In fourteen days Inception arrives, redeeming this shitty summer at the movies. For the next two weeks I’ll be running sporadic feature articles counting down to this occasion; some will be directly related to Inception while some will be conceptually related. I’ll try to remain as spoiler-free as possible. And I’m not trying to make the two week wait unbearable… but that could be one side effect of this series.
14 Days to Inception: Keeping Secrets
Christopher Nolan doesn’t like doing press. I’ve experienced this first hand a couple of times now; the director is notoriously (but politely) evasive during interviews. He just sort of subtly dodges questions, often seeming to answer the interviewer but upon closer examination never actually saying anything
It’s all part of his general approach to marketing his movies – give as little away as possible. While Nolan doesn’t want to reveal too much, he does understand why we want to know more. Talking to the New York Times, Nolan said, ‘What I’ve realized over the years is, I want to know the movie, and then as soon as I know it, I wished I didn’t. I was interning at a film company years ago, and I read the script for Pulp Fiction before I saw the movie, and I always regretted it. I’m a huge Reservoir Dogs fan, I was really excited to see [Quentin Tarantino’s] next film. Reading the script wasn’t the same as seeing the film. And then seeing the film, having read the script, wasn’t the same as seeing the film.
‘It’s like you want to open your presents before Christmas, and then if you do, you regret it. We try to hide the presents up in the top of the closet where people can’t get at it.’
That’s all fine and dandy with lower budget films, but Inception is a 200 million dollar blockbuster that serves up psychoanalysis as action scenes. This is the epitome of a tough movie to sell, especially in the summer. ‘It’s an unusual movie,’ he conceded, ‘and so it’s a lot harder to just put out a two-and-a-half minute trailer and everyone goes, “Oh, yeah, I know what that is.”’
Which has led to a fine line being walked by the Warner Bros marketing team. One that could blow back on the film itself. ‘I suppose that at a point keeping something secret does lend itself to its own degree of hype,’ Nolan said at the Los Angeles press conference for Inception. ‘But I don’t really think of it as secrecy; I just think of it as an appropriate … you know, we invite the audience to come and see it based on some of the imagery and some of the plot ideas and the premise, but we don’t want to give everything away. I think too much is given away too often in movie marketing today.’
Still, where’s the line? The reason that Hollywood loves remakes and adaptations is because these things come with built-in brand awareness. Inception comes with some brand awareness – Nolan and star Leonardo DiCaprio are both their own brands at this point – but it’s not the same easy sell as Batman. ‘Obviously, we also have to sell the film,’ Nolan said. ‘It’s a balance that I think Warner’s is striking very well.’
So far. One of the things I’ve been interested in with Inception is seeing how far the TV ads would go, and what elements they would sell. Inception isn’t a puzzle movie, and a smart, engaged viewer can figure it all out in the first scene (which is not a put down. In that Times interview, Nolan said of the film: ‘It’s a movie that doesn’t try to bamboozle the audience continuously. Like the traditional heist movie, it really tries to draw the audience into the logic of the world and lets the audience in on the joke, if you like.’), but I still wish the trailers had kept a thing or two from me. And depending on what the tracking looks like in the coming days, the TV spots may begin giving away more, as WB tries to entice viewers into theaters.
This is a risky movie. It’s an expensive film, and it’s a smart film. It’s a movie that doesn’t feel like traditional summer fare, although Nolan’s producer and wife Emma Thomas disagrees. ‘I think that audiences aren’t given enough credit,’ she said at the Los Angeles press day. ‘I think what we’ve experienced in the past is that people do like to be challenged.’ And, she added, there’s something for all moviegoers in the film. ‘One of the things I really love about it is that it can be appreciated on many levels. If you’re the sort of person who goes to watch a film, wants to really think about the intricacies of the plot and how the technology works and the dream levels and map that out, then you can do that. But, there’s also an enormous amount of fun and action and emotion. It’s a great love story. I think that if you want to, you can simply appreciate the film on that level.’
Which is all well and good… if you can get people into theaters. So the filmmakers and the marketers continue to do their dance, trying to give us enough to get us excited and to bring the mass audience into a globe-trotting, mind-bending, genre-redefining movie filled with big thoughts. Christopher Nolan has made an art film on a blockbuster budget, and he wants the audience to come see it on trust.