Episode 37: Inception (2010)

Inception cover site

Introduced by Devlin

This is the most recent film we’ve ever covered on the podcast, which stretches the self-defined scope of what we deem a Rewind movie. Until now, we’ve stopped around the early 2000s, as that sort of caps our adolescence and with it, the period in our lives when we had the time, and the impetus, to watch and rewatch and rewatch the same films over and over again. The way we pick our films is pretty loose – for Throwbacks, we each take turns and the film picker is genuinely the only person that knows what we’re going to watch. What’s great about that format for everyone else is that we can whiplash from Darby O’Gill and the Little People, a very strange, late-50s Disney family movie that has fallen in to semi-obscurity, to Inception, a sleek and critically lauded modern blockbuster that ranks in the top 10 of the IMDb all-time highest rated films list.

IMDb has a definite love affair going with Christopher Nolan. His 2nd Batman entry The Dark Knight rides high in the top 5, Interstellar just misses the top 20, The Prestige sneaks in to the top 40, and his breakthrough Memento also appears in the top 100 alongside Bat-threequel The Dark Knight Rises. Gali chose Inception this time out, as, even though its release only a decade ago when all of us podcast people were in our mid-20s, the experience of seeing this in the cinema left a big mark on him, and when we discuss films which helped shape our tastes in cinema or were especially influential or memorable for whatever reason, it just goes to show that our personal canon doesn’t fossilise just because we’ve become (in massive inverted commas) “adults”.

Without giving too much of the episode away, the four of us like the films of Christopher Nolan to a greater or lesser extent, or at least several of them. Scanning the IMDb list that gives Nolan so much love, there is definitely a pattern that emerges overall – the films are largely male-dominated, mostly post-1970, on the whole American studio pictures apart from those high-profile foreign language titles which occasionally breakthrough and become a bit of a phenomenon (most recently Parasite, prior to that, lauded titles like City of God and The Lives of Others). The brash and brawny cinema of Scorsese and Tarantino is very well represented. Ditto dark, brooding psychological films like Se7en and The Silence of the Lambs. Much of this is to be expected – respected, prolific and talented filmmakers of longevity, filmmakers whose names have become brands have garnered their reputations for a reason, and whether we as viewers agree or not, the user-generated rating system of IMDb will skew towards people upvoting their faves. Breakthrough arthouse and foreign language films will likely inspire those who saw them to rate in order to try and draw new viewers in.

The last point though, the prevalence of the dark and brooding and gritty, strikes me as the most interesting. As a podcast that exists solely for four blokes in their 30s who met at film school to chunter on aimlessly about films, we are uniquely ill-suited to discuss the nuances of gender bias in film criticism, both professional and in the amateur, IMDb sense, with anything like the kind of insight such a subject would require, as we exist squarely in the The Problem Area, try as we might to be as non-toxic as possible. But it’s from this very vantage point that we can see that this list, the best movies as per the subjective average of all those users who took the time to click the stars on films they loved and films they trashed and everything in between, seems mighty familiar to people of our exact generation, gender, and cinematic background. Edgy, I’m-a-grown-up-now fare like Fight Club and American History X still riding high: touchstones for millennial teens looking for a cinematic accompaniment to their nu-metal angst. A prevalence of war movies, most notably Spielberg’s desaturated, nerve-shredding, FPS-preceding heartstring tugger Saving Private Ryan and Francis Ford Coppola’s mad, acid-trip Vietnam nightmare Apocalypse Now (a film I wrote my dissertation on). Universally beloved, ubiquitous Gen Xer/Millennial faves like Back to the Future and The Empire Strikes Back. Chaplin movies for the budding, discerning cinephile. Give or take a few personal preferences (I’ve never been one for the J.R.R. Tolkein-verse, for example), the vast majority of the list is like looking in a funhouse mirror, circa the early- to mid-200s. Of course, none of these films are for boys only, that would be hugely reductive and stupid, and I’m sure the user base of IMDb isn’t exclusively the preserve of the thirty-something. But, as a very general skewing of viewpoint? I think it holds water, not least because we were the first generation to have access to it, and that access had an impact on those of us who frequented it in our formative years.

That means that a cohort that very closely resembles us on the podcast seem to hold Christopher Nolan in very high regard. Despite having a podcast and occasionally writing this here blog, I tend not to think of myself as “Very Online”, so I haven’t had as much experience with various fandoms of filmmakers. But, this very rare niche Nolan seems to have found himself in really intrigued me. It didn’t take long to start finding thinkpiece articles about Nolan Fanboys, and especially the most virulent subsection of them who cajole and actually threaten critics who just don’t get it. As the article takes pains to point out, these people absolutely don’t represent the vast, vast majority of people who enjoy his films, of course – nobody pulls in numbers circling $1 billion per movie if the only people buying tickets are full-blown trolls. You can find terrible people who like pretty much everything, and it’s absurdly reductive to tar everyone with the same brush. I also don’t think Nolan fans have reached the same level of general disdain as, say, those of Rick & Morty (a very good, entertaining and smart show which is quickly becoming more hassle than it’s worth), but in terms of the general demographic skew, I think there would be a fairly sizeable Venn overlap (again, plenty of women like Rick & Morty, and several of the writers are, which is a source of a lot of the most egregious of the fan griping). Nolan is taken seriously, because of who he appeals to. In a marketplace dominated, at least in reputational terms, by a certain type of filmgoer, a filmmaker who serves that audience squarely can scale the heady heights of popular acclaim and appeal. For a decade and a half, he has been That Guy.

With Nolan’s Tenet readied for a controversial release in to these uncertain times for the very existence of the cinema experience, it was very timely of Gali to want to revisit it for this episode (I don’t believe for a second that the timing was coincidental). Some articles have even tasked Nolan with saving cinema itself. It’s a heavy burden to place on any director, and it remains to be seen whether he can continue his genuinely impressive hot streak and maintain his following. In modern terms, there’s only really fellow IMDb fave Quentin Tarantino who can compare, and with his long-teased retirement possibly imminent, a major question mark can be placed against there being another filmmaker that emerges to such enormous acclaim again.

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