Degrees of devotion

Posted by · 7:59 am · July 19th, 2010

The best thing that came out of last week’s online fracas over assorted critics’ response to “Inception” was a brief swell in useful conversation about critical nuance and responsibility. On Thursday, I touched on the Rotten Tomatoes-trained tendency of many readers to box film criticism into distinct ‘love’ and ‘hate’ camps, and as far as I’m concerned, US-based British writer Tom Shone has pretty much the last word on the matter. Responding to a Sasha Stone post about the blogger/critic divide, Shone writes:

The blogger/critic dust-up over Inception illustrates the divide between those who for whom love of a film means nothing less than full-throated devotion, coupled with a blindness to all its flaws — a kind of creeping politesse that insists on nary a bad word be said of the great and the good. The kind of writer for whom the words “genius” and “masterpiece” silence all internal debate. And those whose admiration for a film or filmmaker comes striated with a sense of its imperfections, who see no contradiction between loving a film and finding fault with it — the faults peg their admiration higher. The blogosphere seems sometimes to forget this. They mistake reverence for respect. They’re strangely pious. Again: where are the outlaws?

I have nothing further. (P.S. He likes “Inception” just fine.)

→ 30 Comments Tags: , , | Filed in: Daily

30 responses so far

  • 1 7-19-2010 at 8:58 am

    Justin said... is starting to look more and more like

  • 2 7-19-2010 at 9:05 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    Ooh, burn.

  • 3 7-19-2010 at 9:07 am

    Kyle said...


    What would you rather read about at this point? Salt? Dinner for Schmucks being delayed? Nic Cage’s Hairpiece?

    There hasn’t been any notable Oscar news and Inception was the big story of the weekend, heck the summer really when you consider what a deplorable summer at the movies its been,

  • 4 7-19-2010 at 9:20 am

    Matthew Starr said...

    While I love to discuss the intricacies of Inception’s plot I am kind of tired of this specific topic. No offense to anyone. Hopefully Guy is right about this being the last word, at least until critics groups start voting in November.

  • 5 7-19-2010 at 9:28 am

    Kevin K. said...

    I guess my problem with all the crap that’s been going on is that some people are misinterpreting the people who liked it. Yes, there are plenty of fanatics out there, but those of us who aren’t fanatics but still loved the film (or any film for that matter) are deemed as crazed zealots for wanting to defend something we are passionate about. Is that so wrong? Or should we all just sit back and let anonymous strangers on the internet call something we love a steaming pile of shit? There’s a growing, unfortunate trend these days amongst cinephiles that shows a lot of hypocrisy. It’s as if people aren’t simply allowed to love something or be passionate about a film that very well may mean something to them without being deemed “fanboy”.

    Of course there is a flip-side to this, but I’m simply coming at it from my side of the fence here. I loved “Inception”. I think it’s a masterpiece, and hands down the best film I’ve seen all year, if not in several years. But this kind of thing always happens when a known auteur who has fans puts out work that is generally agreed upon as being a quality entry in their resume’. People who aren’t as keen on the film or the filmmaker go after the fans and do whatever they can to yell and kick and scream as loud as they can to tear the film, filmmaker, and fans down. It’s as if it’s a crime to be passionate about any film or filmmaker anymore, particularly mainstream ones. Again, I recognize that of course there is a flip-side to this, but I don’t like being grouped as a zealot when yes, the particular filmmaker in question (Christopher Nolan) is someone I admire and aspire to, and his films speak to me. Does that make me some crazed fanboy lunatic for wanting to defend the man and his work? I think not.

  • 6 7-19-2010 at 9:29 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    Apologies to those tired of the topic. I was merely sharing a quote (which has nothing directly to do with the film, by the way) that I felt merited sharing. Onward.

  • 7 7-19-2010 at 9:31 am

    N8 said...

    I appreciate his argument. I loved the film, but make no attempt to disregard its faults. Perhaps it’s too soon to label “Inception” a masterpiece, but I think it is possible for genius and imperfection to coexist within a work of art. It strikes me as shortsighted to believe otherwise.

  • 8 7-19-2010 at 9:51 am

    Duncan Houst said...

    I’ve been trying to find faults with the film, but I just can’t find more than a few insignificant quibbles. Maybe I’m just not that smart, but the only way I can see it is a masterpiece. Please give me a few flaws that I can’t easily take down as wrong or insignificant.

  • 9 7-19-2010 at 10:00 am

    Hans said...

    I appreciate the quote, Guy, because I think this issue was the catalyst for the extreme polarization the film has caused. Sure, if the print critics had gotten their first go at it and had been able to judge the film objectively, then there still would have been the “Nolan fanboy” vs “hater” talk. I just feel like now each of those camps feels like they have an “army” to defend themselves with (the blogger/critics and the print critics respectively), and it makes it all the more personal.

