Thursday, January 06, 2011

American Grievers, Part One: INCEPTION (2010)

Was INCEPTION--released this week on Netflix--the trippiest film of 2010? Outside of THE BLACK SWAN, TOY STORY 3 and ENTER THE VOID, perhaps. Is it great? Perhaps not. The high-def uber artsy set and lighting make it impossible to hallucinate into; the hallucinating is done for you, by professionals. Jungian resonance glimmers, swirls, and fades away before it can cohere into myth, a sad failure to launch -  the question is, who chickened out at the last minute when it came to laying bare their sad soul?

We know the answer. These same elements occur in SHUTTER ISLAND, therefore it's Leo. It's like he can't see his own elephant in the room, and he's the big star so the movie wears a blindfold while lecturing about the importance of sight. What is it about being a tight-lipped professional man with dark family secrets and a dead wife taunting from beyond that so appeals to Leo that he has to play it over and over? A fine actor and true humanitarian, DiCaprio is certainly a success on many levels, so why is he so obsessed with this narrow-minded 15-year old's idea of masculinity?  Can it be mere dream coincidence that all these ghost wives and beautiful little ghost children and houses by the shore with swing sets are so very dead and far away? He's sorry, Rose, but he has a job to do. That job is looking tortured and behaving with little in the way of self-aware humor as he laments he can't be home with you, Rose. Don't you get it? DON'T YOU GET IT??? (emotion)

Still, if nothing else INCEPTION should illuminate--and make a great double bill with-- Nicholas Roeg's DON'T LOOK NOW, which always confused me before, but which now I understand and want to see again. Like INCEPTION, Roeg's film deals with a shifting reality (the ancient and ever-crumbling Venice) and involves parental grief and guilt, out-of-sequence narrative, a city sunk knee-deep in water, and little children whose faces you never see as they're always turning corners. Man, it's a trip, if you know what I mean.

I mean I wasn't high while watching INCEPTION, but I could feel the tang of salvia divinorum, the 'ride the snake' dragon teeth face melt with fried time-space onions and trans-dimensional sweetness inside select INCEPTION images and scenes: Leo and Juno staring at each other as slow mo Zabriskie Pointed Parisian cafes explode around them; Ken Watanabe as ancient as Bowman at the end of 2001, his liverspots aglow in perfect unison with the lanterns on the wall behind him like an Alex Gray painting (I couldn't find a screenshot, alas)

But the similarities in Chinese puzzle box construction between INCEPTION and SHUTTER ISLAND are too great to ignore (substitute planes for boats and it's more or less the same movie). In both, Leo is a dour, myopic brooder haunted by images of his dead wife and kids. In both films we must ask, WICKER MANnishly, is Leo actually investigating a crime or is he trapped in an Escher-like maze of the mind engineered by a hostile anima? Is he just paranoid or is everyone really out to get him? Or are they really just figments of his imagination? Or the classic latency test: is he convinced the whole world is a show put on just for him, and nothing exists outside his own realm of experience? To get meta: is he anima-dominated due to emotional dysfunction as a result of a show business childhood (abusive stage mom giving him drugs to allay puberty - hence his eternal baby face)? Can it be that for him love is contingent upon uncrossable absence? No dad is more needy and pain-stricken about not being with his kids than a dad who can NOT get back to them. If the kids are actually there, then why bother even lowering the newspaper to behold their latest construction paper art projects?

That's how that objet petit a keeps you crippled, as the Anima-Kali-Cotillard projection beats you senseless for not wanting to take her out more often, you long to have her back so you can ignore her once again!

Whenever a movie is made about the mind, any evidence of  unresolved inner conflicts in the filmmakers' unconscious will inevitably be made apparent via simple deconstruction, so be careful! We can discern from the text that Leo DiCaprio has never been married or had children. He only dates models. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but it shows-- at least on the surface-- a level of laddish insecurity: his women must be certified gorgeous --so everyone knows he's a man. Playing a humorless widower allows him to be--in theory--a deeply romantic and caring soul yet he doesn't have to unfold even a gram of tenderness... doesn't have to risk ridicule, doesn't have to get all sensitive up close and caring. As said kids and wife are not alive he can both sleep around AND stare moodily at mantle pictures from some happier time beach trip. It's the one kind of emotion that an insecure actor doesn't mind displaying as it's all just him, there's no other performer jockeying for reaction shots. When the wife does show up, she's just a phantom, so he can yell at her without upsetting the feminists. He can, instead, brood.

