Review: Inception

“A single idea from the human mind can build cities. An idea can transform the world and rewrite all the rules.”

Christopher Nolan has been working on the script for Inception for ten years – the concept came to him while he was working on his breakout film, Memento. I can’t imagine what it would be like to have this idea festering in your mind for ten years.

I studiously avoided articles about and trailers for Inception for months, trying not to learn any more details about the plot than absolutely necessary. I realize now that this was probably unnecessary – beyond a few closely guarded secrets of the narrative, learning about the film’s plot can never quite prepare you for what Nolan and his team throw up there on the screen. So, I can tell you now what you may have only been able to infer from the fragments of dialogue and chaotic images of the trailers.

Inception imagines a world where it is possible to literally infiltrate the human mind, to project oneself into the subconscious of another person. Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio, whose character name is a nod to Nolan’s first film, Following) has learned how to use this ability to steal ideas from the victim’s mind. Nolan realizes that even the most extraordinary bits of science fiction can become instantly mundane as soon as they are real (remember how you used to be able to tell something was set in the future because everyone was making video phone calls? not anymore), and mind theft seems to have swiftly been incorporated into the established realm of corporate espionage. Cobb and his gang spend most of their time as hired guns for multinational conglomerates, stealing the best ideas of the competition.

Cobb is approached by Saito (Ken Watanabe), who wants to try a different approach: instead of taking an idea, he wants to plant one in the mind of the son of his biggest rival (Cillian Murphy, son, Pete Postlethwaite, father) in the hopes of breaking up his father’s company. Cobb’s right-hand man, Arhtur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) thinks the process is impossible, that the son’s subconscious will recognize the idea is not his own and reject it. Cobb is sure it can be done.

The story unfolds from there, as layer upon layer of dream and reality is piled on. The effects of one character’s decision ripple through the layers, making each twist and turn feel organic. The image of the clockmaker God comes to mind, with Nolan as the expert craftsman, tinkering and tailoring every tiny little piece of the plot’s intricate machine, then just setting it in motion and letting the whole thing develop as it will.

Nolan had an idea, and true to the film’s words, it builds cities and transforms worlds; Inception is full of impossible buildings, warped metropolises, collapsing fortresses and exploding streets. Nolan has taken up where James Cameron’s Avatar left off in showing us that cinema is still very much capable of filling us with awe and wonder. And, like he did with The Dark Knight two years ago, he has reminded Hollywood that entertainment is not a synonym for simplicity. We can revel in a challenging, complex story the same way we do in the mindlessness of a Judd Apatow comedy or whatever.

Ah, but here’s the rub: does Nolan’s idea rewrite the rules? The screaming fanboys out there (who would also have you believe that The Dark Knight’s third act was not at all muddled or confusing) cry out that yes, Nolan has created something entirely new. Well, he’s created something that LOOKS entirely new, certainly. You have never seen any movie that looks like this. But at its core, Inception is a heist film. Car chases and explosions are nothing new, even if the set-pieces are abnormally clever and you have more emotional investment in the characters than usual. And I need multiple viewings to say this for sure, but I’m not entirely convinced that what Nolan has to say about dreams, reality, and deception is anything that wasn’t covered in The Matrix (or Blade Runner, for that matter).

Christopher Nolan is one of the greatest storytellers on the planet. He understands the intricacies of plot, character and motivation, the importance of giving the audience a REASON to care about and comprehend his plot. If we care, we’ll be more than willing to keep up with his compulsive twisting and turning. Inception is not a masterpiece of cinema, but it’s a goddamn entertaining and original piece of filmmaking.

Verdict: 4 out of 4 stars

3 thoughts on “Review: Inception

  1. I can’t wait to see it! And I like the Hamlet nod. 🙂

    How was the acting? Leo? Joseph Gordon-Levitt? Ellen Page? Lukas Haas?

  2. Yeah, I wanted to mention the acting but couldn’t find anywhere to make it fit in the flow of the review.

    The strength of the ensemble is one of the film’s major assets. Several of the actors must instantly convey their character in a very limited amount of screen time for the plot to make sense, and they do so admirably: Michael Caine, the wise professor; Marion Cotillard, the mysterious femme fatale; Cillian Murphy, the suave but in-over-his-head mark. DiCaprio follows admirably in the footsteps of Guy Pearce, Al Pacino and Christian Bale, delivering another Nolan protagonist weighed down by guilt and a troubled past. The most amusing combo, though, are Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Tom Hardy (last seen delivering a blistering performance in Bronson) as the wise-cracking sidekicks. Haas has all of about four lines, and exits the film quickly.

    If there’s a weak link, it’s Ellen Page. Perhaps it’s just the residual effects of Juno, but her physical appearance is just too young and innocent to be totally credible in this character. It’s a shame that Nolan couldn’t get his first choice, Evan Rachel Wood, because she would have NAILED this part. But, the effect on the film as a whole is still negligible.

  3. Ellen Page was perfect for this role. She was nerdy and intellectual enough for the “architect.” But since Cobb’s “love interest” is his wife, the other woman had to be “not a love interest.” Still, since gender roles are rarely unorthodox in these kinds of movies, there had to be a woman character to insert all that empathy and sympathetic advice toward Cobb. It couldn’t be one of the male characters. But to Nolan’s credit that her character may have saved them all.

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