  • 10 7-19-2010 at 10:15 am

    Al said...

    I absolutely hate most rotten tomatoes users. You can’t say one bad thing about a film without being told you are just after attention, or too dumb to understand. Those assholes did that with me because I thought Avatar was a little too cliche.

    #1, I was thinking the exact same thing.

  • 11 7-19-2010 at 10:15 am

    JJ said...

    You know what, I loved the movie. But I really enjoy that 8 out of every 10 critics (and audiences, I’d wager) think the movie is good or great. And I enjoy that 2 or so out of every 10 don’t like it. Being a fan of the film, I’m appreciating reading all the cogently-reasoned (if that’s a term) criticisms. I love that ‘Inception’ has created this storm of opinions & interpretations. Loving reading it all.

  • 12 7-19-2010 at 10:17 am

    Adam Smith said...

    I’m still on the fence on the “masterpiece” topic. I found Inception exhilirating. The middle chunk is very exposition-heavy, but I also struggle to find a way of explaining the dream mechanics that would work better. However, I’d like to throw out the notion that Inception is, by far, Nolan’s most personal film.

  • 13 7-19-2010 at 10:18 am

    snowballa said...

    Duncan: Expository dialogue and weak characterization aren’t insignificant quibbles but a major failings at two of the basic tenet of storytelling and scriptwriting.

    Like “The Dark Knight”, “Inception” is another solid film from Nolan, but no means a masterpiece. A masterpiece entails excellent dialogue, believable characters and a tight story. I could fit a jai alai field through the plot holes in this movie, and when the characters in other heist films such as “Ocean’s 11” are better fleshed out than your own, you know you’ve got trouble.

  • 14 7-19-2010 at 10:18 am

    snowballa said...

    Forgive the grammatical errors in my first sentence.

  • 15 7-19-2010 at 10:22 am

    Mark Kratina said...

    For me, Inception is not a masterpiece, nor did it deserve the kind of hack-job Rex Reed seems to enjoy doling out to Nolan’s films.

    All things being equal, I’m more inclined to lean toward the people who claim “masterpiece” and spell out the reasons why then someone who uses their review space as a mechanism to grind their axe.

  • 16 7-19-2010 at 10:26 am

    Duncan Houst said...

    All of this outspoken controvercy over whether or not Inception is a masterpiece or not proves how influential the movie was. When people kept arguing over the ending, and when people started expressing dissatisfaction over the ending, it showed how much the movie worked. People cared about the characters, so the film was overall a success.

  • 17 7-19-2010 at 10:29 am

    Matthew Starr said...

    Speaking of the movie itself.

    Anyone read Devin Faraci’s take on it over at CHUD? I like it. Over the weekend the more I came up with questions and the more people could not firmly answer any of them the more I began to shift towards the idea that the entire film is in a dream.

    One line that sticks out to me is when Ariadne is talking to Arthur and Arthur says something like “he tends to break his own rules”. Implying that perhaps Cobb is making up the rules as he goes along.

    This film reminds me of Mulholland Drive. A look at Hollywood and the process of making a film told through someone’s dream. Lynch’s work I did not get at all at first but was able to piece more and more together after every viewing.

  • 18 7-19-2010 at 10:36 am

    snowballa said...

    “when people started expressing dissatisfaction over the ending, it showed how much the movie worked”

    Oh really? “Lost” spent six years fucking with its viewers, and that show was another storytelling failure. Adding twists and turns for the sake of adding twists and turns does not a compelling movie make.

    If anything, “Inception” is a compelling story with a mediocre plot. The different levels of dream traveling as well what it takes to plant an idea into someone’s mind is very interesting. But Nolan’s execution leaves something to be desired.

  • 19 7-19-2010 at 10:49 am

    Hans said...

    Lost is an interesting comparison to make, and I think it describes what’s happening here. If you were inclined to love Lost going in to the finale, then chances were you were going to love it. If you went in expecting answers and explanations to everything, then you were probably going to be disappointed. I thought the finale was brilliant and that Lost is going to stand as one of the landmark television series of our time, and I feel the same way about Inception.

    (Speaking of which, I never heard Kris’s thoughts on the finale. Judging by the fact that he still intends to visit their panel at Comic-Con, I take it he probably enjoyed it?)

  • 20 7-19-2010 at 10:49 am

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Matt: Posted links tot hat and Vulture’s Dileep Rao interview in the box office thread last night. Two of my favorite pieces on the film yet.

  • 21 7-19-2010 at 11:04 am

    Duncan Houst said...

    Snowballa: Inception never adds a twist that is left unanswered with repeat viewings. I’ve seen the film twice now, and I have a very firm opinion of the ending. I won’t say it here, because I absolutely hate spoilers, and this is not something to be spoiled, but I think that’s how Nolan intended it. Since we felt something for the characters, we cared about the ending. That’s why the movie worked so well.

