'Inception': Only good if you're young?

InceptionImage Credit: Melissa MoseleyPatrick Goldstein at the Los Angeles Times has an interesting piece today about Inception‘s reception. (It’s just his perception, and preconceptions lead to misconceptions and self-deception.) “If you were a young moviegoer, you loved the visually arresting puzzle-box thriller,” he writes. “But the older you got, according to polling data, the more likely you were to detest its run ‘n’ gun, dream-within-a-dream complexity. ” He compares the film to earlier generation-separating movies like Breathless and Bonnie and Clyde. Multimedia scholar Henry Jenkins argues that familiarity with video games makes Inception easier to understand. That last point is quite interesting: is Inception the first great video game movie? Not based on one specific game, but rather, on the whole stylistic structure of video game storytelling?

Jenkins points out how much of Inception rests on the notion of different “levels,” and of worlds within worlds. (More than a few people have pointed out the similarity between Inception‘s “Snow” dream and an early level in Modern Warfare 2.) And it’s certainly true that the very best video games practice a modern version of the “Show, Don’t Tell” storytelling style. Games as dissimilar as Shadow of the Colossus, Gears of War, and Braid just throw you into the action, with the bare minimum of plot exposition. (Heck, even Super Mario Bros. doesn’t tell you much more than “Save the Princess.”)

Still, I’m not so sure that I’m convinced by the “Inception as Video Game” argument. Once you get by the meta-reality vocabulary, Inception‘s plotline feels pretty straightforward. There are a lot of dreams on top of dreams, but this ain’t Fellini Satyricon: The dreams all look like Michael Mann movies, and the mini-plots in each dream level are pretty direct. Inception is confusing, but The Big Sleep is pretty darned confusing, too. (Heck, I think it’d be harder to make an infographic like this out of The Big Sleep.)

What do you think, PopWatchers? Does Inception skew young? Is it really the most complex movie ever? Or is it just the most complex-ish film to make $200 million? We can all agree on one thing: The Matrix looks pretty simple by comparison.


Comments (78 total) Add your comment
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  • jeff

    its only complex if you’re a moron…

    • Tom

      That’s what I thought when people tried to tell me the time travel in “Back to the Future II” was confusing to them.

    • paige

      agreed. people are acting like this is a David Lynch film.

      • harry

        Yesssss! I mean what is it that you don’t understand people?

      • Ceballos

        No kidding.

        “Mulholland Drive” sailed right over my head after my first viewing. After my second viewing I went on IMDb and other sites to look at explanations and interpretations just so I could figure out what the heck was going on. (Now, I think it’s pretty terrific.)

        Anyway, “Inception” is a cake walk comparatively.

      • paige

        i thought Matrix Reloaded was wayyy more complicated than Inception too… and thats an action movie!

      • Brandon

        Yeah David Lynch’s films are complex because they made any sense to begin with… Oh please! Any idiot can write random crap. Only he gets a million others together to sniff it blinfolded and conclude that it is various culinary delights. *SNIFF* ‘Aaah cinema!’

    • Shawn

      I don’t understand why critics just can’t seem to LET GO. If you didn’t like it,…..fine! But can you please stop trying justify you opinion, because in the end, that’s all it is, an OPINION! It’s pretty obvious that different people have different opinions about the movie, and it’s pretty obvious that you cannot sway either side to change their opinion about the movie, so please do the world a favor and simply just LET IT GO! This movie i turning into another TWILIGHT, those who like it, like it, and those who don’t, Hate it.

      • Devin Faraci

        Didn’t like Inception? Then you are an idiot. Paul blart is more your speed.

      • Hey!

        Read it again you moron! With your reading comprehension skills, I sencerely doubt you even understood the movie Inception.

      • Jake

        @DF- Burned!

    • Keli

      So true. Anyone who can’t understand it shouldn’t be old enough to watch a pg13 movie….. It was amazing and easy to get and I’ve never played video games like they said in the article! People just need brain stimulation to watch it.

  • Red

    “More than a few people have pointed out the similarity between Inception‘s “Snow” dream and an early level in Modern Warfare 2.” That was one of the first things I discussed with my teenage son after we saw it. I didn’t think anything of it was taken from the game, but it kinda felt more like a wink at it or something.

    • Kevin

      I think it’s a wink at “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service”. Nolan is big fan of that film if I’m not mistaken.

