The summer months are traditionally known for the onslaught of explosion-heavy, popcorn pushing films for the masses looking to embrace the easygoing nature synonymous with the weather July brings with it. With Christopher Nolan’s latest, Inception, he attempted to mesh an action-heavy “summer blockbuster” film with the cerebral, layer-filled storytelling he is known for. Was Inception the exception to the mindless summer blockbusters we have grown accustomed to seeing during the warm months?
Inception stars Leonardo DiCaprio as Dom Cobb, the Extractor/expert dream thief who is hired to perform the opposite of just that: the eponymous act of Inception. Businessman Saito (Ken Watanabe) hires Cobb to perform inception on the heir to a rival energy company, Robert Fischer (Cillian Murphy), in an attempt to gain an upper hand in their company’s power struggle. Inception, as explained in the film, is the act of implanting an idea in a mark’s subconscious. Being notoriously difficult to accomplish, Cobb assembles a well-suited suite of a supporting cast: the Point Man/target researcher, Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), the Architect/dream world architect, Ariadne (Ellen Page), the Forger/impersonator, Eames (Tom Hardy), and the Chemist/dream drugs dealer, Yusef (Dileep Rao). What then transpires is an intricate dream heist spanning three different “dreams/levels.” Through it all, Cobb is tormented by the specter of his deceased wife, Mal (Marion Cotillard).
Inception is one of the most visually-appealing films of the year. Outside of the standard explosions, car chase scenes, and gun battles that go along with the typical action film, Nolan and his staff expand the idea of a dream world in creative ways, if only briefly. The most popular, and obvious, example is the anti-gravity hallway fight scene. Its beautifully choreographed and lends some of Nolan’s creativity to an otherwise straight-forward film. This is where a few of my gripes come up. In a film centered on the concept of dreams, I was expecting more outrageous stuff to go on. Outside of the aforementioned scene and an earlier scene where Ariadne literally makes the world fold in on itself, the limitless opportunities that dreams are allowed weren’t really utilized. I guess I was in the wrong to expect Michel Gondry-like creativity.
The acting is the high point of the film. However, I’m only going to focus on the few who I felt stood out the most. DiCaprio is, without a question, one of my favorite actors. His acting has GREATLY benefited from his relationship with Martin Scorsese over the last decade. Gordon-Levitt is another one of my favorite actors and seeing him in such a high profile film like Inception will help introduce him to the general movie audience who might still associate him to 3rd Rock from the Sun as opposed to his MAGNIFICENT independent career. In the same vein, it was nice to see Page playing a character that wasn’t making one-liners and Spider-Man quips. In a few years, I hope we can point at her role as Ariadne as the turning point in her career towards more serious roles. And Cotillard’s Mal was everything you’d want in a pseudo-antagonist. She possesses this subtle creepiness and anger that’s unleashed when you least expect it. Honestly, I think it’s her cartoon eyes that helped shape Mal’s character.
Of course, the biggest thing everybody discussed was the story. A lot has been said about the complexity (or, some may argue, the perception of complexity) of the story and its layers. Honestly, I felt it wasn’t that hard to follow. The first act introduces the process through the Cobol job as well as goes in depth via Cobb’s explanation to Ariadne. The middle act is the preparation for and eventual execution of the job itself, and the final act is the results of the job. I’ve seen arguments over plot holes and paradoxes, but I honestly didn’t notice any. I feel that, if you pay proper attention, the various threads and layers are easily traced to one another with no confusion at all.
Too much is focused on Nolan’s false perception of a complex story, that is to say, the utilization of confusing terminology and an incomprehensible plot. Rather, what Nolan attempted to convey with Inception is the importance of dreams and their effects on our psyche and, ultimately, our identity (fans of Philip K. Dick and Neil Gaiman are well-aware of this concept). The fact that Nolan was able to present such an intricate theory in the scope of an entertaining heist movie is a testament to his abilities as both a screenwriter and director.
Inception, like any other great film, will have you asking questions for days after the initial viewing. The only question that won’t be asked is whether or not you’ll want to see it again. Inception is worth the time and money spent on multiple viewings.
Andres Bolivar: Though most of the hype behind Inception has dwindled down, the film is just as good as it was the first night it was released. Granted, there is a lot of expository dialogue and they didn’t go more into depth behind the psyche of dreams; but Nolan has crafted this wonderful world that masterfully blends different genres. It’s a testament to the fact that Hollywood hasn’t run out of creativity and that a mainstream movie can still have a high concept plot without losing its audience. It’s not a perfect movie, but it’s damn near close. 87 – Spectacular.
Xander Markham: Much like the dreams that inspire it, Christopher Nolan’s film is visually stunning and easy to lose yourself in, but never quite as meaningful as you want it to be. Judged purely as blockbuster entertainment though, it’s a superb achievement: complex but comprehensible, Inception is, by its climax, juggling five simultaneous scenarios that each require your attention to keep up, but never feel overcomplicated or out of reach. In the same way that architect Ariadne takes familiar elements from real-life and twists them into abstraction, Inception guides its audience through its labyrinthine layers with an easily followed central thread. And what layers they are: a fight scene bouncing off the walls and ceiling of a hotel corridor spinning from shifting gravity; a villainess who is the living manifestation of the hero’s obsessional regret; an assault on a mountain base that pays more than a little homage to underrated Bond epic On Her Majesty’s Secret Service; a chase through the streets of Mombassa that may or may not even be real… the last act might drag and take too many liberties within the established rules, but the scale of ambition keeps the film above water where a more conventional blockbuster would have long drowned. While it doesn’t delve deeply enough into its potential philosophical depths, Inception is a thrilling reminder of how successful a brave and original blockbuster with respect for its audience can be. 83 – Great.
Glenn Morris: The men-on-a-mission thrill never lets down in Christopher Nolan’s Inception, and it sparked numerous debate on the nature of it’s ending, which should really be considered as satisfying a layer to the actual film as its action or cerebral play. However, I feel Cobb’s story lacks the emotional impact that it’s meant to contain, and nobody on his team is more than just a team player. Both in scripting and directing of his actors, Nolan lacks the curious invention that his visual aptitude and structure enjoy. As a result, we have a noticeably bland cast for all the critical praise that these actors typically enjoy, and too few reasons to become invested in the plight of their dreamscapes. 74 – Good.