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Garland Grey is IN YOUR MIIIIIIIIIND: The Post Where We Talk About Inception

Let’s face it: movies these days really, really suck. Each year more movie screens are assimilated into the stifling miasma of talking animal films, comic strip remakes, and movies with Will Ferrell in them. The reason for this is simple: these movies consistently make money. Each year movie lovers latch onto one movie and try to ride out the dreck. This Summer, that movie was Inception. Just in case some of you have not seen it, this review will be spoiler-free. Which is easier than it sounds.

Inception is not a “twist” movie – knowing any one portion of the plot doesn’t give you any insight into the movie as a whole. Christopher Nolan took nearly a decade to write the script  - polishing and shaping it over the years. It is gorgeous. It breathtaking. It is meticulously constructed. But it only has two female characters. And neither of them are engaging or interesting or possess the depth of their male counterparts.

First up: Ellen Page. I love Ellen Page. She is being put through the same ringer as Zooey Deschanel – a smart, talented young actress who starred in a few movies, built up her indie cred, was embraced by the mainstream, and then, without warning, BACKLASH. (Next up: Dakota Fanning. SHE’S IN EVERYTHING THESE DAYS. If she were a dude she could play a queer character and then would be a Serious Actor Of Importance [Note: May not work if you are the ”worst actor in the history of filmed entertainment”] and could start being offered the roles that make careers). But Ellen Page is not the problem here. The problem is the dialogue. She is given one or two emotional notes to play through the entire movie and most of her lines simply allow Leonardo Dicaprio to explain fake movie science to the audience.

Next we have Academy Award Winning Actress Marion Cotillard, who won an Oscar for portraying Edith Piaf in La Vie En Rose. Her role in this movie is a little meatier, but she essentially spends the entire movie in the refrigerator. For those of you not up on your Modern Feminist Theory Related to Comic Books, a woman in a refrigerator is a woman who has bad things happen to her to drive the plot forward. The woman in the refrigerator is the reason the main character is on a rampage, she is the driving force behind his revenge, but she is also, you know, in the refrigerator. If I had to choose between being dead in an appliance and alive and on a killing spree, I’d have to go with the latter. And for those of you who still have not seen this movie, I have not ruined anything for you. In fact, when you DO see this movie, and the Cotillard story line plays itself out, the combination of the reveal and my trenchant analysis will collide in your mind and you will be moved to donate lavishly to the Beatdown. Ahem.

Once you realize the two female characters are cardboard cutouts AND/OR simple plot devices, this movie becomes a giant sausage fest. Which brings me to Tom Hardy. Tom Hardy is an English actor who has appeared in the films RockNRolla and Bronson and the miniseries Band of Brothers and apparently wrote a couple of books about women being all sad and dying and stuff. Anyway, he is HOT.

Before Inception was released, the media dropped a bombshell: Tom Hardy had once enjoyed his fair share of snoodytoodling. Couple that with a widely circulated picture of Hardy throwing major duckface and looking like rough trade, and the gay blogosphere blew up. Except SAD TRUMPET the quotes were cherry picked from an article he did two years ago for Attitude. The full article made it clear that he was talking about childhood sexual experimentation, and not, you know, emceeing a wet boxer contest at Southern Decadence like I had hoped. Immediately sources “close to the actor” came out of the woodwork to clarify that the original interviewer took things out of context, that he was talking about playing a gay role, not actually having sex with men himself. That seems to be at odds with the interview itself. To quote:

Have you ever had any sexual relations with men?

As a boy? Of course I have. I’m an actor for *beep*’s sake. I’m an artist. I’ve played with everything and everyone. But I’m not into men sexually. I love the form and the physicality but the gay sex bit does nothing for me.

In RockNRolla, Hardy plays a gay gangster named Handsome Bob, not an actor. So unless he gives all interviews as a queer version of himself in some sort of Andy Kaufman qua Tony Clifton bit of performance art, his camp is doing damage control. Of course Inception puts all of that speculation to rest, with Hardy’s character eyehumping Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s character for the entire film. Which the Internet noticed. And the Internet did what the Internet does best: root out gay themes and write slash fiction about it. Eames, the character Tom Hardy plays is never explicitly revealed to be gay (or bisexual, or pansexual, or heterofexible) but he still has very palpable sexual tension with his male co-star. Which makes him this generation’s Sal Mineo.