      • nodnarb

        I was thinking the Roger Moore movies with ski scenes… but it was definitely inspired by Bond.

      • Brett

        There’s as much, if not more, skiing by George Lazenby’s Bond in “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.”

      • Sarah El

        Yeah, I was feeling major Bond movie vibes there.

      • paige

        yea he’s made it known that he’s a big Bond fan

      • poop

        Possibly because the snow level in MW2 feels like it was a wink at OHMSS. And yeah, if you don’t like this movie, then you didn’t understand it.

    • Chloe

      Thats what I thought. It was really, really similair.

    • Jerry

      The movie was shot before MW 2 was released.

    • S.O.

      the “Snow” dream seemed like they were on the Planet Hoth.

  • JLC

    Bare minimum of plot exposition? Were we watching the same movie? The whole first half of Inception is nothing but exposition. Interesting, true, but still.

    • Gonzalo

      I thought the same things too. “a modern version of the “Show, Don’t Tell” storytelling style”? WTF? The movie was kind of the opposite of that: “explain lots of weird concepts in one dialogue, then let the viewer try to figure out how they make any sense during the movie”.

      • Anne

        And it’s certainly true that the very best video games practice a modern version of the “Show, Don’t Tell” storytelling style.

        I had more of an issue with the claim that Inception is like a videogame because it practices “Show, Don’t Tell”…All of the great, classic novels “Show” — Inception is merely a film version of the next great American novel.

  • jaclynnchan

    Yeah I wouldn’t say it was hard to follow. However, I was a little distracted by how much the snow scene reminded me of 007 via Nintendo 64…anyone?

    • Jerry

      Oh yeah! God, I loved that game.

      • paige

        there’s a wiimake coming out for, uh, the wii

  • confidential

    I just saw it Sunday and I didn’t find it confusing but I’m 32 and grew up playing video games, watching Bourne, Alia, Bond and Matrix. I didn’t find the movie terribly complex.. you just had to pay attention the whole way throught. My co-worker who is in her late 60’s did have issues with the story/levels. Maybe there is a generational difference between the way we ratinalized the film.

    • confidential

      sorry for a sp errors… I’m at work. :)

  • Brad

    People who have seen this boring crap are deluded to believe they just saw a masterpiece. Well, hello! It isn’t and that’s all there is to it – a boring crap!

    • Anna

      This film is complex but all the pieces are there and it just requires you to pay attention. The film is deliberately convoluted and some people are mistaking complexity for depth. Once you get past the the plot and the action there is not much left. I assume that’s why a lot of the older folks are not that into the film. The film is lacking somewhat in substance. The ideas in the film are not thoroughly developed, but we do get great visuals. What we have is a great action film that does not transend the genre. However, it is way better than most of the other films we have seen lately.

      • Gonzalo

        YES. These are exactly my thoughts about the movie.

      • Anne

        @Anna: I completely disagree. The PLOT is “deliberately convoluted” and complex, but the story as a whole has a great deal of depth. Like Kafka’s “Metamorphosis” and a number of other great allegorical stories, “Inception” is completely meta. It’s a film about film. We’re all collectively dreaming – like Cobb – and the true “Inception” is the act of watching and then deconstructing the film. I feel like people who write off the plot totally missed the point of the film…There’s a difference.

      • DarkLayers

        Anna, there might be another reason why it doesn’t feel like there’s much substance. Jonah Weiner wrote a really interesting article in “Slate” that argued “Inception” critiqued corporate clout in the modern world, but Nolan didn’t want to make it too polemic.

      • T2

        Anna is right on. I just now got the DVD from Redbox, having deliberately avoided any press or spoilers or hype.
        I did not like it.
        YES, I ‘understood’ it, and was able to follow along. I simply did not like it.
        The article writer seems to equate ‘understanding’ with ‘liking’. I get it, and I still don’t like it.

    • Ames

      Why are people getting so angry over a summer movie? It was a fun time. Move on.

  • Chaz Winterbottom

    Okay I’ll nerd it up. First of all games like Modern Warfare 2 have been stealing from Hollywood for years now. Sure Inceptions snow scene might conjure up memories of Modern Warfare 2, but Modern Warfare 2’s snow scene also conjures up memories of about a zillion James Bond movies. So that’s that.

