[9 August 2010]
PopMatters Contributing Editor
Okay, so Christopher Nolan clearly stole his ideas for the Summer hit Inception from Scrooge McDuck. Yes, the dazzling English filmmaker, the man responsible for taking the otherwise outsized comic book superhero (i.e. Batman) and making him viable in the real world, clearly looked at a storyline in a Disney tie-in publication some six years ago and thought, “that would make a great epic.” He scrapped his own script, a project that’s been laying around for more than a decade, and decided, instead, to give the House of Mouse a reason to retaliate, legally and artistically.
Naturally, this all seems silly, the “Dream of a Lifetime” installment of the Uncle Scrooge comic being an overly simplistic rendering of the mind manipulation material that’s been around since ancient Greeks put on masks to merit their dramatics. But it actually makes much more sense than another theory floating around regarding Inception and its popularity amongst certain members of the movie-going public. The LA Times calls it a “generation gap”, the notion that, to quote the article’s title, “the older you are, the more you can’t stand” Nolan’s latest. Others have referred to it as the “gamer’s” mentality, arguing that only fans fully immersed in the PS3/X-box arena of the culture “get” what Inception is offering.
No mention of the film’s fascinating sense of cinema or use of scope or structure. No acknowledgement that Nolan might just be a great director with his talented thumb on the pulse of the present zeitgeist. Nope, the reason Inception has been #1 at the box office for the last three weeks (and #2 in its fourth) is that a bunch of brainwashed fanboys, who are usually unable to tear themselves away from the seek and destroy mannerisms of their console shoot-em-ups, have instead found similar joystick jollies from what Nolan has to offer, and are driving repeat business. Again, no mention of the critical acclaim (87% at Rotten Tomatoes, a 74 from the obviously less geek driven Metacritic) or the phenomenon they are clearly coat tailing. It’s bloggers vs. the artform blue bloods - and the inmates are overrunning this particular aesthetic asylum.
Except, that’s all bullshit. While far from scientific, an informal poll of a dozen fellow critics and film lovers found no gamers and a great deal of admiration for Inception. Almost everyone in the sample was 35 or older, and none were what you would typically call a ‘fanboy’. Among this group were two men in their late 50s a woman in her mid 40s, and individuals both married and single, lovers of science fiction and those who wouldn’t know Isaac Asimov from Obi-Wan Kenobi. Again, this is not being used to prove a particular point so much as to contradict the other, equally inexact approach the Times utilized (call it anecdotal evidence).
Here’s the problem: using the “gamer” or “generation” tag is lazy, it’s just a shortcut to explain yet another ‘short’ concept - sightedness. Like the preachers who proclaimed rock and roll “the Devil’s music” or the pundits who point to rap as the ruination of a young urban populace, it’s a rote response to something unexplainable or beyond one’s easy grasp. Of course, pointing to the adolescent (or slightly older) and arguing that it drives most of a Summer movie’s success is like stereotyping Hollywood as being all sequels, remakes, and star powered high concepts. Sure - the sentiment “seems” right, but the truth could be far more complicated.
In some ways, Inception‘s success is the result of a perfect storm of incidents. Nolan’s last movie made mega-bucks and The Dark Knight earned even more regard when it failed to make the Oscar cut, much to ‘Net Nation’s chagrin (though actor Heath Ledger walked away with his posthumous little gold statue). Then Popcorn Season 2010 turned out to be a bottomless bit of movie mediocrity, from bland Bruckheimer bombast - Prince of Persia, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice - to equally ineffectual franchise attempts like The A-Team. Toss Inception into this morass, a movie that strives for ideas it often achieves brilliantly, and you’ve got something people can talk about, share, and argue over. There are many who believe Nolan is nothing more than the latest charlatan in the elaborate hocus pocus that is Hollywood. Others have embraced Inception as a masterpiece.
Somewhere in the middle lies the truth, and none of it has to do with age or addiction to your Playstation. Roger Ebert is 68 and somehow managed to give the movie his highest rating - and last time anyone checked, he wasn’t glued to his Colecovision besting his previous score at Donkey Kong. On the other hand, Facebook is filled with 20 somethings who definitely enjoy their worlds of Warcraft - and they have been merciless in slamming Nolan’s “folly”. In each case, the exception does not prove or invalidate the attempt at a rule. The joke is that paid pundits take a similar small selection of truths and try to pawn that off as a suitable overview. Yes, many gamers love Inception and many middle aged viewers don’t adore it. Now, what, exactly does that prove again?
The most telling argument against such assessment arrived just five months ago, with Matthew Vaughn’s enjoyable comic book adaptation Kick-Ass. Many in the biz thought that gamer geek interest would drive up opening weekend turnstile totals. When all was said and done, the intended demo couldn’t get the final tally past $20 million - and for many, the movie was a middling flop financially. Something similar happened in 2009 with Watchmen, and yet no one was arguing that the it was the geek that derailed its otherwise guaranteed trip to the top. It would be interesting to see, had either of these films been a major b.o. draw, if the same stupid analysis would be applied to their success.
Clearly, Inception has something more to offer to the general public than a dividing line based on age and Wii Fit agility. There are just too many favorable (and a few unfavorable) opinions that fall outside the proposed hypothetical to give the conclusion serious consideration. A better rationale would be this - Christopher Nolan made a good film that resonated with a majority of the movie-going public, some more than others. There is also a valid contingent that doesn’t like it, with a few within said segment going out of their way to explain the inexplicable draw via overgeneralization and poorly realized observation. Maybe there is something to the Scrooge McDuck dynamic after all. The “gamers vs. geezers” approach is actually fairly Mickey Mouse, when you think about it.