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Chris Nolan's 'Inception' gets its first critical sucker punch

Chris_nolan I wrote a post last week headlined "Will There Be an 'Inception' Backlash Before the Movie Even Opens?" And the answer, of course, is... yes. New York magazine's David Edelstein, normally a man of considerable sanity (not to mention wealth and taste), not only took a few roundhouse swings at Chris Nolan's upcoming thriller, but also managed to take some swipes at his critical peers, not to mention Nolan fans themselves, in a barbed review that was instantly flamed by tons of Nolan acolytes.

Here's how Edelstein led off his review:

"With its dreams, dreams within dreams, and dreams within dreams within dreams, Christopher Nolan’s Inception manages to be clunky and confusing on four separate levels of reality—while out here, in this even more perplexing dream we call 'life,' it’s being hailed as a masterpiece on the order of '2001: A Space Odyssey.' Slap! Wake up, people! Shalalala! Slap!"

It only went downhill from there, with Edelstein mocking Nolan's lofty ambitions ("So it's, like, 'Mission Impossible' in the 'Dreamscape-Matrix!' ") while dissing the director as being "too literal-minded, too caught up in ticktock logistics, to make a great, untethered dream movie." And as for the people, like his fellow critics, who've been over the moon about the film? Edelstein thinks they're cracked, or as he put it: "It's as if someone went into their heads while they were sleeping and planted the idea that 'Inception' is a visionary masterpiece and--hold on... Whoa! I think I get it. The movie is a metaphor for the power of delusional hype--a metaphor for itself."

I give Edelstein points for lively writing, but in an era where critics have enough credibility issues as it is, the last thing we need is a critic thrashing a film because, in part, he's chagrined to see it get so much open adulation. If you want to write that after the movie has opened, fair enough. But it's the wrong stance to take before people have even had a chance to make up their own minds.

As it happens, Edelstein's own readers gave him quite a spanking, calling him a charlatan, a schoolyard bully and, well, even worse. As one reader put it: "You know, it's fine to dislike a movie that many other people like. But to call them all delusional because they have a differing opinion is terribly arrogant of you. Shame on you, sir! Go back to watching 'Avatar' and its easy-to-understand eye-candy." According to another reader, Edelstein's condescending dismissal of the movie's supporters "makes you even worse than [fabled contrarian film critic] Armond White," which in critical circles is faint praise indeed.

So far, all Edelstein has accomplished is lowering "Inception's" initial Rotten Tomatoes score from 100 to 97. But now that the backlash has officially begun, I suspect it will go lower still. Apparently, there is no greater sin than for a filmmaker to make a movie that some people just like too much. 


Photo: "Inception" director Chris Nolan, right, with his writer brother, Jonah Nolan. Credit: Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times

Comments () | Archives (22)

The comments to this entry are closed.

Point taken, MadSirCool. I, however, am not racist, sexist, anti-semitic, or even age-ist as you suggest my comments reflect. I'm simply using my considerable experience with acidic critics whose opinions do not reflect the popular success of what we create in the entertainment industry. Those critics often happen to be much older than the target audience of the film. 51-year-old Edelstein may not fit into that category, but his traditional style of criticism fits with the older and out-of-touch critics that plague any creative process. Harshly criticizing a movie about dreams is like criticism of an opinion -- like yours of mine and mine of Edelstein's. It is the imposition of one individual vision on another with as little thought to the reason behind the vision as you claim my first comment had on his review. And yes, Patten, I did read the review before I commented.

Movies about dreams within dreams within dreams and movies that have characters constantly jumping in and out of different dimensions (which is real, which isn't) tend to be dreadful, incoherent bores. Some critics today make the mistake of thinking if it has visual style and is simply "different," it's automatically somehow "a masterwork." Well, "Different" does not automatically equal "great" or even "good." And isn't it funny how some critics bend over backwards to praise certain directors? Is it the need to simply feel hip and "with it"? That's not good film criticism.

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