Inception will be a film that will be considered like no other by many. At its core, it deals with the notion of entering someone’s dreams. Sharing their dream. Implanting an idea into someone’s mind by literally going into it. It’s a heist movie where the prize exists in someone’s subconscious, populated by - occasionally aggressive - “projections”. Sounds like something Phillip K. Dick would conjure up, and certainly not something that is found in a blockbuster too often without seeming overly corny. The fact that Inception doesn’t feel that way can be attributed to director Christopher Nolan’s extremely solid and original script, and the unique aura that carries it. Complex is one word to describe the film, but then so is action and emotion. Though it doesn’t quite reach its desired effect with the latter. Either way, it is a movie that deserves you to enter it with as little expectations or knowledge as possible. Suffice to say, there will be no synopsis from me and definitely no spoilers, but perhaps wait until you see it before you read this.
Theories already abound the internet about the nature of the story. Is it all a dream? There are various hints that support various theories, but in the end, the real appreciation of the film for me is what Nolan has achieved as director. A scene towards the end is done in a such way that endless debate is a given, let alone the desire to re-visit the film and delve deeper into what it all means. This is a man who respects what an audience deserves. Like his films, The Prestige and Memento, Nolan has once again altered the literal act of making a film, to create another truly unique experience. Everything about Inception’s construction is reminiscent of a dream itself, and further proof that Nolan prefers to invent his own rules when it comes to his approach to direction. So-called dream logic is the main guideline here. That logic, as explained to the audience within the film, is employed in several subtle ways throughout. For example, some may claim that us entering scenes with no real illustration of how we got there is a possible flaw of the screenplay. But this is the film operating in the dream logic, the very same that is explained to Ariadne, ’The Architect’ (Ellen Page), by Cobb (DiCaprio). There are other examples including an intriguing chase in Mumbai early on. What all this reveals at least is that Nolan is constantly working beyond the surface and tempts us several times to delve deeper with him. Amazingly, purely on the surface, it is still a very solid, intelligent action film as well. Something that makes it feel like an almost futuristic Bond film at times. Something Nolan has acknowledged as an influence. It can, and should appeal to everybody.
Unfortunately, it was probably inevitable that given the complexity of the narrative, and the no doubt mega-tough shooting schedule, clunky moments would exist, preventing the film from earning any ‘perfect’ tags. However, it is namely in some of the more generic action choreography. A snow covered ambush by Cobb’s crew for example comes off as straight-to-video hurriedness at times, though this may be the fault of a second unit on the film. It's overall relentless pace helps you forget such minor quarrels however. This is 140+ minutes that felt almost half that for me. Nolan’s last effort, The Dark Knight, suffered from being overdrawn in its final act. Here, Inception does not overstay its welcome in that regard. Constantly moving, adding layers and bewildering us with glorious cinematography, catching one’s breath is not easy when the final act’s ball starts rolling.
So under all its psychoanalysing weight, does Nolan’s film topple like the integral 'totem' seen in the film? Well, no, but casual film goers should be forgiven if they happen to lose their way in the second half. Descending through level upon level of dreams within dreams and various states of limbo, all within it’s own time frame that naturally varies to ‘real time‘, which we are also cutting to as a lot of the action is going on, can easily become a delirious overload if you’re not fully tuned in from the very beginning. The balance of the films sci-fi branded story however, and it’s instant satisfaction of blockbuster action - including a mind boggling ‘how did they do it?’ moment involving a fight in a hotel corridor at virtual zero gravity, is one of it’s greatest strengths. One that may turn blockbuster expectations on its head now that it has finally made its mark on the film going public after so much expectation. Wait, didn’t he do that with TDK already?
Most of the characters besides our central figure, Dom Cobb, serve their purpose, but we are not really given a chance to invest in them overly. Then maybe that is the point. Our focus is on Cobb and all the emotion is based around him. Leonardo DiCaprio, as Cobb, gives a strong performance, especially considering it follows his extremely impressive turn in Shutter Island. Unfortunately, his emotional journey didn’t resonate enough, and as we go deeper and deeper into his troubled past, the pay off had me more predictably satisfied than moved. The rest of the cast featuring Ken Watanabe, Marion Cotillard, Cillain Murphy, Ellen Page and Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Cobb’s off-sider, Arthur are solid. The latter being the pick of the bunch. Tom Hardy as ’The Forger’ provides some nicely placed wit that may surprise some, but the film benefits from having an off beat sense of humour trailing through it. In addition, seeing Tom Berenger, albeit briefly, up on the big screen again, was welcome.
Overall, Inception is an exhilarating experience. One that stays with you long afterwards - like all good films should. To not embrace it, at least as an example of a director looking to try to push the envelope (both in narrative and indeed, mechanics of film structure), is possibly missing the film’s (and its creators') overall vision. Cliché and archetypes may still exist in Nolan’s world - unavoidable when trying to please everybody, but this does not erase the fact that he remains a director looking to redefine what can be considered mainstream movie entertainment. Whether he has achieved that with Inception is of course, all about personal preference, because no one person’s opinion is neither right or wrong. I'm just glad it is here, to be experienced.