Next up on my husband Aaron and I’s Christopher Nolan blog-a-thon project is “Inception.” I’ve always found it interesting that Nolan decided to take a break between his Batman films and work on other projects, instead of filming the Batman movies all in a row. He released “The Prestige” between “Batman Begins” and “The Dark Knight,” and then “Inception” between “The Dark Knight” and “The Dark Knight Rises.” Some of the themes from “The Prestige” carry over into “The Dark Knight” (they’re both in the darker group of Nolan films, and feature a good man corrupted by a tragic event), and some of the themes from “Inception” carry over into “The Dark Knight Rises” (they’re both in the more hopeful group of Nolan films, and feature a tragic hero letting go of a painful past). But that’s probably a topic for a different blog post… 😉
Without further ado, here’s what we thought after our “Inception” re-watch! We also have a reversal of last week; I think I’m more enthusiastic about this movie than Aaron is. And fair warning — plenty of spoilers are ahead!
I didn’t get to see “Inception” when it was originally released in theaters, but I rented it soon after it came out on DVD. I remember being so blown away by it that I rounded up my family and made them watch it too that same day before I had to return it to Blockbuster (R.I.P. Blockbuster — I still miss those video rental store days sometimes).
“Inception” has a fairly ambitious plot. It’s a sci-fi thriller about a group of “dream thieves” who use technology to infiltrate people’s dreams to steal information. The goal of a dream thief is to sneak in and out of a person’s subconscious without them realizing they’ve experienced something other than a normal dream. The very best dream thieves can create layers of dreams — a dream within a dream within a dream — to disguise the fact the person’s mind is being invaded, and they create complex, detailed dream worlds with nothing but imagination and the power of thought.
Leonardo DiCaprio stars as Dom Cobb, a dream “extractor” who specializes in corporate espionage. However, he is haunted by the death of his wife (Marion Cotillard); her presence fills his subconscious and interferes with his ability to perform his job. He decides to take on one final job that will be his toughest assignment yet: instead of extraction he will attempt the much more difficult “inception” — planting an idea in the subject’s mind while having them believe the idea is their own.
With less skilled hands at the helm, “Inception” could have easily come off as a hokey film. The concept does require you to suspend some disbelief as it doesn’t fully explain the “science” that allows dream thieves to do their work. However, Christopher Nolan takes the concept very seriously and gets his audience to do the same. The tightly-written script and eye-popping visuals pulled me into this world and made me think about my own perception of reality.
I’m not surprised “Inception” won Academy Awards for Best Cinematography and Best Visual Effects; the film would be fascinating to watch even with no sound on, with set pieces ranging from city blocks folding in on themselves to the famous gravity-defying fight in the hotel hallway.
Overall, I don’t really have any complaints about the film, other than that it made the most impact the first time I watched it. The suspense isn’t quite as high once you know what’s coming. I really enjoyed the film’s concept of dream invaders who can create these fascinating imaginary worlds. Though the film’s ending isn’t a gut punch like “The Prestige,” it definitely ends on an eerie, thought-provoking note, blurring the line between dreams and reality. Like “The Matrix,” this film always makes me pause for a moment to wonder, “What I’m perceiving now is actually real…right?”
Man, as far as my basic taste profile goes for films, “Inception” has everything going for it. Nolan? Check. Trippy? Check. Multiple interpretations of events? Check. Ambitious? Check. The list goes on. If you just looked at a list of what I like in movies and had to recommend something to me, “Inception” would be near the top of the list. Despite that, for me, “Inception” is fairly unique among the Nolan movies in that I’m not sure how I feel about it. I like it when looking at the big picture but it feels a bit schizoid. It tries to be a deep, trippy, mind-delving experience and a run-’n-gun heist movie at the same time. I really like the first part, but parts of the second fall flat.
Let’s start with what I like here, because there’s plenty to like. Nolan really nails the power of ideas and how they take root. The way Dom Cobb performs inception on his wife Mal with the spinning top is so brilliant, and so powerful in its simplicity, that I honestly think the subplot of him and Mal is more compelling than the main storyline. I wouldn’t say this is because the main story is bad, but because of how Nolan so masterfully interweaves the interplay of memory, guilt, the subconscious, and the sticking power of an implanted idea.
Beyond that, Nolan does a great job nailing the alternate reality feel of dreams, usually (more on that later). Each layer of the dream has its own distinct feel and the way that the dreamers interact with their bodies a layer up plays out smartly. It’s not always consistent, but I don’t expect it to be (for example, if inner ear function is retained by the sedative, why weren’t all the people in the van woken up by the falling sensation while it was rolling?).
The visuals of the movie are spot on, but that goes without saying. I love how all the characters involved in the heist have a unique personality that allows them to not only demonstrate different responses to problems, but also allows them to play off each other. The perpetually simmering argument between Eames (Tom Hardy) and Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is the perfect example of this. Nolan did a good job translating the different specialties of thieves into the dream world with forgers, architects, chemists, etc.
So what falls flat for me? I never thought I’d say this but, there are too many guns and too many action sequences. People shooting at each other, while flashy, doesn’t advance the ideas in a movie. In a movie like “Dredd” (which I love), there aren’t too many ideas to advance, and the action sequences don’t leave you feeling like you were missing something. Here though, every minute consumed with flying bullets is a minute that could’ve been spent exploring the intricacies of a dream world. They could’ve been used for the fantastic character dialogue that Nolan is so well known for. They could’ve been used to further explore the themes of memory and guilt. The action sequences could’ve at least played more on the concept of the maze and paradoxes, which, if I recall, it only did once with the infinite staircase. The shooting grounded the movie and made those parts feel less like a dream and more like “The Fast and the Furious.”
All in all, I wish “Inception” had been even weirder. I wish it had gone off the cliff into the dream theme instead of trying to keep things on the level with gunfights that are all too common in movies today. I still like it, I just always come away feeling that it could’ve been great instead of just good.