A 4K Inception and the Old Soul problem

inc4kLast night I re-watched Christopher Nolan’s Inception. Yeah, another re-watch – I’ve so many discs in my collection that I haven’t watched/re-watched and are just sitting on the shelf, I think I’m coming to the point at which I finally have to put them to some use. That being said, it actually wasn’t my old Blu-ray that I watched this time around- I’d noticed the 4K release of Inception being reduced recently (its been in several offers over the past few months) and gave it a punt; yes the 4K format and double/triple-dipping really does seem to be the Devils work. So what finally got me around to watching the film again was it being the 4K edition, would I have ever re-watched that Blu-ray? 

Regards that 4K… well the HDR as usual proves to be the winner here, adding some considerable depth to the picture, but details etc didn’t seem a pronounced improvement on the Blu-ray, albeit I haven’t actually watched that disc in several years. A curious thing I have noticed is that sometimes 4K discs don’t immediately seem to be much of a difference, until I play the Blu-ray edition out of curiosity and suddenly the improvements become quite surprising (this 4K disc comes with the film and extras on two Blu-ray discs making my old copy absolutely irrelevant). I do like the new/revised cover art over the Blu-ray edition- the slipcase looks really nice (the revised artwork for some 4K releases of catalogue films often seem to improve on earlier editions).

Did I just extol the virtues of a slipcase?

As for Inception, I hadn’t seen the film in several years (it is so strange how time races by, and no that’s not some meta-commentary on Time in Nolan’s films). I was coming back to it assuming I’d remember it and follow it easily, but no, I was floundering for the first thirty minutes or so. I think that’s more to do with Nolan’s obtuse style of storytelling and audio design than any early signs of dementia on my part, at least I hope so. Part of Nolan’s appeal is the complicated, labyrinthine plots of his films; critics love Nolan’s ‘clever’ filmmaking, but its something which has become increasingly tiresome for me, so much so that I keep on wanting to re-watch Tenet if only to try work out what the fudge that thing is actually about: first time around, it made no sense at all, and I suspect I’ll feel the same after watching it again. Interstellar was more silly nonsense than anything profound (but it looks nice), and Dunkirk ruined what could have been a definitive and classic retelling of important British history with three storylines confusingly jumping around in time (but it looks nice). I have the growing suspicion that Nolan’s labyrinthine plotting is just a subterfuge to disguise how silly and empty they really are.

What all Nolan’s films actually do well is the technical side, the production aspects; what he puts up on screen is always impressive and at times jaw-dropping, but they also seem to get bogged down by that – the intellectual and technical aspects of making each project increasingly losing the narrative and characters. He particularly seems fascinated with Time; toying with it in all his films in often novel ways but also at odds with basic storytelling. 2001: A Space Odyssey is probably his favourite movie, he seems to aspire to that film in every film he makes.

I think Inception may remain his best film if only because it better balances his intellectual and technical strengths and validates their excess within its premise. In this case, the dream-worlds the characters go into better excuses all the sophisticated stunts, layers of time and plot-twists without it all distracting from the narrative and collapsing into confusion. God knows Inception confuses but at least there seems a valid reason for it, it feels naturally part of the film and not distracting.

Except really for the ‘Old Souls’ sequence and the whole subplot about Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) trying to get back to his children. This is what largely breaks the film for me. Cobb reveals that he and his wife Mal (Marion Cotillard) experimented in ‘deep dives’; going deep into dreams where time passes by more slowly than in the real world- in this case, during an afternoon forty years would go by for them within their dream-world ‘paradise’ where they could be alone and grow old together. But at the same time, this would mean that they would spend forty years away from the same children that Cobb is so obsessed with returning to. I appreciate that, in reality only a few hours would pass, but intellectually and experience-wise, they would live forty years away from their children, family and loved ones. Now, two things spring to mind. First, nobody would ever do that, its selfish and crazy and ridiculous. Secondly, ‘living’ forty years would change someone, as you ‘aged’ in the dream world and time passed, you’d change as a person (and possibly lose your mind living in an essentially empty cage). Cobb didn’t need to plant an idea (an ‘Inception’) into Mal’s mind to drive her crazy about what is Reality, the experience would do that all by itself. At one point, I began to wonder if Cobb’s children were ever ‘real’, that maybe their existence was an Inception of its own, perhaps placed by Mal, but seeing memories of her on the beach with their children would seem to infer they were indeed real, and just make that whole deep dive/grow old together as silly and irresponsible as I stated before. Its an intriguing idea on the surface but like so many Nolan sub-plots that crowd his films, one that doesn’t hold up when examined.

Now, it would make a fascinating movie, just all of its own, to see the two characters spend forty years together and grow old and slowly ‘forget’ the real world (it would essentially become like a distant dream) and then when they woke see them suddenly having to re-adjust to Reality and being young again with their children not seen for forty years. There is, intellectually, a fascinating film in just that idea. Deep-dives into the dream-state essentially is a door to immortality, living tens, hundreds, thousands of years in the virtual worlds of constructed dreams. Or maybe I’m just over-thinking it; its hard to tell when considering Nolan’s films.

Some connections:

Christopher Nolan also directed Tenet and Interstellar.

Leonardo DiCarprio starred in The Revenant, (a sobering reminder that I bought it on 4K and haven’t watched the disc yet).

3 thoughts on “A 4K Inception and the Old Soul problem

  1. Matthew McKinnon

    The 4K thing is elusive isn’t it?
    I was mildly disappointed at first, in that resolution didn’t seem hugely different for a lot of films (which is a testament to the strength of a good HD encode). In a lot of cases it wasn’t that magic leap like going from SD to HD.

    But when watching a while film and sinking into it, the depth and subtlety of the HDR can really make things shine. Spielberg’s War Of The Worlds, Alien and especially Sicario look absolutely beautiful in UHD/HDR in ways it’s hard to put your finger on.

    The only film I’ve felt it hindered was Close Encounters – only for a couple of shots where the boosted brightness fought the film grain and some crucial image detail was boiled away.

      1. You had me trying to decipher it for awhile there- fittingly it was quite a Nolan puzzle, but I found it much easier to solve than Tenet, anyway…

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