Opium is the heroin of the masses
In Jungian terms, the dead wives here assume the role of Leo's anima--or the projected feminine ego of his unconscious (ala Ligeia). The anima takes many forms: she can come to you as a hot babe, or as a castrating vagina dentata Katharine Hepburn in SUDDENLY LAST SUMMER. When she's just a dead wife fantasia, it's kind of a 16-year old virgin's comic book fantasy of a real conscious-unconscious relationship, or am I just thinking of my own pre-adult fantasias wherein, for example, I pined and longed for Jean Grey to rise again as Phoenix in X-Men, and then Elektra in Daredevil? Or Lindsay Wagner in The Six Million Dollar Man? There's no benefit to falling in love with a living comic book character Of course we were all glad when they came back by our popular demand, we had collectively re-animated them so to speak. But in each case, we knew something was missing, we just didn't have the Lacanian context to understand what.

Now we know, Leo has taught us. It was the ache of the pine. 

We see it in real life all the time, if you've ever been in a long distance relationship you know the feeling. Sunday afternoon and she's about to get on the bus or train back to wherever and your heart breaks with sadness, already missing her and the joy she brought. But THEN she decides--at the very last second--to stay and leave Monday night instead and you're like oh shit, I should be glad so why do I feel strangely robbed? You lost the pine.

Pining is, above all, a performance... a slow... motion... tantrum... and it can be sweet, but on the basic level, it's absurd, juvenile, something Bella might write in her TWILIGHT diary and, years later, with nostalgic relish, read aloud to her sorority friends for cheap drunk laughs. Should art cater to juvenile minds or should it not also educate, enlighten, and transcend? When you blow the doors of your mind wide open, make sure the floors inside are clean, even if your movie is about dirty floors. Company is coming, and the company is a future self with a clean house that you made possible, defeating your ego at its own game.

But that's never the issue. The wifely anima projection in the unconscious of Leo's character/s is defined by her need for him, her wanting to be with him all the time, and of having no life of her own beyond her stifling adoration of her tortured husband. No true anima is that weak, or that crazy. They do their own thing. Half the time you can't even get them on the phone. The fantasy in these films is that Leo's anima is so needy and doting that she never just sinks into the dark and does something on her own. Just as Bella's animus Edward hovers over her like a clingy stalker, so too hover Leo's dead wives.

Perhaps it would be good if Leo owned up to his romantic streak: he might see that all the stale action sequences and need to embody Scorsese tough guys like Howard Hughes--and soon, Dean help us, Frank Sinatra-- scans as just a fear of looking wimpy to his laddish entourage. Word on the high-def rain-soaked GGI streets is that he's also going to be playing a serial killer in a period film about the 1919 World's Fair! If he doesn't make the character a tortured brooder haunted by his dead wife or lost children, I'll eat my hat! Maybe he'll enrich this killer with twisted joyfulness, ala your Hannibals, Freddies, Nicholsons, and Karloffs... instead of his usual dour tortured cowboy--ala your Jason Patrics and David Boreanzs. I doubt it, but I don't brood about it.

My own psyche is, after all, deeply invested in Leo as he reminds me a lot of my younger brother, Fred - the blonde hair, the baby face, the big bulky frame. God knows I've tried to reach him (Fred, I mean), but he just does his own thing - fixing motorcycles and listening to Metallica out in Phoenix, AZ, with his concealed weapons permit. It's an older brother thing. We have to live with our own frustrating inability to mold our younger siblings. We're America, beating up the world so it won't get hurt.

1 comment:

  1. I didn't really care for INCEPTION, but I'm glad you brought up Nic Roeg. I think a comparison between his films and INCEPTION can illustrate why I like Roeg's films (most of them anyway), but not Nolan's film. Here is a comparison between INCEPTION and BAD TIMING I had previously written:

    I think what Roeg does with editing is quite different from Nolan with INCEPTION. Roeg does (often) take linear narratives and cuts them up, as it were, but I think to totally different effect.

    Nolan cuts up a story to fit it more into a puzzle format, in effect, to create MORE narrative, and therefore add more "importance" to the narrative, taking away from the characters (and other things). BAD TIMING, as an example, cuts up a linear relationship story in order to undermine the narrative and free it from the constraints of time and linear thought, therefore putting more emphasis on the characters and emotional situations.

    It's sort of like breaking up an A to B timeline, using the remaining pieces to construct another, more complicated timeline (INCEPTION), versus destroying it all together and leaving the rubble for you to sort through (BAD TIMING). If you follow me:)


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