Sunday, January 9, 2011

Remember Me and Inception: Wake up Call

Our Jessegirl has written a very interesting article that looks at additional layering and bracketing in the Remember Me story. She also discusses her thoughts on the differences between the small Remember Me and the bigger Inception.

In Remember Me the fascinating bookending or bracketing device is used often. For example, when we first see the Hawkins’ family as a unit, it is at Michael’s grave. The last time they come together is also at the grave site, this time Michael and Tyler’s. The first time there was obvious discord between Tyler and Charles and Tyler was late. The last time the family had become a tighter unit, with parents Charles and Diane linking arms. In this instance, it is just a single bracket, a simple way Coulter used to introduce and then leave characters.




I’m returning to the bookending idea, because, the thing is, it has occurred to me during the process of writing about Remember Me, that this bookending device has more layers. If you think of brackets within brackets you’ll see what I mean. Brackets within brackets within brackets. It is intriguing, really.

The film Inception also has layers, dreams within dreams specifically, and in this way can be compared to Remember Me. Yes, the films are very different but, believe it or not, striking comparisons can be made. I’ll get back to this, but first, I’ll explore Remember Me’s brackets a bit.




To me, the penultimate, symbolically-charged bracket is Tyler sitting outside his apartment on the fire escape when we first see him and our last look is of him inside the doomed building with no chance of escape. I have analyzed that particular bookend and most of the other significant ones in a previous article. Beginnings and Endings - Deja Vu in Remember Me

The bracket encompassing all the others contains the opening and closing shots. It is not an unusual cinematic device, but an effective one.

[Opening shot: R E M E M B E R M E letters appear one at a time through the hazy blur as the subway moves along. You move with the car towards the stop, where Ally and her mother are waiting for you.
Closing shot: The subway train carrying Ally speeds up, blurs, as we leave the story.]




The first scene, however, is the opening bracket for a number of closing ones. It is quite marvellous, when one thinks about it. I’ll enumerate them.

1[The subway will take Ally and her Mom underground.
Close: Tyler is on the 93rd (?) floor, far above ground.]

2[The Twin Towers in the distance light up the city at night behind Ally and her Mom as they wait for the subway.
Close: In the climactic scene the Towers are up close, sparkling in the sun.]

3[Ally’s Mom is murdered.
Close: Tyler is murdered.]

4[As Neil carries young Ally down the stairs of the subway, until the screen is black, the old-fashioned 'iris out' cinematic device Freeman and Coulter used deliberately.

Close: Then, we see the Twin Towers standing tall in the sun and as we absorb the meaning, the screen goes suddenly black/blank. Not the same photographic technique, but blackness at the beginning and at the end.]

First, we follow father and daughter down the tunnel created by the camera into the black depths of their mourning, and later, with the Towers blacked out, we begin—symbolically—our own walk down the steps of grief. Here the cinematic techniques themselves are the brackets.




5[The first time we see Neil and Ally together, at the subway, he holds her tightly.
Close: The last time we see them together, on 9/11, they are also hugging fiercely.]

6[Ally is on the subway platform with her Mom.
Close: Ally is on the same platform at the end.]
The significance, of course, is that finally she can brave it again.




7[Ally’s Mom on the subway platform looking into the murderers’ subway car:
Close: the mother’s ghostly image on the platform as Ally rides away on the train.]
The image is only a nanosecond and very faint, but it is there.




8[We see, in the brief scene, the love Ally and her Mom share.
Close: Ally on the subway, her face radiant with love.]
Love is the penultimate force in this film and Coulter has managed to show love between mother and daughter within a minute of film time.



