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Do we have art to thank for our survival? In movies about survival, this is something that is never asked; the only characters are usually those who saw their own hands and killed bears for warmth. Thus many people would view life to be worthless without art in it—lack of writing, stories, music and visual arts among others. Art, whatever way it may be defined or not defined at all can possibly be highly important in creating meanings. But on the other hand, art does not feed people. The actual “art world”, where pictures like Salvator Mundi sell for 450 million dollars is just a luxury of rich people and flammable stuff if there is another apocalypse.

These are two opposite extremes that Inside, an enchanting new movie by Vasilis Katsoupis plays with and moves between.

This exciting film has profound significance; however, it’s difficult to find any absolute meaning which everyone could agree on. It’s best that way though- the subject of the movie -art- needs interpretation because it must allow varying personal opinions about it. Still what almost seems like an objective fact about “Inside” is that Willem Dafoe gives a towering performance in a survival film that unlike any other.

Dafoe stars in Inside, but little else. There are few other actors seen briefly in security tapes or as part of a surreal dream; but Nemo is practically alone within Inside (2014). This occurs because Nemo has been trapped inside an apartment owned by an art collector whom he tried to rob; when things go bad everything locks up and he cannot reach anyone else. It comes down to two players: Nemo as a thief and the art itself.

The digital thermostat breaks resulting Nemo experiencing periods of extreme heat or freezing coldness. Though surrounded by fascinating high-end artwork, his food and water supplies are dwindling because you cannot eat neon signs created by artists such as David Horvitz with numbers that read, “All the time that will come after this moment” (Horvitz 2011). It is accordingly in this vein that Nemo finds himself entangled in a fight for survival, both from his own imagination turning against him as well as from the limits of his own artistic imprisonment.

Dafoe’s acting in Inside is spellbinding, making the film engaging even at its most bizarre moments. As he begins to lose his mind and suffer bodily breakdowns, Nemo does whatever he can to survive and one of those things is distraction. In different instances we see him turn from viewer to participant in art; he draws, tells jokes on stage, dances and makes sculptures. He watches it like a reality show through closed circuit security footage. Dafoe gives these works new meaning by defiling them and destroying their value so as to make something else entirely out of them. Throughout it all, Dafoe is utterly mesmerizing.

Inside’s visual style is breathtakingly beautiful: it’s cold; it’s futuristic and eerie, –and involves the input of various visual artists who have made conversations between Nemo and works displayed possible. These are carefully chosen pieces which include some specifically made for the movie itself and they are very much vital for the success of the film.

Inside profoundly knows what is going on in the modern art world and is totally immersed in it. Katsoupis and curatorial Leonardo Bigazzi gathered an appropriate and stunning selection of paintings, sculptures, furniture, concept works and decorative interior design to fill the only setting of the movie.

While most contemporary movies will have a list of songs played in credits as well as mentioning musicians involved and copyrights, Inside has an art list that documents the works of art exhibited in it. This film really cares about art; hence its visual palette reflects this fact.

Some bits of this interrogation suggest Baudrillard’s first book. The text by Baudrillard discovered ways through which mankind uses signs and symbols to reflect themselves and maintained that interior design for instance could be seen as a system of signs conveying ideology. When Nemo arrives at the penthouse suite, one can clearly see that expensive Manhattan apartment while specific pieces of artwork indicate class level or social scale as well as perspective from its owner.

We know little about Nemo although we spend the whole movie watching him just like we do not know much about people living in his building. The film does not show us much about their inner worlds just like life does. What defines them are their tastes for objects and art works thus how they consume these things makes them different. In our present society therefore we make use of signs to enable us judge others based on some opinions but more importantly, to understand each other better thereby finding some kind meaning that goes beyond ourselves even our identities being considered.

Art can be one among such significant semiotic tools particularly at times when there is so much despair or disillusionment around us. “’Since blood…jewelry, and works of Art.” (Baudrillard 24) Within Inside therefore emerges a study concerning what importance we attach on objects as well arts by extension since they may be the only way through which living becomes meaningful.

On the other hand, Inside could be seen as an almost darkly satirical critique of the art world, especially in late capitalism and post-pandemic. Nemo is essentially locked down like many others were during the pandemic and this potentially values millions of dollars of high art around him less than a full refrigerator or water cooler.

Watching a thief that has transformed art into nothing more than money becomes trapped inside an enormous cold empty apartment filled with magnificent pieces (but never visited by anyone) brings to mind something Adrienne Rich once wrote. When Rich refused the National Medal of Arts, she mailed her refusal letter to President Bill Clinton. “Art means nothing,” wrote Rich, “if it simply decorates the dinner table of power which holds it hostage.” If fine art turns out to be a mere way for making money or if it is suffocated by wealthy elites who do not want ordinary people accessing it, what value does it have according to the movie Inside?

In the end, however, most artists will tell you that over-analyzing is not good; this is why Susan Sontag even wrote a whole essay with such a title like “Against Interpretation.” As Vernon Lee says in his book Belcaro, “Get out of art all that it can give by refraining from asking it to give what it cannot.” Maybe the film does not need to be comprehended.

“Art must not even dream of comparing itself with reality, to say nothing of equaling it in beauty […] Let art be satisfied for its high and glorious mission of filling up reality when it lacks and guiding mankind as its handbook.” But that could be so; Nemo would rather abandon expensive works and plunge into the real world as though he had just left the penthouse art-world for an outside bright living world. Yet, inside experience will henceforth reinterpret this reality as Inside is capable of changing how one sees the universe.

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