D/W: Christopher Nolan. DP: Wally Pfister. Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio/Joseph Gordon-Levitt/Ellen Page/Ken Watanabe/Tom Hardy/Cillian Murphy/Marion Cotillard/Tom Berenger/Michael Caine/Pete Postlethwaite/Lucas Hass/Dileep Rao.
Since its release, Nolan’s Inception has generated massive amounts of money and captivated audiences time in the theaters. However, most of all, the film has birthed discussions, theories, and endless blog posts about what exactly it all means.
Here are the basics. Inception is the story about a job and getting this job finished, with the added benefit of helping out a character in his personal predicament if the job is finished successfully. Inception is also the story about the word that is its title. Meaning the beginning, the onset or the source, in the film ‘inception’ is known as the act of placing, building or planting the core of an idea into someone else’s mind. Oh, but wait, Inception is also a story about dreams, dreams as a psychological reality that can be entered, manipulated, and lived in. So as you can see Inception is a lot of things.
At the center of all of these stories though, is Cobb (DiCaprio), who makes his living breaking into other peoples’ dreams to steal secrets or supplant ideas. His right hand man is Arthur (Gordon-Levitt) who dreams the dream that is the setting for DiCaprio’s thievery and therefore attempts to keep it secure. Lastly, there is the architect. In the film, Page’s Ariadne is recruited for this new high stakes inception job. As rather than stealing ideas, this team must plant one. Both Page and Gordon-Levitt are great here, especially as their characters have little development as the plot focuses on the job and its completion. But Gordon-Levitt outshines Page at moments whose youth and mousy-ness somehow work against her delivery.
DiCaprio is his usual self here, which is probably why Nolan hired him and considered him his first choice (see Shutter Island for Cobb basics). He commands his leadership, but knows where to build vulnerable spots to humanize his character and illustrate the emotional fracturing he is passing through. This derailment is being caused by DiCaprio’s attempt at keeping alive the memory and spirit of his dead wife Mal played by Marion Cotillard. Trapped yet dangerous, Cotillard breaks into DiCaprio’s subconscious and destroys his own heist. Forcing DiCaprio to never be the dreamer on a job, Cotillard does well to ground the psychological warfare in the reality that there are consequences to dreams, going too many layers deep, and even, inception.
But mostly what is an overwhelming success here is Nolan. With a script that moves, never allows you to feel the two and a half hours you are sitting, and seeks to push the visual world afforded by the cinema. Some have already said that his visuals distract from his lack of character development, but rather I would say the film and its characters are so obsessed with completing their three layer job, it does not matter. These characters have met to complete a job, and move on, their development is superfluous. And Nolan surely gives us enough about Cobb to understand his crazed determination over the project. Of course Nolan’s visual template is the thing of dreams here, literally and metaphorically, he tests audiences grasp of story, concept, and limits of reality. He most surely has does his own act of inception.
However, by all means, Inception is not perfect. Its main actors are surrounded by excellent supporting ones, but a couple have literally nothing to do (um, Michael Caine?). Some audiences will become lost with its pace and they might not understand the concepts until they actually go home to think about it. Also, Nolan’s vision of the mind and dreams is a very rule-bound limited one, there isn’t any room for crazy or delirium. This lack of crazy also limits the film to one more about visuals, perceptions rather than mysteries. In a commercial world Nolan feels fresh, maybe even visionary, but against history how does he stand? What exactly are the metaphors reflected in Inception? Other blogs says its a commentary on the film business, with each character a projection of the creative process, and some say DiCaprio is asleep the whole time with the film itself being an alternate reality or dream. But what do you think?
Mostly Inception will be memorable as it doesn’t tell you what is real or not at the end, but lets you dream about. Which is precisely why we should all go see it again and test our theories.
(PS. I nearly felt done with this piece then remembered I never mentioned Hans Zimmer’s score. It’s gorgeous, sprawling and pronounces again and again why film scoring is so important and under appreciated. There, I’m done!)