Tag Archives: Theories

Some Extraction Required: Sharing the Experience of Interpreting Inception

Some Extraction Required: Interpreting Inception

July 21st, 2010

Although Christopher Nolan’s Inception introduces evidence to the contrary, in our reality dreams are a solitary experience: not only are they personal in terms of context, unique to each dreamer, but they are also personal in that only that dreamer can see the dream as it first appeared. After that point, the dreamer can only relay their memory of the events therein – memory which varies from vivid recollection to vague, disconnected images – to those around them.

And yet, Inception is very much built around the notion of shared experience, both within its story and in its clear desire for the audience to leave the theatre discussing what they just witnessed. In fact, I’m sure some would argue that the film requires this sort of discussion to truly come into its own, demanding that the audience either works with others who shared the same experience to reconstruct its intricacies from memory or to do what dreamers can’t do by going to the theatre and watching it again.

Accordingly, I have no intentions on offering a definitive take on Inception, both because I’m generally bad at developing theories and because a single viewing and an MSN conversation with my brother do not a complete understanding of the film make. Rather, I simply want to discuss how the film goes about creating this seemingly necessary sort of interaction, and why Nolan achieves this less through cheap ambiguities and more through a growing sense of uncertainty which simultaneously breaks down our reading of the film and the film itself as it reaches its conclusion.

A conclusion, by the way, which is not what it appears to be.

SPOILER WARNING: if you haven’t seen the film, and intend to in the future, and don’t want to read spoilers, stop reading.

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Lost the Morning After: Going “Across the Sea” with Critics

Going “Across the Sea” with Critics

May 12th, 2010

Writing about Lost on a weekly basis has been consistently challenging this year not in terms of having anything to talk about but rather in terms of tempering one’s response. We all know that the show is close to reaching its conclusion, so we’re all thinking in the back of our minds that the success of the sixth season’s episodes may well depend on where things end up. We can evaluate how much we enjoyed the episode, and how it connects with the show’s characters, but we can’t really evaluate where it fits into the big picture.

However, an episode like “Across the Sea” desperately wants us to think about the big picture, and I think the reaction to the episode is a reflection of the repressed theorizing regarding the finale that people have been building up inside. “Ab Aeterno” provided a release, a chance to consider the island’s past, but we’ve spent the rest of the season withholding our opinion about the Flash Sideways story until we see where it’s going, just as we’ve spent the last six seasons withholding final judgment on the island mysteries.

It makes perfect sense why outright Lost skeptics would respond to this episode in such a divisive fashion, as they’ve been waiting for an opportunity to tear apart the show’s science fiction and this episode gave them plenty of lines rife for parody. However, even the most patient of fans have reached the point where they can’t keep withholding their opinions, and “Across the Sea” has everyone expressing their concerns about whether this is all going to come together and whether this was how the show should be spending its time.

And perhaps the point of it all was to bring our skepticism to the surface, to force us as viewers (or as critics) to put our cards on the table and take a stance regarding the season and the series thus far. “Across the Sea” seems designed to provoke viewers, but perhaps it does so because it knows that it’s better audiences ask these questions (or angrily revolt against the series) now rather than after the finale. Perhaps it’s all a fiendish trick to place us on one side or another heading into the finale whether we have a choice in the matter or not, revealing which of us are men (or women) of science (desiring a more concrete explanation for events) and which of us are men (or women) of faith, who even through a somewhat ridiculous metaphor are still believers of what Lindelof and Cuse are trying to accomplish here.

Either way, the showdown is already beginning, and the crosstalk between critics is as interesting as it’s ever been, so I’m going to at least consider “Across the Sea” a success in that regard as I try to capture some of that discussion (although don’t pretend I capture the depth of each individual review with these comments, and do click through).

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Lost – “Across the Sea”

“Across the Sea”

May 11th, 2010

[For more discussion of the episode, check out my breakdown and analysis of critical responses to “Across the Sea.” Also, for a review of the series’ penultimate episode, What They Died For, click here]

Do metaphors count as answers?

It’s the question I found myself returning to throughout “Across the Sea,” a story which feels so designed to discover answers that it never quite achieves a narrative in its own right, although I don’t necessarily mean that as a slight to its effectiveness. However, while you could argue we get some facts and details that help us piece together previous events, there is very little of what one would call “clear” answers in the hour. What we get are extended metaphors meant to give meaning, rather than clarity, to that which has happened before and that which will happen in the future.

Considering the breadth of questions we as an audience have at this stage in the show’s run, there is no chance that the show will ever be able to make everything perfectly clear, and when tonight’s episode actually tried to provide “answers” it often felt unnatural, inorganic. Where the episode worked best is in using metaphors and abstract ideas to solidify human emotions and character motivations: this is the story of Jacob and his nameless twin brother (who we’ll call Esau for the sake of the Biblical connection, even if their mother’s name makes it less than perfect), but it both implicitly and explicitly gestures to what we’ve seen unfold on the island for six seasons, and in doing so gives greater meaning to that journey even if the “why” question remains unanswered.

I don’t think “Across the Sea” is by any means perfect, but I think it did a most admirable job at crafting a story which crystallizes the show’s journey thus far, worrying less about the big picture and more about establishing where the individual portraits the show has created fit into the mysteries of the island (which may remain unsolved).