Although the order at the beginning is not precise, all these many bracketed sections had begun with that first fateful scene, and then brackets close one by one, slowly taking us to the end. It’s almost like that aperture is closing in increments with each bracket, until the credits—on black—roll. This is brilliant.
-Tyler above ground at the window]
-The Twin Towers in the sun]]
-Tyler murdered]]]
-The black screen]]]]
-Neil and Ally hug after 9/11]]]]]
-Ally on the subway platform]]]]]]
-ghostly image of her mother when she’ in the subway car]]]]]]]
-Ally’s serene and loving smile]]]]]]]]
-the car blurs past us.]]]]]]]]]


Each bracket is meaningful, usually in an emotional way as well as a symbolic or cinematic one. The viewer concentrates not on the symbols but on the story and its emotions, which is where the focus should be. Symbols hit the subconscious mind and are often only later recognized. But they enrich and support.

The closing of each of these Remember Me brackets is a satisfactory completion. I do not mean a ‘welcomed’ completion, of course, because many of them point to the tragedy and death and heart-ache inherent in this story. But they effectively close a door. They don’t play mind games.

This beautiful tale of love and loss, of loving and grieving, of conflict and healing, nourishes with quiet potency, as all satisfying stories do. In a way, the bookending or bracketing device is just an extra treat, because Will Fetter’s story carries enough weight of meaning by itself. Although most of these brackets are not obvious on first viewing, they support the meaning, and one can feel their impact intuitively.




To be clear:
In Remember Me, the bracket/bookends do not create the meaning; they only support it. I emphasize this because other films, some much lauded, prop up an emotionally inadequate story by using intriguing layers. The film becomes a game the viewer plays, trying to solve the mystery of what is ‘real’. The film is, for all intents and purposes, just an intricate puzzle. The viewer—who must see the film multiple times in order to make sense of it—finds clue after clue, removes layer after layer, in fascination. (The film itself is an attempt to implant the idea of inception in the audience.) And it is fun, I grant you that. But, after everything is removed and the puzzle is solved, the story itself is as naked as the emperor without his clothes. And it is insubstantial. It lets you down because a story devoid of meaning is empty. Your brain has gotten a workout but that’s all. Films like this are poseurs. They pretend there is something behind the curtain.



I am, of course, speaking of films like the wildly popular and acclaimed Inception. I challenge fans. Do the characters engage you? Do you care about them? Or did the concept and the special effects fool you into thinking there would be a jewel in the centre of this maze when, in essence, there is nothing?

Wake up, indeed.

Inception has been called every kind of brilliant. The best films need a heck of a lot more than brilliance to have staying power. The dreamers who are awake, who are dreaming, and so on, (or the dreamers dreaming four levels down), in Inception; the reality that is not, that is, that is not, and so on, may be a brilliant concept, -perhaps, although it is not a new idea at all. And brilliant is not a jewel. It might be glass, mirrors, Escher illusion, incredibly clever.

But a gem of a film, like Remember Me, strikes at the heart. Not without its own cleverness, it nevertheless aims into the true centre of human reality, the heart and soul. And, only this hearth-fire, blazing, nestled deep in the core of our very beings, has true power, the power to make us live. We don’t waste time wondering what is real—or not—we know it. We are engaged at a deeper level.



Inception, on the other hand, begins with the premise of either extracting ideas from people’s minds to gain control, or implanting ideas to do so. These endeavours can not be morally defended. In the end, the issue is one of control, not waking up. The concept of Inception has nothing to do with profound spiritual ideas, as some have said. Why? Because it lacks heart and steals freedom. It is so obvious in the way Christopher Nolan executed his idea.




Unlike Remember Me, so very unlike it. I’m aware that in many ways these two films are apples to oranges, but not here. Nolan’s film is one which abandons heart for cleverness, in the service of control. If you want real feeling, real people, you won’t find them in Inception, but Remember Me is chock full of them. Can we relate to Inception on a personal level? (After two viewing I still couldn’t root for the characters, or otherwise be invested emotionally in them, even though the actors did a good job.) All we can do is try to figure out the metaphysical concept—which is an old one—and feel clever.

