboys and fangirls) is obstructing my non-partisanship, and making it impossible to enter the movie theatre open-minded.  I am actually weary of Inception without having ever seen it.  This seems an especially relevant problem for a movie that, for all intents and purposes, should be unabashedly new and unfamiliar.

I do not blame this on the fans—die-hard or casual—of Inception.  Nor do I blame the media, at least not directly—Dennis Cozzalio at Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule intelligently dissects the Los Angeles Times' Patrick Goldstein's response to the Edelstein brouhaha, whereas Jim Emerson, on his Scanners blog, laments the release of a movie's reviews before the release of the movie itself, and the trouble this causes.

The blame, I think, lies squarely on the cash culture of Hollywood, where exorbitant advertising budgets for studio tentpole releases (some estimates I've seen put Inception's advertising budget well above $150 million) and the need for a big return on opening weekend have created a culture based around the bandwagon.

I don't want to speculate how many millions of dollars Inception is making right this minute, but it's a lot.  Hollywood feeds (and feeds off of) a culture that creates outsiders out of people who miss this weekend's Next Big Thing; to be sufficiently in the loop, I've got to spend $10 and see Inception NOW (the laws of Facebook and the trends of Twitter nearly demand it).

Is it such a bad thing to recognize this manipulation and actively oppose it?  No.  But... Who pays the price if I do?  Me, or Inception?

For several reasons, Inception has connected with a huge audience, and did so well before this audience even had a chance to see the actual film.  The Hype is huge; it just goes to show that $150 million spent correctly will get people's attention.  But the immensely positive response also suggests that maybe Inception is just a really good movie that a lot of good people (and some bad ones) really, really like.  And there is nothing wrong with that.

In a fair-minded and slightly bemused piece from NPR, Linda Holmes wonders how we've come to a point where we demand unanimous assent from our film critics.  That seems wholly misguided, she argues, because while art may not be entirely objective, by it's very nature it should allow space for "individual sensibilities" and personal preference.  When we get stuck on aggregate scores from sites like Rotten Tomatoes, we lose an important piece of the discussion.  "There's no destination that criticism is trying to reach," she writes, "where if we all get smarter and fairer and we all 'get it' (oh, how desperately we need to rid ourselves of the language of 'getting it'), we'll wind up rating everything either 100% or 0%."

My conundrum: If I enjoy Inception, I'm just like everybody else.  Which I don't like.  But if I dislike Inception because of that, I'm just a reactionary, intent on being unlike everyone else—which is just a bandwagon of a different color.  But if I genuinely dislike Inception because I find it's not very good, well, like David Edelstein, I must be an "idiot."

I'm lost in my thoughts.  This is a head trip worthy of Christopher Nolan.

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