'Inception' Confusion Will Boost Its Box Office Tally
By Jo Piazza Posted Jul 23rd 2010 05:15PM
Entertainment Weekly's movie critic, Owen Gleiberman, lamented in his column that he feels like he is the only one who just "doesn't get" this week's No. 1 box office smash, the sci-fi action thriller 'Inception.' It's just not true, Owen. You're not alone in being dazzled by Christopher Nolan's special effects, plot filled with trickery and Marion Cotillard's soporific French accent, but still scratching your head and saying WTF?!?!
The WTF factor is going to be box office gold for 'Inception,' since moviegoers will be seeing this film once and then again and maybe again, to try to unravel the intricacies of the sometimes complicated plot twists.
"'Inception' is going to turn out to be like a cinematic rubik's cube -- audiences won't be able to put it down," says New York Daily News film critic Joe Neumaier.
Taken at face value, the plot is simple. Leonardo DiCaprio is able to enter other people's dreams and steal their thoughts. A fugitive from American law desperate to clear his name to return to his family, he embarks on a mission to plant rather than steal a thought in the mind of the heir to a large corporate conglomerate.
But it's not that simple at all. There's an angry dead wife who haunts Leo's dreams and a crackpot team of dream infiltrators, whose roles in the process are more confusing than the guys from 'Ocean's 11.' Then there's the entire concept of "inception," dreams and reality in general that would make Freud give himself a sedative.
Among Gleiberman's WTF questions were the following:
"When you're inside one dream level, what's happening, at the same moment, in the dream level above it? Does its significance vanish? Has it ceased to exist? Since various people are occupying the same dream, who's determining, at any given instant, what happens in that dream? Why does one person have more sway than the next? And why did everything, on all the dream levels, look like bits and pieces of the same action movie? What are the rules, and therefore the strategies?"
Each of these queries is entirely valid. But those questions exist for a reason, a business reason. Each question means a new conversation generated by the moviegoer about their confusion. That conversation can inevitably lead to someone else buying their own ticket to the movie to see what all the fuss is about (and prove that they are smart enough to answer these outlying questions).
"The WTF factor increases audiences' curiosity -- but it has to seem fun and not like work. 'Mulholland Drive' was a critical success and a limited release, but didn't have that 'fun' factor.' 'Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind' did this art house-wise, and, of course 'The Matrix' did it on a mainstream level," Neumaier explained.
"The water cooler factor with 'Inception' is that people want to suss it out with their coworkers who saw it, and that makes the uninitiated curious about what all the fuss is. And that will help drive box office sales."
And it will also lead the original moviegoer back to the theater (because you just can't wait for the DVD -- these questions will be harder to answer on the small screen) leading to a high percentage of repeat ticket sales. The repeat business seems to be coming as a combination of the movie's puzzling plot coupled with its overall quality.
"The mind-bending puzzle movies certainly have a mixed track record. For every 'Sixth Sense' ($293 million a the box office), there's a 'Fight Club' ($37 million at the box office)," explained Box Office Mojo President Brandon Gray. "A better example is 'The Matrix.' The first 'Matrix' had a lot of repeat viewing and the second one did not. The second one tried to inject a lot of pseudo-philosophy and people ended up being turned off by it. It can swing both ways. It depends how satisfying the movie is in general. It can't just be confusing."
But 'Inception' seems to have hit that sweet spot of satisfying and yet confusing that draws moviegoers back again and again.
Now excuse us, we have to get in line (for the second time) for tonight's showing.
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