Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight) is a genius. His name ought to be mentioned alongside some of the better filmmakers of this generation. Inception, his latest offering, only strengthens his already impressive resume. Undoubtedly you’ve seen the mysterious trailer with the foreboding score and amazing special effects. When I walked out of the theater I had a slight headache and a big smile. Nolan’s intricate script tested the limits of my cognitive abilities, but it was a great ride.
To all of my cynics out there: don’t be fooled by early superficial similarities to Shutter Island. Yes, it’s Leonardo DiCaprio having some psychological problems and being tormented by a past love. Inception is much deeper than that. The movie explores a world where corporate espionage meets Sigmund Freud. Ok that was a cheesy comparison, but the movie delves into the psychological ramifications of tampering with dreams. Dreams are where we find ourselves vulnerable and powerless to our subconscious. We are defenseless while dreaming, yet very susceptible to the power of suggestion. DiCaprio stars as Cobb, ringleader of a team of dream invaders commissioned by a wealthy Japanese businessman named Saito. Cobb and company are adept at extracting secrets from people’s dreams. They do this by attaching themselves to a device while sleeping. Saito is impressed with their skills but wants to take it a step further. Rather than extract information; he wants to implant it. This is called inception. A business competitor is on his deathbed, and the man’s son stands to inherit his empire. Saito wants the heir apparent to dissolve his father’s company after acquiring it. As compensation, he will call in a favor that will allow Cobb to return home to America. He has been exiled after his wife’s suicide, which the authorities believe to have been a murder committed at Cobb’s hands. Implanting a suggestion is more difficult. Subtlety is key, as the person must believe that the idea is entirely their own. Cillian Murphy (Batman Begins) portrays Fischer, heir to the “throne” of Saito’s rival. He and Dad have a tumultuous relationship, and it will be difficult for Cobb to use the power of suggestion. It should be mentioned that when a dream is invaded, the sleeping host’s subconscious seeks to protect it by dispatching people kill to the intruder. Of course this is all a dream, so if you die in the dream, you simply wake up. No harm, no foul right? Not exactly. Cobb will have to pull out all the stops if the inception is going to be successful. He will have to use a dream within a dream. Within a dream. Did you catch that? That’s right, come even further down the rabbit hole with me; let’s stretch our imagination to the farthest recesses of our mind. This is why I left the theater with pulsating temples. I’ll run that back for you. Have you ever dreamt that you were dreaming? That’s a dream within a dream. Now imagine that you are dreaming that you are dreaming that you are dreaming. That’s 3 levels: a dream within a dream, within another dream. Whew!
I really don’t want to say another word about the movie for fear of completely spoiling it. The casting choices were just as perfect as the script. DiCaprio hasn’t had a misstep since…well, never. Suffice to say that we expect excellence from him, especially when he continues to pair with the most brilliant directors who give him the richest material. I also enjoyed J. Gordon-Levitt’s (500 Days of Summer) performance, as his character was the more cautious voice of reason in contrast to Cobb’s reckless impulsivity. Remember, Cobb has more to gain from Fischer’s inception than anyone else. Rounding out the cast is Ellen Page (Whip It), as “the architect.” She is tasked with designing the landscape of the dreamer’s world. She’s been a delight in every movie I’ve seen her in, and this was no exception. As Cobb’s conscience she tries to protect the rest of the team and help him forgive himself about his dead wife, who invades every dream as a symbol of his subconscious.
Every now and then a can’t-miss movie arrives that is so provocative and intriguing that it bears not only repeat viewing, but intense discussion as well. Inception was such a movie, stunning in its visual execution, layered in its complexity, and superbly acted by the players. Have I gushed enough? Inception was Incredible.
I recently saw Inception, and your review couldn’t be more spot-on. It is one of the best films I have seen in a very long time.
First, the relationships between the characters were seamlessly illustrated. With an ensemble cast, the relationships between pairs and triples are hard to expound on because of time constraints and pacing — simply stated, to keep the movie moving, key scenes need to have the majority of the cast in them so that it’s clear that everyone knows what the plan is going to be and so that you don’t have to repeat the information over and over. Inception handled that issue beautifully by inserting a number of distinct one or two liners between characters while in the group setting that provide you with a detailed view of relationships within the larger group. I’m thinking specifically of the relationship between Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and Eames (Tom Hardy), who share only 3 or 4 lines of dialogue with each other (rather than to the group overall). Those 3 or 4 lines give you a perfect understanding of their relationship — which is antagonistic and respectful all at once. It’s actually my favorite relationship in the entire movie — although there are many to choose from when it comes to moving and salient bonds.
