Sunday, July 18, 2010

Film review: Inception

Writer/director: Christopher Nolan
Producer: Emma Thomas, Christopher Nolan
Cast : Leonardo DiCaprio, Ellen Page, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Cillian Murphy, Marion Cotillard, Ken Watanabe, Michael Caine, Tom Hardy, Dileep Rao, Tom Berenger, Pete Postlethwaite, Lukas Haas
Sci-fi action-thriller, PG-13
2 hours 28 minutes

It was all a dream.

For decades, this has been the lamest way to end a story. What may have been original ages past became had become a silly cliché. But with one brilliant stroke, writer/director Christopher Nolan has found a way with his latest film Inception to take the tired subject of dreams and create a work of breathtaking originality.

Undoubtedly, not everyone will agree. There has already been a vocal backlash to Inception and some critics have responded very negatively to it, at least initially. This is to be expected and almost proves its ingeniousness, since many daring works are polarizing and will lose people along the way. They may require revisiting to better appreciate it. But for those willing to go along with the ride, it's an intriguing and enjoyable journey.

For this type of film, the less you know before seeing it, the better. All you need to know really is that it's on the long side at two-and-a-half hours and that it's about a dream-thief named Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) who can steal people's ideas in their dream state.

After you see it, if you like it then you'll love it and you'll want to see it again. There is a lot going on here, and lots worth exploring if you're so inclined. It's a very smart movie that will have you asking a lot of questions. Cinema Blend has a good page where they've tried to answer a good number of them. It's definitely worth checking out, but only after you've seen the film.

I think a certain ambiguity is part of the enjoyment and appeal. As with Total Recall, you can't be quite sure where you are and it works with varying explanations. The layered approach to dreams reminds me of reading Wuthering Heights and the layered approach that Emily Brontë took with the narration - the narrator tells stories of people telling stories about others telling stories and so forth. You end up being somewhat intentionally confused and uncertain about the veracity of the information.

Nolan did a fine job with the script, too. He maintains the logic of his premise quite rigourously. He thoughtfully works in some of the themes into the plot, the set design (notice the chess pattern in this picture) and the names of the characters. Ariadne (Ellen Page) is of course the woman in Greek mythology who provides the thread to Theseus so he can find his way out of the Labyrinth after slaying the Minotaur. Robert Fischer Jr. (Cillian Murphy) is named for the brilliant chess champion Bobby Fischer, while his father Maurice Fischer (Pete Postlethwaite) has a name reminiscent of M.C. Escher (Maurits Cornelis Escher). Mal (Marion Cotillard) literally means bad or evil in Latin, while Dom (Leonardo DiCaprio) suggests Dominus, i.e. god.

My only complaint with the film would be the constant yet uninspired music of Hans Zimmer. Otherwise, the film could hardly be improved. It manages to take some heady ideas and make them engrossing and dramatic. You can safely ignore the naysayers who dismiss Inception as a ripoff of The Matrix, Dark City or other such predecessors, as if those films were created in a vacuum. This film stands alone, and is without a doubt one of the best films of the year. It is a wondrous shared dream between Nolan and us viewers in the audience.


  1. I agree. I too wrote in my review that the less one knows going in the better and that paying attention is absolutely necessary.

  2. Inception did not do it for me. Much ado about... not much. I found it exceedingly long, particularly during the James Bond-like snow fortress battle scene in the third act. The 4 seconds it might have taken that van to plummet off the bridge... that was like 45 minutes of movie. Too much!

    I subscribe to some of Jim Emerson's thoughts on the film:

    Note: I had read your review before seeing the film, and so was disappointed that it didn't live up to expectations.

  3. I'm sorry you didn't like it, but most people who are seeing it now are coming away disappointed. I'll do a post soon about how hype kills a viewer's enjoyment. This is true even for the critics, which A.O. Scott discussed

    But it's an excellent film, and worth seeing again. I think Emerson missed the boat entirely by reviewing the movie he wanted to see rather than the one he did see. Making the movie "dreamier" would have been wrong. It would not have suited the story line about dream thieves or the movie as a whole. We wouldn't be having any debate about what is real and what is dream world since it would be obvious. If Nolan had listened to Emerson, the movie would not be better, only different and much, much worse.

  4. This is the first i hear of Wuthering Heights. I will definetly try it out. I really loved the movie and if the book is narrating in a similar way i won't miss out on that, thanks! :)