In the end, Inception, despite Zimmer’s hefty score, is legerdemain, smoke and mirrors. The story itself is minimal. Furthermore, if we don’t care about the characters, it is all inconsequential.



On the other hand, Remember Me offers, in the most humble manner, emotional sustenance. Its true spiritual message trumps Inception every time. In the end, whether ‘awake’ or ‘dreaming’, what matters is how you behave. Do you strive for love, as in Remember Me, or do you attempt to control, as in Inception? That is the bottom line. Are you elevating the human condition, or cheapening it, to paraphrase Robert Pattinson? This is what is relevant.

Just one last thought, this one about how the way a film is presented shows its attitude to the audience. The attempt to appear profound and layered in Inception was so obvious and was a dare to the audience ('Are You smart enough to get it?' sort of attitude), whereas, in Remember Me, all the symbols, layers, so much, comes across subtly and never eclipses the story, never detracts from that beautiful script Will wrote. There's also an inherent respect for the audience in Remember Me, whereas in Inception that dare covered in a shiny lustre really insults the viewer.

This article is a bit of David and Goliath, and I’m armed only with my sling shot. Inception is in the stratosphere of box office, and critical and popular acclaim. It seems a bit ambitious to bring it down a notch. Meanwhile, Remember Me has only recently been acknowledged by some critics as one of the most misunderstood, under appreciated film of the year, and even they put Inception up there. I’m aware that some readers are big fans of Inception; some might love both films too. But consider my opinions here with the open mind the makers of Remember Me had hoped for—but not received—for their film. It goes without saying that, to guess what I’m talking about, you would have to have watched both films, with an open mind and open heart.

These two films are not in the same league; Remember Me is miles ahead. It is awards season and what I said about it way back in May still holds. Oscars and Remember Me May 26

Inception distracts the mind from its true obligation to heart and soul.
It is not one of the remarkable movies of 2010.
It is not extraordinary.

Remember Me engages the heart and keeps you grounded in the only reality that matters, while it bravely charts new territory in the matter of grief. This is the true undiscovered country.
This film is remarkable.
This is an extraordinary film of 2010.

18 comments:

twmmy said...

Jesse you said these from my heart: Inception is not one of the remarkable movies of 2010. It is not extraordinary.
And I don't understand, why this film made the WGA list at the end, and not Remember Me. Yet I feel the critics' reluctance with the end of RM.But that was a little hope, RM was nominated to the WGA...

heidi6572 said...

Now if only more people felt this way...

Anonymous said...

My two favorites of 2010. Isn't it interesting that both films cathartic moments dealt with a son realizing his father did love him?

imloco2 said...

I see way too many people, critics and viewers alike, who matter-of-factly state that Remember Me was a horrible film that proves Pattinson can't act. And they say this with the attitude that of course they are right and it's an incontrovertible fact of life. What gives me a small amount of hope is that in every discussion someone will invariably admit to liking it and give Rob the credit others don't. A lot of times there will be many that come forward and brave the ridicule of others in their attempt at letting people know the specialness of RM. And not just fan girls either, but average joes out there who saw it and know that it is miles above what most people think and that Rob proves his acting chops in it. I think it is slowly amassing a silent legion of viewers out there that recognize a wonderful movie when they see it and one day perhaps someone will write a piece about how RM has become an iconic movie that was ahead of it's time. I know it irks the haters and critics to no end that it actually made money and is doing very well on video. Some small comfort to me.

But anyway, there is so much in RM to amaze and delight if you just look at it and see. Thanks for trying so hard to spread the light J.

LTavares2010 said...