Earlier this year, Ramin Setoodeh wrote a piece in Newsweek, “Straight Jacket”, in which he claimed former Will & Grace star Sean Hayes couldn’t play a convincing straight character in the musical “Promises, Promises” because audiences knew he was gay. His costar, Kristin Chenoweth quickly shot back, telling the writer (who is gay himself) ”It’s a character and it’s called acting, and I’d put Hayes and his brilliance up there with some of the greatest actors period.” Last year Rupert Everett took time off from wandering into plastic surgeons’ offices with pictures of Kevin Kline to warn gay actors not to come out of the closet. There is an argument to be made that both Setoodeh and Everett are simply describing the harsh realities of working within a competitive industry. But actively seeking to lower the visibility of queer artists perpetuates what Vito Russo called “The Celluloid Closet.” Neil Patrick Harris and Portia de Rossi have consistently proven that queers can and do play convincing straight characters. It is, in fact, the first role most of us learn to play.

But, yes, Inception. It was an enjoyable film. It had a lot of Joseph Gordon-Levitt which was appreciated. Could have used some women, though.

27 Comments

  1. Sarah TX wrote:

    Yeah, pretty much. I love Christopher Nolan but it’s unfortunate that he, like so many great man writers of his time (I’m looking at you, Chabon (although yes, you do realize that you have a problem)), can’t really write a well-rounded character who happens to be a woman.

    Here’s how I would have re-done Inception: Recast Marion Cotillard as the lead. At least she doesn’t try to act her way out of a paper bag by scrunching up her face and over-emoting (now I’m looking at you, Leo).

    Thursday, September 9, 2010 at 3:43 pm | Permalink
  2. jfruh wrote:

    I thought Cotillard was the most powerful presence in the movie — sexy and terrifying. This was really much more a product of her performance than of the character as written, though. WHEN YOUR MOST COMPELLING CHARACTER IS DEAD AND ONLY EXISTS IN PEOPLE’S MINDS YOU HAVE A PROBLEM.

    Thursday, September 9, 2010 at 3:53 pm | Permalink
  3. Leah wrote:

    I’m not so fussed by the women. Most of the characters were technically one-note. Arthur’s brilliant 0-G fighting and inspired use of explosives does not a characterization make.

    This was an exploration primarily of Leonardo DiCaprio’s character, with the exploration of Fischer still being in the service of DiCaprio’s revelation.

    So, that’s two fleshed-out characters in the film, both of whom were male. I’m not super fussed that, in a sample of 2, the genders weren’t balanced.

    Note: although I found the characters to mostly have one note, that doesn’t mean I didn’t find them engaging.

    Thursday, September 9, 2010 at 4:09 pm | Permalink
  4. Erin wrote:

    I completely agree with Leah. Though I actually think DiCaprio’s character was the ONLY one that was at all fleshed out. However, it would be awesome if a movie like Inception was made with the one fleshed out character being female. That would be very, very awesome.

    Thursday, September 9, 2010 at 4:51 pm | Permalink
  5. Alyx wrote:

    Goddamn could that movie have used some women. I felt like Marion Cotillard’s character (named Mal, c’mon), I felt like I was watching less a character and more the manifestation of things feminist film critics disliked about cinema.

    Thursday, September 9, 2010 at 4:52 pm | Permalink
  6. GGeek wrote:

    [Possible spoilers ahead]
    I want to fix this movie so badly, I can taste it. For starters, the audience should discover everything from Ariadne’s (Page’s) POV. The narrative trips over itself because we’re dropped in the middle of the BIG SCIENCE CONCEPT right off the bat, and then it has to back up and explain it, which is not an organic way to tell a story. Also, there are unanswered questions LIEK WOAH, the most glaring of which, IMHO, is how does Michael Caine know Ariadne’s a kick-ass dream architect? Could we POSSIBLY explore her character just a teensy little bit, so that his recommendation of her makes sense?
    Further development of her character would have improved the movie ten-fold. And DEAR CHRIS NOLAN, it’s sci-fi, you can literally do anything you want, and your movie STILL doesn’t pass the Bechdel Test?! COME ON!
    [/rambly, loud pontificating]

    Thursday, September 9, 2010 at 5:05 pm | Permalink
  7. Sarah TX wrote:

    The problem is that there’s one fleshed-out guy and his creepy fantasy woman that only serves as a foil.