    I’m enjoying all of this debate about one film. I think we’ve had quite a few posts about this part of Inception on In Contention, so clearly people care about it over here. It’s nice to know. If you don’t love it, at least you like it enough to write 18 thousand different posts about it.

  • 22 7-19-2010 at 11:07 am

    Aaron G said...

    “Duncan: Expository dialogue and weak characterization aren’t insignificant quibbles but a major failings at two of the basic tenet of storytelling and scriptwriting.”

    if you take them at face value. i was worried about these criticisms too but then i saw the movie and it was very clear to me that cobb is someone with a very tenuous grasp on reality. so to take what he says as Truth is to fall into a trap.

    as for the characters being too one-dimensional, well, *SPOILER ALERT* but, imo, none of them are real. they’re projections of cobb’s unconscious. narratively, the inception is performed on cobb. the movie itself is very meta and, in a way, the inception is also performed on the audience. the simple fact that so many people take the movie at face value is testament to how effective it is.

    i guess that’s my overall problem with critics who’ve reviewed the film negatively. they take it at face value and haven’t seemed to put much thought at all into it. it’s like: they saw it, didn’t like it and/or were confused/offended by it, then panned it. oh. okay, then.

    as for the hater/fanboy thing, it isn’t just with movies. for example, if i go to a tech blog and say that, in general, i prefer apple products, someone will immediately have a conniption fit and call me a “fanboy” who fantasizes about tying steve jobs’ balloon knot. i’ve been playing guitar since i was 11 and, honestly, if you go to a player’s forum and start a thread about how “les paul players suck, strats rool” you’d get a swift kick in the ass and dismissed as the infantile knob that you are, yet this mentality seems extremely pervasive in movie and tech subcultures. funny, that . . .

  • 23 7-19-2010 at 11:32 am

    JJ said...

    You know, for me, the secondary characters may have been “thin”. However, I liked them all.

    I liked little Ariadne and her relationship with Cobb. I enjoyed Arthur immensely; liked his flirtiness with Ariadne. Loved Eames; loved his snarkiness with Arthur. Thought Robert Fischer was a tragic character; one I felt great emotion for; thanks to Cillian Murphy.

    I could go on. The “thin” character talk – and even the lack of emotional quotient – kind of washes over me. I liked the characters, was mildly invested, & though I wasn’t omg-crying (a la ‘Toy Story 3’ or something), I was moved.

  • 24 7-19-2010 at 11:38 am

    snowballa said...

    “imo, none of them are real. they’re projections of cobb’s unconscious. narratively, the inception is performed on cobb. the movie itself is very meta and, in a way, the inception is also performed on the audience. the simple fact that so many people take the movie at face value is testament to how effective it is. ”

    Isn’t it the audience’s job to suspend disbelief when watching a movie? It seems kind of pretentious to then call them out on it when certain aspects of your film makes no sense.

    @duncan: I’m not saying “Inception” used arbitrary plot twists but “Lost” did, and my dissatisfaction at the time wasn’t because the TV show worked, but because it was no longer good. Even the writers admitted that they shit the bed. Once a story goes off the rails, it cannot be saved. To have truly love the end of “Lost” is to say that the writers had it right all along and they didn’t.

  • 25 7-19-2010 at 11:50 am

    Dan said...

    I’ve seen Inception twice now and enjoyed it pretty well. That being said, I have MAJOR issues with Nolan’s direction of this film. And this critic, Steven Boone, sums up Nolan’s extreme directorial shortcomings very well (thanks to Ebert for the heads up!):

  • 26 7-19-2010 at 12:20 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    LB from EW addresses this, somewhat:

  • 27 7-19-2010 at 12:57 pm

    Matthew Starr said...

    Thanks for the Vulture read. It’s rare an actor in a film, especially a film like this, goes out of his way to express how he perceives the work he was in.

    I would love to see a round table with Nolan and the cast discussing all said matters.

  • 28 7-19-2010 at 2:05 pm

    Filmoholic said...

    “Calling a movie a masterpiece is in some cases little more than an impatient desire to close off discussion of its ambiguities and uncertainties, to deny that it’s a living, and therefore evolving, work of art.” – Jonathan Rosenbaum

  • 29 7-20-2010 at 10:01 pm

    Angry Shark said...

    I think the finale of LOST and Inception have a lot in common. The scene where Cobb wakes up on the plane, and all of his teammates acknowledge him, for some reason was really reminiscent of the church scene. Both of them are intimately concerned with catharsis. both Jack and Cobb have to “let go”. It’s interesting that catharsis seems to be a big theme of science fiction. And yet a LOT of people hate it. Which is interesting.

  • 30 7-20-2010 at 10:41 pm

    Hans said...

    This guy is one of my favorite bloggers and I like his take on the connection between Lost and Inception. An entertaining read.