Jessegirl

Your article is very passionate. I loved it. The elements you have chose to analyse the two films are interesting, your opinion about Inception makes sense to me but I have to confess that it would be very difficult and unfair with myself if I had to choose which one is the best. I love them both.
They are excellent. Nolan and Coulter are very good directors. Both are very concerned about the whole process of filmmaking: the technical details, the screenplay, the sets... nothing escapes to these gentlemen, especially the part I love most in films, the acting.
Remember Me and Inception are two vigorous films. The first one is an urban drama, an intimate film, warm that makes us thinking about the big journey of living, feelings of loss, guilt, forgiveness and love. The second one is a science fiction drama, a visual show, a magic trick to fool the eyes, but in its essence it is the story of a man in a journey inside himself, and his feelings of loss, guilt, forgiveness and love.
Tyler, from RM, and Cobb, from Inception, have much in common. They are both smart, insecure, passionate, traumatized, feel guilt, anger and after a hard process, they find redemption to themselves.
The two stories are about love.
Remember Me and Inception are different in only one thing: the confidence, the money and the marketing of their studios. Of course, RM looses in this comparison but on the other hand this is the detail that make this film so great. Although it is not a big production, it made a good box office.
Days ago, I have read an article of a Brazilian critic that I admire and he presents a good definition about cinema:
"The cinema is, of course, a subjective experience. It is needed that the viewer is willing to travelling in what the director, the author - the artist - are proposing. It is a two-way movement, it takes the viewer to take ownership of the film." ( Luiz Carlos Merten ).

P.S. Only for register. I loved to see the pics of Rob/Tyler and Leo/Cobb in your article. I am dreaming, from now, to see these adorable men making a film together. Only an idea.

Hugs.

Anonymous said...

Once again you are so knowledgable and the details are a delight as I will have to reread again! The bookends and other details I have not noticed before even after watching a couple times, and the grief and loss idea that people
gravitate or appreciate or I say understand more fully, is so true. I do hope and pray this movie fares well @the awards, I would just love to see that happen and shake things up! As far as Inception, I did not appreciate it nor like it. Nothing in particular, the movie did not capture me and take me with it. You have so captured this story as though you wrote it yourself and I enjoy these remarks especially the feelings accompanying the losses. It makes me smile just a bit. Thanks very much Jesse
Kim

jessegirl said...

Part One: I think I’ll make this two comments, as I’ve rambled on a bit.
Lais, thank you once again for a vital viewpoint.
Interesting about Cob. I agree with what you say about his character, the redemption, the love and so on. ‘A man journeying within himself..’ Yes, I got all that. But—not to be difficult, but this is how I FELT both times I watched Inception—I could not be drawn into his story. Why? The idea of extracting and implanting ideas repelled me too much. And, I was annoyed that Nolan was distracting us so much with the special effects, the action, the sleight of hand. It felt like he was playing us, not allowing us in (as RM does), so that Cob’s story got lost. Even in Cob’s intense story, the predominant thing was the thought, “is this real or a dream?”, not the feelings associated with his relationship with his wife, the guilt, sorrow and so on. It goes back to the tone of the films, for me, that one film offered and one withheld, one let you in and the other taunted you.
It’s subjective, as you say, and, at the risk of allowing critics a voice, Inception was well-received. But, I know a thousand critics can be wrong; the experience with RM taught me that. I’m not saying I’m right and others are wrong; I am voicing my view and I do it from an honest place. I don’t have it in for Nolan or anyone else from the film, no hidden agenda. The film has to win me over on its own. I will admit to resentment though—a negative feeling—because of the vast differences in reception between RM and Inception. And I only felt that after I saw Nolan’s film.

jessegirl said...

