Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Inception

I honestly can’t remember the last time I saw a movie in the theater twice on its opening weekend.  I hadn’t planned on seeing Inception again so shortly after my initial viewing, but the film demanded it.  I didn’t go back in an angry effort to grasp specific plot points, though I did have a few lingering questions.  I returned to the cinema to have a second experience - to feel the excitement and depth of Christopher Nolan’s vision wash over me once more.  The complexity of the story will frustrate some, but for those who value mind-stretching entertainment, Inception is nothing short of miraculous.

Leonardo DiCaprio plays Cobb, a skilled thief who specializes in Extraction: the stealing of information from someone’s mind.  Once the subject is asleep, Cobb uses a machine to enter the subject’s subconscious and extract the sensitive information.  Because of his criminal record, Cobb can’t return to the United States to be with his children, but a mysterious businessman named Saito (Ken Watanabe) offers Cobb a chance for redemption.  Saito has the power to wash Cobb’s slate clean, but only if Cobb can pull off the impossible: Inception, which involves the planting of information.  Instead of stealing an idea from the subject’s mind, Cobb has to plant one so that when the subject awakes, he will believe the idea to genuinely be his.

Inception has many elements of the heist/caper genre but puts new twists on all of them.  Even the film’s broadest plot summary contains a new idea: a team of thieves devises an elaborate plot to break into a safe and put something in it.  The basics of the plot aren’t too complex, but the details have phenomenal depth.  What makes Inception such a brilliant script is the way Nolan guides you through the labyrinth.  After seeing the film, you couldn’t explain the full plot to someone in a way that would make sense, but it does make sense to you while you’re watching it.

The longer you ponder the specifics afterwards, the more questions you’ll have, but again, Nolan strikes a remarkable balance by weaving a story that is deep and intriguing but not abstract or frustrating.  This film won’t agitate audiences in the same way as David Lynch’s movies (I personally love Lynch’s movies, but I sympathize with those who don’t); with Inception, you can sense that the answers really are there if you take the time to look for them.  I think most viewers will want to unravel the mystery, as it’s such a fascinating story.  I couldn’t think or talk about much else for days after seeing it, which means that Christopher Nolan successfully planted a few ideas in my head.

As far as action sequences go, Inception features some show-stoppers.  Inside of a dream, almost anything goes, and most of the dream sequences left me breathlessly wondering how they were even filmed.  The grandest of all comes when the dreamers’ physical bodies are asleep in the back of a moving van, but in the dream, they’re in a hotel.  When the van breaks through a guardrail and rolls down a hill, the gravity in the hotel shifts as if the entire building were rolling.  Two men battle their way around the walls, floor, and ceiling of a hotel hallway as their unconscious bodies lie in the rolling van. Scene after scene, Inception soars on the wings of the new, providing that special thrill that only comes with something you’ve never seen before.

DiCaprio turns in a solid performance, proving himself yet again to be one of the finest actors of his generation. While the entire ensemble delivers, the most notable performances come from Tom Hardy as Eames, the Forger who can alter his appearance within dreams, Ellen Page (Juno) as Ariadne, the Architect who designs the physical layouts of the dreams, and Marion Cotillard (La Vie en Rose) as Mal, the memory of Cobb’s wife who haunts him at every turn. Not a single performance comes up short, which reflects not only on the talent of the cast but on the quality of Nolan’s writing and direction; he brings out the best in his actors.

Inception’s final moments will live on forever in the annals of classic endings, inspiring eternal discussion and debate. I’ll dare not describe the ending here, but even if I did, it wouldn’t make any sense out of context. It’s the perfect light at the end of a 148-minute maze, and it leaves just enough open to interpretation. When the credits rolled the second time, I had a different take on the story than when I first saw it. My opinion of the ending shifts depending on what mood I’m in, but having thought through all the complex details more than once, I can’t find a problem with either interpretation of the ending. That’s part of what makes this vast structure so remarkable; I’ve thought about it for days, and I can’t find a single flaw in it.

Inception is Nolan’s first film since The Dark Knight, one of the most successful films of all time, and I admire how he chose to follow up his greatest box office success with such a rich, challenging project. Inception has a lot in common with Nolan’s original masterpiece, Memento (2000). Both films use unconventional storytelling (half of Memento unfolds in reverse order) to address the battle between reality and self-deception. How do we know what we know, and what do we ultimately value the most: truth or our own happiness? Not since The Matrix (1999) has a film so masterfully blended action and philosophy, but while the two films may share some common themes, Inception is very much its own experience. Many are calling Inception Christopher Nolan’s masterpiece, though multiple films could be nominated in that category. For years, I referred to Christopher Nolan as “the guy who made Memento.” Most moviegoers know him as “the guy who made Batman Begins and The Dark Knight,” but after this, many will know him as “the guy who made Inception.” Honestly, the name of Christopher Nolan deserves to be a household name, because he’s made some of the greatest films of the last decade. He first amazed me ten years ago with Memento, one of the most perfect thrillers I’ve ever seen; Inception is another.


Click here to view the trailer.


For the Parents:

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sequences of violence and action throughout.

Inception doesn’t get too graphic in its action or violence, but it does deal with very mature themes, including suicide. The biggest issue for younger viewers would be pure confusion; most kids would have no idea what was going on. Heck, many parents won’t know what’s going on. Given the darkness and complexity of the story, I definitely wouldn’t recommend Inception for preteens, and teenagers should be prepared to put their thinking caps on and pay attention.

2 comments:

  1. Dee's reviews are the only ones I ever consider. If I want to see a movie and someone else says i shouldnt see it because it sucked, I tell them to kiss my butt. If you say it sucked (paraphrase, you don't use that language) then I think twice. I only read the first line or two of this review though. I want to see inception sooo bad and I was afraid of any kind of spoiler. If you didn't like it then you can... Well, you know. :)

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  2. Great review, Dee! Your words echoed several things I said to David on the way home. My favorite part was the experience of it all. As you said, each "level" in the story drew me in to feel that I understood and accepted what was going on, which put me "in the skin" of the characters. I could debate easily 2 different options on the ending effectively. I whole heartedly agree with your conclusions about that! Joan

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