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Lost – “The Candidate”

“The Candidate”

May 4th, 2010

For the first half of its running time, “The Candidate” felt like the show was going through a list of the ways in which this season has somewhat struggled with its competing narrative foci. The Flash Sideways structure is thematically interesting, but it feels as if the initial “what’s going on” dynamism has been replaced by a sort of meandering structure as Jack stumbles upon connections that we made weeks ago, and reveals elements of the story which bear emotional weight but which get saved until the episode’s conclusion. This might be fine, perhaps, if there was anything happening on the island to compare it to, but through the first half of the episode the show’s action seemed borderline illogical, leaving me pondering just how cranky this review was doing to sound.

And then, at a certain point in the episode, all hell broke loose, and the stakes of the season went up by roughly ten thousand percent. Life becomes a commodity, trust becomes more important than perhaps life itself, and the show’s poetic style gets turned on its ear like perhaps it’s never been turned on its ear before. “The Candidate” is not an exemplary hour of television, struggling mightily to set up its eventual conclusion, but that conclusion ends up being such a rollercoaster that it leaves the show in perhaps the best shape its been all year while leaving us emotional wrecks.

It’s something the show hasn’t really accomplished thus far this season, which means that we’re officially in the home stretch.

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Lost, The Morning After: Critical Responses to “Ab Aeterno”

Critical Responses to “Ab Aeterno”

March 24th, 2010

While I remain content with my review of “Ab Aeterno” from last night, I think that this is definitely one of those episodes that warrants a second look based on the kinds of responses I’ve seen to the episode online. While being able to write about the episode in advance of its U.S. airing due to Canadian simulcasting conflicts is wonderful, and will last for another week at least, it means that I’m writing about the episode in a relative bubble, and there’s enough hyper-intelligent people watching this show that things will emerge which complement or contradict my own thoughts.

Considering the depth of mythology material presented by “Ab Aeterno,” and the fact that some people are throwing around comparisons with Season Four’s “The Constant,” there’s plenty of discussions surrounding the episode, so I want to highlight some of those reviews while, admittedly, using them to make some points that have come to me since watching the response last night.

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The Scourge of Fandom: Why Lost Owes Us Nothing

The Scourge of Fandom: Why Lost Owes Us Nothing

January 28th, 2010

If you haven’t seen it yet (which seems unlikely, but whatever), The Onion’s fantastic bit of satire surrounding the final season of Lost making fans more annoying than ever is a wonderful piece of work. With the help of executive producers Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse, they capture the sense of obsession that surrounds the show’s fans, and there’s just enough nods to the show’s mythology (and to other fandoms: check out the ticker for a shout-out to The Wire that slayed me) to make even the most obsessed crack a smile.

Final Season Of ‘Lost’ Promises To Make Fans More Annoying Than Ever

However, I believe that the Onion has failed to represent an even more annoying segment of Lost viewers that will threaten to destroy the internet as we know it come February 2nd (which is, let’s remember, only five days away). These are the viewers who have either predetermined how producers Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse must end the show or predetermined that they absolutely cannot end it to their satisfaction. These are the people who believe they deserve to have their questions answered, and that they are in some way owed a finale that lives up to their precise expectations.

And they’re the real problem here.

[Before reading the remainder of this particular article, you are required (okay, okay – urged) to go check out Maureen Ryan’s fantastic, spoiler-free interview with Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse, which I’ll be referring to liberally throughout the piece. You can find Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3 at her blog]

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Lost in “The Incident” Part One: The Ramifications of Jacob

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Lost in “The Incident” Part One:

The Ramifications of Jacob

Every good season finale should do two things: it should place into context the actions of the previous episodes, and it should in some way hint or infer what might happen in the future. Of course, there is no exact science on how to do these things: there doesn’t need to be a distinct cliffhanger in order to excite viewers about what might take place in future episodes, and at the same time there doesn’t need to be a tidy conclusion to the action of the season for it to feel as if it has all come together.

One day out from “The Incident,” Lost’s fifth season finale, what I find most interesting is how the events of the episode manage to tie up absolutely nothing, end things on a cliffhanger with almost no evidence upon which to base hypotheses (which I’ll get to in Part Two over the weekend), and yet forced viewers to rewrite their opinions of the entire season thus far whether in regards to character motivations, theories of time travel, or even something as simple as the allegiance of an entire faction.

While the show has often used flashbacks and flashforwards as a way to alter the very fabric of the show, for the most part that was either illuminating a new plot point (people leaving the island), an individual character, or a macro-level showrunning decision that’s impact within the narrative itself was fairly limited. In this instance, what the show delivered was the installation of an idea so gut-bustingly radical that it does all of these things, introducing new plot elements and giving new depth to characters and their allegiances, while taking the usual show-running involvement and building it into the show itself.

In some ways, the two characters that we meet at the beginning of “The Incident” are the showrunners within the show, those who are there to pull some strings, to set into action events, and to watch as they unfold. However, there are obvious limitations to their abilities, and two very different philosophies behind them. Their identities, and the potential influences that inspired them, are the most important factor heading into the show’s sixth and final season, and the one that I’m going to try to wrap my head around here.

Because, in my view, the past, present and future of this island, these people, and this series all depend on them…or, more accurately, on their action or inaction. And so, in today’s first of two posts trying to figure out just what the finale’s events mean for the seasons that have come before and the show’s final season, let’s take a gander at the biggest revelation at all: the existence of two men who (arguably) rule them all.

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