Part Two:
I think I bottom line things really fast. I now have a sort of “don’t bullshit me” attitude and it irks me if a film is trying too hard to be clever. Because what happens is that the emotional intensity is lost. So, a director chooses. I think Nolan chose cleverness at the expense of emotion. Emotion is the true litmus test for me. If I am not moved, whether it is film or book, the rest is just hot air; it doesn’t resonate with me. And Emotion is what many directors just cannot deal with, not really. That is one reason Remember Me is superlative. It is fearless in this regard.
Even if Inception is also about love, as you say, that is subsumed by the ‘clash of cymbals’, if you will. I think Inception doesn’t know what it is about but wants to cover all bases, effects, puzzles, intellectual game, Cob’s redemption.
I bet, ten or so years from now, it is Remember Me which will still stand out in people’s minds, because it let you into the heart of it and gets into yours. That’s bottom line for me.
That said, discussion is very interesting, and we have different point of view and you and I voice ours respectfully. I knew, when I wrote this piece, that lots of people would be RM fans and also love Inception. I always write from the heart first, as many know, and that is the hardest thing to place in film well, yet RM has done it.
Incidentally—I can’t resist—I think all of Inception is Mal’s dream, all of it. It is her top, not Cob’s. She’s always wearing the same dress...But of course I don’t have enough invested emotionally to care...part of the mystery is, is she dead or dreaming, dead or alive? Why believe Cob’s view that she’s dead? Okay, I’ll stop now. See, if one is too caught up in ‘the game’ then the really important things are shoved away.

jessegirl said...

Note: I hope this won't be a double-post because I thought I'd already posted part one. Forgive me if that's the way it appears. Technical errors and all that. So what follows should go first, before part two.

Oh, and for the record, I never meant to compare RM to a specific film like this. It just came to me, after watching Inception and thinking about RM's bracketing, and it all flowed out in the article. I didn't set out to lambast another film at all.

Part One: I think I’ll make this two comments, as I’ve rambled on a bit.
Lais, thank you once again for a vital viewpoint. *hugs*
Interesting about Cob. I agree with what you say about his character, the redemption, the love and so on. ‘A man journeying within himself..’ Yes, I got all that. But—not to be difficult, but this is how I FELT both times I watched Inception—I could not be drawn into his story. Why? The idea of extracting and implanting ideas repelled me too much. And, I was annoyed that Nolan was distracting us so much with the special effects, the action, the sleight of hand. It felt like he was playing us, not allowing us in (as RM does), so that Cob’s story got lost. Even in Cob’s intense story, the predominant thing was the thought, “is this real or a dream?”, not the feelings associated with his relationship with his wife, the guilt, sorrow and so on. It goes back to the tone of the films, for me, that one film offered and one withheld, one let you in and the other taunted you.
It’s subjective, as you say, and, at the risk of allowing critics a voice, Inception was well-received. But, I know a thousand critics can be wrong; the experience with RM taught me that. I’m not saying I’m right and others are wrong; I am voicing my view and I do it from an honest place. I don’t have it in for Nolan or anyone else from the film, no hidden agenda. The film has to win me over on its own. I will admit to resentment though—a negative feeling—because of the vast differences in reception between RM and Inception. And I only felt that after I saw Nolan’s film.

jessegirl said...

Okay I tried to post this twice and it seemed go through and then disappeared so please forgive me if everything appears again all of a sudden. So, you’ll see part two first. Ah, the pleasures of technology. –Where’s a magician like Nolan when you need him, huh? Or maybe HE doesn’t want me to post this comment? Another puzzle.

Anyway...for the record, I never set out to gun for Inception or to compare RM to any film so much. But, after watching Inception and simultaneously pondering RM’s bracketing, this article just flowed out, so here it is. I knew a lot of people who love RM would also love Inception, simply because the latter is such a popular movie. But it was not my intention to lambast a good movie specifically.

Part One: I think I’ll make this two comments, as I’ve rambled on a bit.
Lais, thank you once again for a vital viewpoint.
Interesting about Cob. I agree with what you say about his character, the redemption, the love and so on. ‘A man journeying within himself..’ Yes, I got all that. But—not to be difficult, but this is how I FELT both times I watched Inception—I could not be drawn into his story. Why? The idea of extracting and implanting ideas repelled me too much. And, I was annoyed that Nolan was distracting us so much with the special effects, the action, the sleight of hand. It felt like he was playing us, not allowing us in (as RM does), so that Cob’s story got lost. Even in Cob’s intense story, the predominant thing was the thought, “is this real or a dream?”, not the feelings associated with his relationship with his wife, the guilt, sorrow and so on. It goes back to the tone of the films, for me, that one film offered and one withheld, one let you in and the other taunted you.
It’s subjective, as you say, and, at the risk of allowing critics a voice, Inception was well-received. But, I know a thousand critics can be wrong; the experience with RM taught me that. I’m not saying I’m right and others are wrong; I am voicing my view and I do it from an honest place. I don’t have it in for Nolan or anyone else from the film, no hidden agenda. The film has to win me over on its own. I will admit to resentment though—a negative feeling—because of the vast differences in reception between RM and Inception. And I only felt that after I saw Nolan’s film.