    Yes, that is problematic for me.

    Completely agree w/ GGEEK: Ariadne is the natural narrator for a movie like this one, but that would have ruined the whole “Is He Or Isn’t He?” red herring that Nolan wanted to pseudo-develop.

    Thursday, September 9, 2010 at 5:31 pm | Permalink
  8. beth wrote:

    seems like they styled ellen page’s character to be asexual and without motive or agency, dressing her in shapeless old lady clothes and zooming in on her wide-open, childlike face–effectively removing any sexuality so they could pile it all on marion cotillard (and only giving her dialogue that moves leo’s narrative along: “oh leo, you are so troubled, HOW CAN I HELP?”…so we’ve got the child and the sex kitten, who is apparently so sexy and vibrant that she’s gone mad and abandoned her family (“hysterical”?).

    nevermind that nolan’s dream sequences read like a bad bond movie, without any of the weird/beautiful/terrifying shit that makes the subconscious so fascinating. movies like this take all the honesty and nuance out of life and replace it with overproduced, unimaginative video-game fantasies.

    Thursday, September 9, 2010 at 7:06 pm | Permalink
  9. Brimstone wrote:

    Speaking of video game fantasies, I’d love to see Tiger Beatdown’s take on SCOTT PILGRIM? i liked it more than Inception, but i’m the target audience. And i can’t help feel that it’s really, really sexist

    but yeah OverthinkingIt did a post on Chris Nolan’s female characters…..http://www.overthinkingit.com/2010/07/29/christopher-nolan-feminism/

    Thursday, September 9, 2010 at 8:26 pm | Permalink
  10. orlando wrote:

    Dear Brimstone: will this keep you going in the meantime?
    http://matthewslikelystory.blogspot.com/2010/08/its-boys-world-lets-keep-it-that-way.html

    Thursday, September 9, 2010 at 10:34 pm | Permalink
  11. Brimstone wrote:

    thank you!
    i’m sorry for the hijacking
    i share the common ‘the dreams were too boring’ complaint about Inception, and Mal was made too monstrous – even down to the name
    Ariadne, though, may have been intended to save Leo – look at the name

    Friday, September 10, 2010 at 12:23 am | Permalink
  12. Fruitonica wrote:

    To be fair though, even though the team is filled with men, Page and Cottilard were characters #2 and #3 after Leo. Maybe Fisher sneaks in there, but I thought he was the most boring of the lot.

    Friday, September 10, 2010 at 3:14 am | Permalink
  13. Robin wrote:

    I’m with JFRuh up top; I watched the movie like it was all about Mal. I thought her inability to cope with the Uber-Lucid Dream they made of limbo was an intriguing metaphor for post-partum depression. I realize Inception the movie about Mal’s suffering depression after birthing a Dream World Baby may have happened more in my head than it did on screen. Which, to circle back to the post, is a lot like enjoying palpable sexual tension between two hot dude characters of unknown sexualities.

    Friday, September 10, 2010 at 3:40 am | Permalink
  14. Mona wrote:

    But one interpretation is that Mal was right, and that the “reality” of the film was actually a first-level dream. In which case her character can be viewed in a completely different light.

    Friday, September 10, 2010 at 6:09 am | Permalink
  15. Victoria wrote:

    @Sarah TX #1: I hate the phrasing that comes out of discussions of men excluding women from their work. They “can’t” write fully developed female characters; it’s common in comics to claim that most artists in the industry “can’t” draw believable women. Well, no, guys. You *don’t* draw them. You mean to tell me you can draw a giant squid taking over an entire whatever and I’m supposed to believe that you’re incapable of making half the population look like anything but a sex doll?

    (Not to pick on you. I like Chabon, so when I hear that he can’t write women, I want to believe him. But in the end, I just don’t.)

    Friday, September 10, 2010 at 9:50 am | Permalink
  16. Heather wrote:

    I did enjoy the movie, and your points re: female characters are not wrong. I just don’t agree that any of the male characters were more than cardboard cutouts, either. We learn the most about Leonardo DiCaprio, but none of his backstory was really more than a surface level characterization.

