Written by: Rob Van Winkle, CC2K Staff Writer
One man’s man-crush on the director of Inception.
When it comes to witnessing a master at work, the medium might be different, but the feelings are always the same. After taking in just a small portion, you are immediately struck by the enormity of the whole, even if you haven’t experienced it yet. As each piece unfolds in front of you, you simply cannot believe that it came from the mind of a single person. And finally, when it’s finished, you have the overwhelming feeling that you have somehow participated in something truly special.
I felt this way the first time I read Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina. I felt it after the first episode of Mad Men. And I felt it today, after seeing Christopher Nolan’s Inception.
I understand that this is a very subjective statement, and no doubt there will be many dissenters to the above statements. But for my money, there is no other writer/director working today that lives up to my (ever-growing) expectations every time out of the gate, and thus he is the only person in Hollywood that will compel me to buy a movie ticket simply due to the fact that he’s involved.
Let’s take a look at his feature film chronology, in order of appearance:
Memento (2000) – While there are two entries earlier on Nolan’s resume, Memento is for all intents and purposes his introduction to the movie world. And what a debut! With a (much simplified) short story by his brother as the source material, Nolan crafted an incredibly sophisticated thriller that simultaneously embraces and shatters convention. Before Memento, would you have even imagined it possible to have a story start at the end and work its way back, and yet still deliver a truly satisfying surprise ending? I remember eagerly anticipating Nolan’s next movie minutes after leaving the theater. And it turned out to be:
Insomnia (2002) – With Nolan’s next feature, it was clear that Hollywood saw what he was capable of. While Memento featured solid if unspectacular lead actors Guy Pearce, Carrie Ann Moss and Joe Pantoliano, this one had three Oscar winners at the top in Al Pacino, Robin Williams and Hilary Swank. Insomnia could be seen as a disappointment if compared to the trippiness of Memento, but more than stands on its own if viewed alone.
Batman Begins (2005) – After Joel Schumacher finished raping the Batman franchise, no one thought it could be rescued. And when it was announced that the director of Memento and the star of American Psycho were taking over the reins…that sentiment did not really change. But all doubts ended ten minutes after the movie started. Batman Begins takes one of the silliest conventions in fiction (the masked hero), and roots it in reality. How in fact DOES a billionaire playboy transform himself into a caped vigilante? The process was enthralling, and the movie was nothing short of awesome.
The Prestige (2006) – Firstly, The Prestige was half of one of the strangest dualities ever seen in Hollywood (seriously, there were TWO magician-based costume dramas released in the same year!). Secondly, the source material on which it was based has a fascinating plot, with a vague and weak ending. And in fact, the movie itself did seem lessened by the inevitable comparisons to The Illusionist (which was not that great a movie itself), and was certainly hampered by a vaguely unsatisfying ending. Yet again, when viewed alone on its own merits, there are elements of The Prestige that are as awesome as anything else on Nolan’s resume. It is stylish, and mysterious, and while one of the two twist endings are weak, the other is perfect.
The Dark Knight (2008) – The sequel to Batman Begins managed to sneak by most people, but it was critically acclaimed. If you can find it somewhere, I think you’ll find it worth your while. Joking aside, while The Dark Knight has its detractors and falls apart somewhat upon repeated viewings, it is still a master work of its genre. It roots the Batman mythos even more firmly into the “real” world, and even brought us a Joker that was 0% farce, and 100% terrifying. Is there anyone out there really NOT looking forward to the third installment (due out in 2012)?
And this brings us to Inception.
I really don’t want to say anything about the story of Inception (CLICK HERE if you want a more traditional review), as the less you know about it, the better off you’ll be. But what I do want to say is that, as I sat in the theater taking it in, I couldn’t help but think of Mozart.
Let me explain.
There is a scene in Amadeus where Mozart is called before the king to answer for the “crime” of writing an opera based on The Marriage of Figaro. Mozart’s only defense is to describe his ending of Act One: A single singer takes the stage and sings a solo. A second singer takes the stage, and it becomes a duet. A third singer joins them, and it becomes a trio. Then a quartet. Then a quintet. As Mozart describes the scene, he dares the king to guess how long he can keep it up, expanding the scope of this final, epic song. The answer is irresistible to the king, and he allows the opera to continue.
Inception has a very complex notion at its core: people who enter into other people’s subconscious dreams in order to steal, or implant, private thoughts. Dreams are complicated things, so it’s not giving anything away to say that the movie gets progressively more complex as it goes on. As I sat in the theater, I was struck over and over again by two recurring thoughts:
1. There’s NO WAY they can pull this off.
2. Holy Shit! He’s going to pull this off!!
By the time the movie had finally ended, something was cemented in my mind (how did it get there?): I went into the theater thinking Christopher Nolan was merely the best director working in Hollywood today. I walked out with the belief that I was dealing with a master.