Written by: Big Ross, CC2K Staff Writer
Inception is the best film you’ll see this summer, and Christopher Nolan’s finest work since Memento.
Christopher Nolan got his start making dark, psychological thrillers (Memento, Insomnia), which made him an ideal choice to reinvigorate the Caped Crusader. With the success of Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, Nolan could easily have assumed the mantle of DC’s resident maestro of superhero films. Seemingly not content with only that role (he is directing a third Batman film and serving as producer and something of a creative director for a new Superman film), Nolan has continued his forte of cerebral cinema with The Prestige and, opening today, Inception.
Inception easily is the best film of this summer. Granted, that isn’t saying much with the motley mess of manure masquerading as quality films these past couple of months (Killers, Knight and Day, The Last Airbender, Twilight: Eclipse). No matter. If there is one film this summer deserving of blockbuster-level success (though I realize as the infamous William Munny said, “Deserve’s got nothin’ to do with it” – I’m looking at you Twilight: Eclipse), it’s Inception.
I’m going to try to summarize the plot of the film without giving too much away. However, if you want to avoid any and all potential SPOILERS, I hate to say that you might want to stop reading here. Otherwise, please continue.
The film introduces us to the team of Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio), Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), and Nash (Lukas Haas). These three specialize in the science of extraction – stealing thoughts from a person’s mind. They accomplish this by invading their target’s subconscious while he/she is in a dream state. Arthur handles background research on the target and serves a support role. Nash is the architect, responsible for creating the dreamworld the target’s subconscious mind will be “injected” into, a world that will allow Cobb, as extractor extraordinaire, to manipulate their target’s mind with every advantage to obtain whatever information they’ve been tasked with retrieving.
The team’s job at the start of the film goes awry, they go on the run, and Nash is “compromised”. Cobb and Arthur are approached by their intended target, a Japanese business man named Saito (Ken Watanabe) who makes Cobb an offer he can’t refuse. Instead of extraction, the stealing of thought, Saito wants Cobb and Arthur to perform inception, planting an idea in a person’s mind. Accomplish this next-to-impossible task and Saito guarantees that he can make certain “problems” go away for Cobb that are preventing him from re-entering the United States and reunite with his two young children.
Cobb assures Saito and Arthur that inception can be done and begins to assemble a new team. Cobb recruits a new architect (Ellen Page), a forger and con-artist (Tom Hardy), and an expert chemist (Dileep Rao). The goal is to get their target, heir to a multi-billion dollar energy corporation (Cillian Murphy) to break up and dissolve his ailing father’s empire. The challenge is to trick his subconscious into believing this is his own idea and not something planted from the outside.
Their plan of “attack” is to delve deep into their taget’s subconscious by taking him into dreams within dreams within dreams. As if this were not dangerous enough, Cobb is secretly chasing demons (or are they chasing him?) from his past in his own mind that pose an even greater threat to them all as they share a communal dream state. The challenge grows from completing the job to making it back to reality with their minds and their sanity intact.
Inception is a rarity of a summer film, a taut psychological thriller filled with stunning visual effects and a complex plot that engages its audience and demands you sit at full attention. Make no mistake, Inception is not a “lazy” film. It is most similar in style and spirit to Nolan’s first hit, Memento. Though not as brain-meltingly daring, what with Memento’s non-linear storyline, Inception is rather complex (according to one reviewer at the screening I attended, overly so for the average movie-goer), but where as this gave him no desire to watch it again, I can’t wait until a second viewing. Let me point out some specific things I loved about Inception. Okay, if you didn’t heed my first SPOILER warning, you might want to take this one seriously. You probably want to wait to continue reading until after you’ve seen the movie.
The process of creating the dreamworld. As Ellen Page’s character is trained in the ways of an architect, we see first-hand that creating the world of a dream is limited only by the imagination of the architect. Paradoxical objects that are impossible in reality, such as the Penrose stairs, are possible in a dream. Entire city blocks can be folded onto themselves yet still be bound by the laws of physics. It’s heady stuff, and with the visual effects employed throughout the film, amazing to see.
The use of totems. For those who make a living entering the dreams of others, there is the risk of loss of orientation. Those who so frequently engage in this activity risk becoming confused as to whether they are awake or dreaming. So each personally makes a totem, a small object with very specific physical properties in the real world, properties only that person knows. For example, a loaded die that will always land on the number five. The key is that character keeps the totem with them at all times, carrying a projection of it into the dreamworld; there the character convinces himself/herself that the totem behaves differently. Going back to the loaded die example, in a dream the die might always land on the number two, or any number except five. That way the character always has a quick way of determining their situation, if they are awake or in a dream state. It’s a very cool concept, and how it comes into play at the end…wait…no…I can’t say anymore…I may already have said too much.
The hinting at science-fiction. At first glance Inception is not sci-fi. It doesn’t have the overt trappings of a sci-fi film; by all indications it is set in the present or very near future. But, to quote the near-omniscient Wikipedia: “Science fiction is a genre of fiction set in a society that differs from the present because of some innovation in science or technology.” Bingo. Inception centers on a fictional technology that allows for one person to invade the dreams of another. What I really liked is the distinct absence of any purely expository scene in which the technology that allows for this is dutifully explained, solely for the benefit of the movie-going audience. The impression I got from watching the film is that this is a technology that, while not as ubiquitous as the internet is today, comes close.
However, there is a reason or two why I included the word “near” in the title of this review. Inception is not perfect, and while Nolan does a lot right, there are a few weaknesses too.
The dialogue volume needs to be turned up. Okay, this is a minor thing. I hesitate to even mention it, but where as the sounds effects and music throbbed, pulsed, boomed, and soared beautifully, I found myself straining to here the actors speaking. Again and again during the film I sat there thinking, “Wait, what did he/she just say? I didn’t hear that clearly!”
Ellen Page seems out of place. Maybe it's just me, maybe it's that I've only seen Page in Juno and Smart People, but she seems miscast here. In those other films as the wry, smart, sardonic teen, spewing angst and sarcasm with fire and wit, she shines. In Inception, she's just sort of…there. Perhaps my opinion will change with a repeated viewing, but for a character as important as hers is, her performance felt flat, especially matched up against the impressive turns given by DiCaprio, Gordon-Levitt, and Watanabe.
Nolan still has a tendency to over-emphasize morals. As much as I admire Nolan for making Inception complex, for (mostly) not spoon-feeding plot points to the audience, and ultimately for making a damn fine film that keeps the audience guessing, and my own mind churning long afterward, I have to fault him for something. Much as he did in The Dark Knight, here again a supporting character has to moralize to our hero, subtlety be damned, in bold, broad strokes. It’s a crutch he shouldn’t need, and one he needs to drop none too soon.
Christopher Nolan could easily have pushed forward making another (hopefully!) Batman blockbuster, but instead he stepped away from that franchise to make Inception. I’m certainly glad he did. I think you’ll be too.