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Cafe Hopping (9/24)

Weekly roundup of mostly-arts-related chatter around the web:

September 24, 2010   No Comments

Cafe Hopping (9/17)

Weekly roundup of mostly-arts-related chatter around the web:

September 17, 2010   2 Comments

Inception & Toy Story 3: Encountering Art at the Movies

Strangely, I found myself at the movies 3 times in the last 8 days. This was unexpected because I don’t go to the theater often at all — maybe 4 or 5 times a year. But what was even more unusual was that I was blown away by 2 of the 3 movies I saw: Inception and Toy Story 3. I mean, I was expecting to like them both — but I didn’t expect to be as impressed as I was. Thinking about why I found these two films so captivating has proven a good reminder to me regarding different ways good art engages audiences.

Inception: Creating a New World

Watching Inception is like landing in a new city with nothing but a hastily-drawn map. You know that tall building to the east is pretty famous and that your hotel is somewhere around there; and you’ve heard that two streets south is where you’ll find the city’s best coffee. But other than that, you’re discovering something new about the city with each step. When you leave a few days — or was it hours? or decades? — later, you still feel a bit disoriented — but you know you enjoyed yourself and promise you’ll return sometime to take a more thorough look around.

While its storyline is original in Christopher Nolan’s inimitable style, Inception is basically a blend of familiar genres: heist, thriller, action, drama, fantasy. Yet it doesn’t try to imitate the rules of any of those forms: instead, Inception creates its own world.

Despite considerable exposition, Inception is not particularly easy to follow. This isn’t a fault of the script, but is rather a consequence of what has been created. A new world requires new terminology and new rules; and for a full experience the viewer must be willing to engage Inception on these terms. This takes considerable concentration and multiple viewings. Thankfully, Inception shows respect for the intellect of its audience — it doesn’t try to skate around its rules or employ twists that defeat our commitment to understand it.

Yes, Inception creates more questions than it answers. It has probably caused heated arguments around dinner tables and Facebook statuses. But that’s what great art does — it challenges and causes us to question why things are the way they are. And our lives are richer because of it.

Toy Story 3: The Power of Memories

If watching Inception is akin to touring a new city, watching Toy Story 3 is like returning to your hometown after a long absence. The roads and buildings are comfortingly familiar. As you take former everyday routes, you recall old neighbors’ faces and tried-and-true shortcuts. Sure, some things have changed — a high rise here and a restaurant name there; but any newness is overshadowed by the awakening of memories.

I was 11 when the original Toy Story was released. As a kid, you don’t realize how much you invest in characters and stories. But judging from the number of twenty-somethings who flocked to see TS3, quite a lot of us had made long-term investments in Woody, Buzz, and the gang and were hoping for a fitting payoff.

I, for one, was satisfied. At the end of the movie, I felt that I had just been on a trip with old friends who, despite some new experiences and surroundings, were still what I remembered and loved. This seems difficult to do — so many sequels feel the need to be bigger/faster/louder in order to “make their own mark.” As a result, they betray the magic of the original and are largely forgotten.

Thankfully, the creators of TS3 wisely preserved the essences of our beloved characters. Because of this link, I found that watching TS3 renewed my memories of previous TS encounters while also creating new ones. It is a strange type of emotional experience. You feel like a cartoon (!) shouldn’t be able to move you in this way. But TS3 did, and I was happy to go along for the ride.

August 11, 2010   2 Comments