Second, like you said, the movie made my head hurt — in a good way. Anyone who has read the Celestine Prophecy, the Companion Guide to the Celestine Prophecy and/or books on lucid dreaming, will be richly rewarded by the depth of theory and practical application that appears in this film. They take the idea of a “trigger” (a cue that you look for so regularly during your waking life that you begin looking for it in your dreams, and that when you see it or run a test on it, will reliably inform you whether or not you are dreaming) and move it to an entirely new level. They introduce the idea of a “token”, which will tell you not only if you are in a dream, but also whether you are in your own dream or in someone else’s — a critical piece of information once you begin taking lucid dreaming to a whole new level.
Third, the movie is brilliant and incredibly layered. If you have never been to Paris, Tokyo, Los Angeles or Mombasa (Kenya), you will still understand and enjoy the movie. If you have been to one of those places, the movie gets turned up a notch — two of the places, up even farther — three of the places, farther still — four of the places, the movie will blow your mind. The scenes taking place in each of the cities contain secrets that make those scenes all the more trenchant. For example, when Cobb asks Ariadne if she remembers how they got from the rooftop of her school to the cafe, she has trouble answering because they are actually in a dream. It is clear from their dialogue that they “jumped” there because they were dreaming. However, the movie really brings the point home by using subtle clues.
When you see Cobb and Ariadne talking on the rooftop, there is a pan of the city skyline in Paris. The pan shows the gray, slanting rooftops that are common throughout Paris but the space between the buildings, coupled with the flowerboxes and unique tiling on the rooftops, seem to indicate they they are in the Latin Quarter (the fifth arrondissement). Also, the pan is wide and does not show the Eiffel tower — which rules out the first, sixth, seventh and fifteenth arrondissements. There is also a very quick pan of the street below the rooftop — which is hilly, as it is in the Latin Quarter, unlike most of the rest of Paris. From these clues, you get the distinct impression that they are on a rooftop in the Latin Quarter, possibly at or near the Sorbonne. The camera pans up again when Cobb asks the question, and it shows that they are sitting in front of a cafe (Cafe Debussy), with a street sign over it that reads Rue Debussy. Rue Debussy is in the 17th arrondissement — far enough that they would have had to have gone to some trouble to get there (metro, plus probably a taxi).
Little details like this one really sold the movie for me, especially because they were so subtle. They could have easily used well-known landmarks like the Eiffel Tower and the Moulin Rouge, which are also far apart from each other. But instead, the movie is made with extreme restraint, using only subtle clues. In another feat of geographical beauty, once Ariadne realizes they are in a dream, she walks them very rapidly from the 17th arrondissement, through the seventh (wider roads, casual dress) to the sixth (narrower roads, higher end dress), to the first (where you can see the bridges that cross the Seine in the mirrored doors) and then finally toward the 15th (as she tries to cross the bridge just before she meets Mal). The storytelling is so solid that restraint like this has been earned. I have never been to Tokyo or Mombasa, and I’m not very familiar with LA, but I would guess that anyone who knows those areas well have found similar easter eggs.
Fourth, each set is amazing and gorgeous — from the snow scenes and fortress to the Japanese castle. They were all very different and visually stunning.
Finally, the acting was spot on. The entire cast played their roles with the perfect balance of passion and restraint. There were no oversells — which made you believe in what they were portraying that much more. I particularly loved Ken Watanabe as Saito.
Qualms with the movie? Very few. I thought they repeated the conversation between Cobb and Saito one too many times (the one about being old and waiting to die). For a movie that showed that much restraint in every other capacity, I thought repeating those lines more than twice was hitting it a bit too hard. I would have gone with either saying the lines twice, or if they needed them repeated more than twice, just using pieces of the lines — enough so that you got what they were referring to but without duplicating the actual words more than once.
Other than that, I loved it (in case you couldn’t already tell). I can’t wait to get the DVD so I can see it again.