    Friday, September 10, 2010 at 11:42 am | Permalink
  17. Ari wrote:

    But how exactly DOES one toodle a snoody? Inquiring minds wonder!

    Friday, September 10, 2010 at 3:00 pm | Permalink
  18. Zircon wrote:

    Beth- I was actually really pleased that Ellen’s character wasn’t sexualized, because so often in sf and action stories, the only woman on the team seems to be there principally as a source of sexual or romantic interest for a (more important) male character and/or the audience. Ariadne, on the other hand, is an essential member of the team for reasons having nothing to do with sex or gender, and I appreciate that. It’s unusual- for example, in The Losers, Zoe Saldana’s character gives the (all male) team necessary financial backing and intelligence, and is also a more than competent fighter, but it’s clear that the film uses those things as an excuse to display a highly sexualized female body. I’m very glad Nolan didn’t go the same route with Ariadne, though I do wish she was a more developed character.

    Friday, September 10, 2010 at 4:02 pm | Permalink
  19. raddad wrote:

    @GGeek – thanks for the Bechdel test, my partner and I have been looking for something like that to balance out the testosterone in our videos.
    @Victoria – Having been raised as a man, I did not need to observe or understand women to survive in the world. Oppressed people need to understand their oppressors to survive. As a result, men cannot pretend to be women (on average) as well as women can pretend to men.

    Friday, September 10, 2010 at 5:12 pm | Permalink
  20. Meaghan wrote:

    I agree with Mona- I’m not arguing that the film couldn’t have used more women (I would really have liked it if there were more women!) but

    [spoilery]

    if you think the movie is intended as entirely being a dream inside Leo DiCaprio’s character’s head, then why should there be fully developed female (or male, for that matter?) characters? They are all parts of his subconscious… Not full humans with lives and backstories and motivations, but facets of himself. For what it’s worth, I didn’t feel that the male characters (other than Leo’s) were particularly fleshed out either.

    Of course, the only way I can interpret that ending as not a cop-out is that it’s intended to be about movies, with the role of the architect of a dream analogous to that of a filmmaker. Which is I guess a kind of postmodern way to look at it, but it works for me.

    Saturday, September 11, 2010 at 8:46 am | Permalink
  21. firefly wrote:

    Not just for the female characters-everyone needed development.

    On the bright side, the relationship between Eames/Arthur/Dom brought a needed side dose of fangirlism.

    Saturday, September 11, 2010 at 1:29 pm | Permalink
  22. Heather wrote:

    How did I miss RPattz playing gay as Salvador Dali??? This oversight must be fixed.

    Leo played gay years ago in “Total Eclipse” (1995) — he was Rimbaud opposite David Thewlis’ Verlaine. It should have been a good movie but alas, it was repellent.

    Saturday, September 11, 2010 at 5:33 pm | Permalink
  23. Frances wrote:

    Nolan has a bit of a history of fridging women. Memento, Prestige, The Dark Knight, Inception, and the main female character in Following is killed as well.

    Sunday, September 12, 2010 at 1:12 am | Permalink
  24. masagoroll wrote:

    Don’t worry, Garland Grey, I’ll get to work writing slash fiction about you and Tom Hardy right now. Now you know you’ve REALLY made it on the Internet!

    Haha, seriously, good analysis of the movie! Ellen Page and Marion Cotillard were both so GOOD that I kind of didn’t notice that their characters were written so one-note.

    Wednesday, September 15, 2010 at 12:24 am | Permalink
  25. Alice wrote:

    Here’s what’s great about queer/straight “jackets”:

    -Straight man plays gay well–”He is so brave and fantastic.”
    -Gay man plays straight well–”Totally ruined the story.”

    Wednesday, September 15, 2010 at 10:54 am | Permalink
  26. nevermind wrote:

    Boy, did the internet ever get busy with the Arthur/Eames. I’ve never seen a fandom explode so fast in my 8 or 9 years in fandom.

    Sunday, September 19, 2010 at 12:40 pm | Permalink
  27. Gillian wrote:

    Russell Tovey plays straight very well. I knew he was gay before seeing Being Human, but he’s still completely credible.

    Monday, September 20, 2010 at 12:58 pm | Permalink