    As far as story goes, most action oriented video game stories are about one thing, a soldier saving the universe/winning the war. Inception ain’t about that. It’s about a guy who just wants to go home to be with his kids. That sounds like a pretty adult notion, not a kids movie.

  • Bruce L

    It’s not that complex. If you have trouble understanding it, it’s not because you’re old; it’s because you’re not paying attention.

    As for Inception sharing its “show, don’t tell” ethic with video games, I can’t say I get that comparison in this context. I’m 26 years old, and haven’t looked at a video game since Super Mario Bros. (the first one), and I thought Inception was fine. Besides, every good movie in history has taken “show, don’t tell” as its cardinal rule; this is a medium of images, not words. And that, to me, is where Inception fails to be as great as it’s cracked up to be: For all its kewl visuals, there’s a hell of a lot of verbal exposition going on here. If anything, it makes too many concessions to people who might have trouble following it.

    • Anna

      I think understanding the plot is not the main issue most of these older people. Like you wrote, “it makes too many concessions to people who might have trouble following it.” I think when you try to think past plot and focus on the ideas, it may come of as pointless. It make you work hard with little reward. It needlessly tries to through you off and when you get all the pieces, the thought is “that’s it?”.

  • Chloe

    I went to see the movie with my 16 year old brother and dad. I’m 17. I think that while we might have liked the movie for different reasons, we all liked it very much. My brother saw the video game-ness a little more then me and my dad. That didn’t really matter to the overall enjoyment of the film.

  • mees patti

    I am older, and found the fact of levels uninteresting. It made me unable to suspend disbelief, and always watch for the trick instead of looking for the plot. All through, I expected the confusion to be resolved, like a good mystery thriller should. But…meh. I also wanted to know why the rich son, who had been trained to know and defend against the dream attacks, accepted everything he dreamed as true in the end.

    • Minvike

      ” I also wanted to know why the rich son, who had been trained to know and defend against the dream attacks, accepted everything he dreamed as true in the end.”

      That was BECAUSE of the levels: so that he wouldn’t realize he was STILL dreaming. His “guards” and defenses to the dream attacks worked great in level 1 of the dreams (hence the guys chasing and shooting at them in level 1 almost as soon as they got there) but worked less and less in levels 2 and 3 because the son thought he had woken up, and therefore his “defenses” were down (or at least much less effective).

    • The Man

      I think he accepted everything because he believed Cobb when Cobb claimed to be there to protect him and lead him to the truth. He put his trust in Cobb and agreed to help him find what Browning was hiding.

  • Woot

    My parents are nearly 60 and loved this movie. I think if you have an open mind and pay attention you’ll like the film. Perhaps older people are less likely to do this?

  • john

    Kotaku.com started to explore the Video Game-ness of Inception too!

    Inception is essentially a hybrid of Psychonauts (diving into people’s brains), Super Mario Galaxy (the way the movie plays with gravity/physics), and Call of Duty (shoot outs galore).

    • Gonzalo

      Right, because none of those concepts have ever showed up in movies before. *sigh*

  • jcarla

    A) Roger Ebert loved this and B) he is of an older generation and C) has had sesrious discussions about whether video games are ‘art’.

    I think it’s as simple as whether you go to the movies to expand your mind (or at least come with an open mind) or shut it down.

    • strickens_girl

      Excellent points!

  • Laura W

    Okay this will be the first video game movie then Suckerpunch will be the second. Wow warner brothers loves video games!

  • Noelle

    I’m 43 years old and haven’t played video games since “Ms. Pac-Man,” and I loved “Inception.”

    • kim in kentucky

      same here!!! (plus a couple more years)

    • ObiHave

      45 and LOVED it. Define older…we get the point some people loved it and got it others didn’t. Some people loved Ricky Bobby…I thought it was crap…thank God we don’t all like the same things…it has nothing to do with age.

      • strickens_girl

        I’m 41, hubby is 36 with two daughters 19 and 21 and we all saw it and loved it. In fact, the girls and I still discuss on a nearly daily basis. Maybe you need to define older. Everyone I’ve talked to that has seen it that is my age or older has enjoyed it too. The only person I know of who didn’t is a friend of my younger daughter – but she loves Jersey Shore so that explains that.

      • @strickens_girl

        Though Leonardo DiCaprio, I’ve heard, is a fan of Jersey Shore, so…Tastes can be weird.

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