With his new film Inception, Christopher Nolan proves once and for all that he is the only mainstream filmmaker qualified to adapt Philip K. Dick’s fiction, despite the fact that he has never actually tried to do so.
Nolan’s second feature, Memento, is Exhibit A in my argument that he and not Richard Linklater should have been the one to film A Scanner Darkly (more on that subject here). The bipartite structure of Memento, with one storyline running in reverse chronology to merge with the second in real time, would be an excellent way to make Bob Arctor’s schizoid breakdown visceral and frightening.
Meanwhile, the dreams-within-dreams setup of Inception proves Nolan should take over the pending remake of the vapid Total Recall and wrench it back in the direction of “We Can Remember It For You Wholesale.” Though, given how thoroughly he works out his themes in this demanding film, Nolan might well look over Ubik or Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said and think, Been there, done that.
So, what has Nolan done with Inception? For one thing, he’s broken the curse of The Director’s Pet Project That Follows a Big Success. Inception is no Heaven’s Gate or 1941 or Last Temptation of Christ. If the phenomenal success of The Dark Knight made Inception possible, we can only be thankful that Nolan spent the better part of a decade working on his script before he cashed in his chips.
For another, Nolan has made an intellectually challenging movie that packs a surprisingly strong emotional punch. Nolan’s fondness for intricate plots and puzzle-box structures has led some critics to brand him as chilly and distant, but Leonard’s monologue in Memento about the impossibility of healing without being able to experience the passage of time is one of the most moving things I’ve ever seen in a film.
In fact, Inception plays as a companion piece to Memento in that its hero, who practices corporate espionage by literally infiltrating the dreams of his targets, is also a deeply wounded man frozen by grief over a lost wife. Like Leonard Shelby, he also finds a way to transcend his handicap and attain a kind of peace. After a single viewing, I’m still not sure about the steps that bring the hero to that resolution, but never once while watching Inception did I get the feeling that the director was simply jerking me around. In expect all will become clear after a few spins in the DVD player, just as Memento revealed its elegant setup and oddly satisfying conclusion after a little extra quality time.
Meanwhile, the nice thing about Blade Runner is that it departed so drastically from its source material that a new take on Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep might very well fly. If Christopher Nolan wanted to take it on, you wouldn’t hear any complaints from me. After all, the man’s qualified.