Willem Dafoe Goes ‘Inside,’ but Not Deep in an Art Heist Gone Wrong

Can one man live out all the social ills of the 21st century? The film Inside demands no less of Willem Dafoe and its own high-concept pretensions. So his art thief Nemo better gear up, because in an era where space itself has become privatized, the 1% is where no one can hear you scream.

In classic one-man exhibition fashion, we know next to nothing about Nemo and how he managed to gain entrance to the sleek penthouse where his plan to make off with some of the ridiculously expensive goods, or precisely how it goes wrong. Once Nemo finds himself alone and locked in, we have the bare minimum necessary to appreciate the situation.

The real question is whether Dafoe, an actor with a screen presence so large and committed he brought his own personality to the Green Goblin rather than vice versa, could also be considered art. Gee, you think?

Anything practical then risks bringing both actor and concept down to Earth, and plot holes aren’t only beside the point, they’re painted into the background. And in a film that makes a point to prove its indie cred by shouting out past films its crew have worked on in the promotional material, which include Triangle of Sadness, Amélie, Nymphomaniac: Vol. I, Cloud Atlas, as well as its own art curator Leonardo Bigazzi, not to mention its premiere at the Berlin International Film Festival, the point is received loud and clear.

Locked Down

Still, one can’t help but contemplate why, instead of creating works of art all his own on the penthouse walls, Nemo doesn't merely scrawl SOS on the high-priced windows which overlook the city. At least there’s plenty to distract him, since the high-tech opulence around him is also on the fritz, leaving him with no running water and limited electronics. That is, before the days stretch on to a point where even the film’s running gag of the “Macarena” playing every time the fridge door is opened fades to silence.

In the meantime, Nemo has to survive when the place’s heating system means temperatures that range from freezing to over 100 degrees, isolation so complete that not even the building’s help can hear him right outside the absurdly thick door, and a glass ceiling which may provide an exit if he can only manage to get through it. Pick a metaphor and you’ll find it here.

After a certain point though, I’m with Nemo – enough is enough. There are only so many ways you can appreciate art and Dafoe himself, who is of course magnetic, even when the film drags. Accepting that Nemo wouldn’t be able to get a distress call out is one thing, but it’s impossible to swallow no one showing up after he manages to set off the fire alarms in a cleansing rain that Inside manages to make Biblical in its proportions.

That’s after all the absurdly on-point metaphors that include darkened neon signs, and a hidden room dubbed The Unseen World. Inside means to challenge us to contemplate the nature of art itself, but stripping everything down can still be rather distracting when what you actually consider art is so limiting, with music itself dismissed as a phenomenon that fades.

It’s also absurdly behind in its central thesis despite all the up-to-date trappings of modernity. Movies have long since confronted us with how well primitive savagery pairs with the latest advances in wealth and technology, and how a rebirth will likely require destruction. To consider this question with anything resembling a fresh take, a less easy target (or a gaze that included more than the upper crust) would be a plus, but as it is, what remains hardly seems of value.

Rating: 6/10 SPECS

Inside is playing in theaters Friday, March 17.

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This article was produced and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.

Andrea Thompson is a writer, editor, and film critic who is also the founder and director of the Film Girl Film Festival.

She is a member of the Chicago Indie Critics and runs her own site, A Reel Of One's Own, and has written for RogerEbert.com, The Spool, The Mary Sue, Inverse, and The Chicago Reader. She has no intention of becoming any less obsessed with cinema, comics, or nerdom in general.