July 18th, 2010

breaking bad

The triumph of the libertarians

I feel so sad at the moment about everything I see in the news. Cuts to the BBC license are surely Murdoch's first step to break up public broadcasting, because people favour it over his product. 'Shaking Up' the NHS is surely an attempt to begin the replacement of community with profit-led medicine. Radio 3 and the NHS are like a baseline to my life 'no matter how bad it gets I will still have this' which is now being threatened. For what?

And across the board I see over-hasty libertarian ideology being imposed on systems which have grown up organically over time, interwoven with our society: imperfect, complex, but surprisingly effective.
The NHS might well be, in terms of the results it delivers with the money it gets, the most efficient health service on earth. And yet the Tories are convinced that hasty and sweeping organisational reforms will make it even more so.
Things that have happened lately have shown there are serious drawbacks to the commercial approach: the banks, the pension funds, BP.
The credit crisis-induced recession, a disaster brought on by monumental private sector inefficiency – if inefficiency is a sufficient word to cover that thoughtless spiral of hedonistic incompetence for which no proportionate retribution has been exacted.
I think we need to move to a less risky, less profit-seeking, approach; obviously that's not going to happen. But surely, we shouldn't be piling the risks on when we don't need to. There is so much that can go badly wrong, again, in the private sector.

I'd even be opposed to an incautious precipitous plunge in the 'right' direction (the right direction as far as I am concerned), because of the organic interdependence of our systems mean it could so easily misfire. What I see behind the scenes at the moment is just reckless, thoughtless ideology without any reference to reality, and it's an extreme and mistaken ideology too in my opinion.

(quotes above from David Mitchell in the Observer. I wrote this, then went to read his article, and found he was making some of the same points)
breaking bad


Last night I went to see Inception, the new film by Christopher Nolan (director of Memento, The Dark Knight, The Prestige etc.) People have asked me whether I liked it, and I don't really know. I suppose that in itself is slightly a criticism, because I ought to be unequivocally saying 'Yes, it's brilliant'. Many people to be fair, are saying that. This metafilter post links to a lot of positive reviews.

Inception posits a near-future where people with secrets can be drugged, and plugged into dream machines, so that trained dream-workers can plunder the subconscious via a shared dreaming experience. Leonardo Di Caprio (once again, an impressive performance) is hired to go one further - to plant an idea deep in the subconscious of Cillian Murphy. Most of the action takes place in nested dreams within dreams.

I am prima facie sceptical about films which are set in dream-land, or in virtual reality, or in Limbo. I am sceptical about films which are written and directed by the same person. Both suggest 'self indulgent'. And yet, sometimes, these are wonderful films or TV shows - Life on Mars, the first Matrix film. Inception is unusual in that it isn't a failure, but it isn't a total triumph (to me).

I think a film where much of the action happens in an unreal world, where there are no rules, must paradoxically be structured by a strong self-discipline of rules. I think it should also express something real about the Self. It should involve real peril to the Self. And finally, I think it should make us question the ground of being, changing the way we see the world after we have left the cinema.

How does Inception match up to those four criteria? Quite well actually, though I won't say more for fear of spoilers. The idea of 'Peril to the Self' is I think particularly well handled. There are a lot of visual references to other Nolan films, and other films about dreams and virtual reality, which is a way of using cinema-memory as a proxy for the internal referencing we do within dreams.

So why don't I think the overall film is brilliant as it might be? I think firstly because the seeming-structure of rules doesn't quite make sense, though it's a good effort. That wouldn't really matter, if it weren't for the bigger issue, which is that I don't think it quite gives the feeling of heavy dangerous reality that you get when a film touches something deep inside yourself. I am tempted to think that studio heads stepped in and watered it down. Deep deep inside the self things are not so busy, so anonymous, and so like a James Bond film. There would be a feeling of recognition, that things had always been this way, that great projections of the self were slowly moving into place like spaceships around the sun.

What is left without this is an intellectual puzzle, a thought game, which perhaps doesn't quite hang together, but plays with various familiar psychological and philosophical issues entertainingly enough. Certainly worth seeing.