LTavares2010 said...

Thank you for your reply and your kindness with me. It is good knowing that you understood my point of view. There are things in life that some people like and others do not. It happens with films too. There are films that people like and there are films that people do not like.
I love Inception and I love Remember Me, too. It is only my simple opinion. The things I wrote here about the two films are thoughts of an ordinary person, only this. I am not a critic or a cinema studious.
Thank you again.

LTavares2010 said...

@Jessegirl
(LOL). Sorry, I forgot to write your name in my reply to your reply above.

WhyIstheRumAlwaysGone said...

It's a very interesting article jessegirl, as I've already told you somewhere else, but I hardly feel entitled to comment as I haven't seen Inception and can only admire how brilliantly you explain the different devices - boookendings, bracketing - used in RM. It's subtle and you explain in a wonderfuly clear way. Once again, you make me discover new aspects of RM... I hope I'll see Inception one day though, you've made me curious. Thanks for this brillant piece!

Anonymous said...

Do u know the namo on the song at the grave and when the litle girl calls Tyler?
I realy love that song but i can find it nowhere.

jessegirl said...

I think you mean "I know you can hear me", the hauntingly exquisite requiem, from the end of the film? I don't think they ever made a DVD of the score, which is a crying shame, but it is available on itunes. Marcelo Zarvos' score is incredible.

Anonymous said...

I found it, thank u so much!

InstantKarmaGirl said...

Let me be honest. I liked Inception and I can think of the concepts and themes of Inceptions for a while just to ponder, but didn't come close to moving me...

It's a year later and I still think about Remember Me and it STILL brings tears to my eyes. I don't cry easily, and yet, just visiting this site can send me into a soul-searching tail-spin.

Inception was good for a film going experience, but Remember Me is a movie that has left FINGERPRINTS on my life. There is no comparison.

Kate said...

Inception is an empty spectacle, wrought in sound and fury, signifying nothing. I hope this is realised as time passes and people get over having seen a film that let them feel clever without actually forcing them to think. Honestly, as far as pseudo-philosophical blockbusters introducing basic metaphysical concepts go, it's so far beneath The Matrix, it's practically Plan 9 From Outer Space in comparison. It offers absolutely nothing beyond the idea itself: "is it all a dream?" and I'm fairly certain it's not the first time most people will have heard it.

Only Cobb has a motivation, the other characters are barely even 'types' they're so, so shallow and without development. Even Cobb isn't developed enough for me to care about him. And, much more than the film thinking it's more clever than it is or the muddled, unintuitive, never-ending action scenes, the fact that I really could not care less about any of these people is the problem. I don't care about the characters, I don't care about the story or the action; that's the bottom line.

I'd say Remember Me is a superior film is almost every respect. Its direction conveys meaning and serves the story. Inception is sleek and artificial, with the modern approach to action- that is, looking like it's shot on a cellphone by someone who is in the middle of the fight- and absolutely nothing to say about its characters, little to say about what passes for its story. Remember Me aches with familiarity, we've met these people, we are these people, we want to see them pull through because it means maybe there's always room to keep hoping. At the end of Inception (which is a cop out that thinks it's deep- it's not, it's a cheat cliffhanger not an ambiguous ending) I really don't care if Cob is awake or not.

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