The main maxim of big budget Hollywood filmmaking is “Make it Safe.” Don’t stray from basic storytelling tropes and structures, and don’t be too smart in case you go over the audience’s head. In the end, you want to ensure that you will get a return on your investment. Thus, the prospect of losing hundreds of millions of dollars makes a lot of mainstream films ride along in the mediocrity lane of the film freeway.
So God freakin’ bless Christopher Nolan. Estimated at $160 million, Inception is the huge-budget movie film nerds dream of, where the big money allows big ideas to fill the frame.
The story presented in the trailers revolves around a group of dream thieves who perform extraction: exploiting your subconsciousness’ relaxed state while you’re sleeping, in order to steal your secrets. When a job goes south, ring-leader Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) is offered a job that will allow him to return home to the U.S. after being exiled. Cobb and his team (Ellen Page, Ken Watanabe, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Tom Hardy, Dileep Rao) are tasked with performing inception. Extraction is common place, but inception, planting an idea within someone’s subconsciousness, is considered impossible.
That premise, however, is actually the most facile aspect of Inception. The real meat is found in Cobb’s subconscious, where memories of his deceased wife Mal (Marion Cotillard) are running amok. Wherever Cobb goes in the dream world, his untamed subconscious is attacking his colleagues and at times literally breaking through the dreamscape. As the team members fall further and further into the subconcious of their mark Robert Fischer, Jr. (Cillian Murphy), we learn more about Mal and Cobb’s tragic past.
Both premises are supported by truly inspiring special effect sequences that highlight how effects can truly support the story instead of detract from it. A scene with a dream world being drowned induces awe, a gun fight in the rain makes you want to take cover, and the now infamous hallway fight should get your salivary glands going. Save some similarity to Heat during the gun fight (which is NOT a bad thing), the action sequences retain an inspired flourish that will thrill even the most jaded action fans.
Appropriately delivering the visual punch of these sequences are the powerful sound effects. When worlds collapse, bullets fly, or Hans Zimmer’s haunting/epic score blares, you feel the punch in your chest.
For those who thought The Matrix was a complicated film, Inception goes further down the rabbit hole than Neo and Morpheus’ excursion, which leaves much to consider during your post-screening drive home. Finally, the film’s ending will lead to a permanent debate that will rival the Blade Runner Replicant discussion.
The only complaint I can deliver is that DiCaprio isn’t the best at portraying anguish*, and powerful moments are impaired by his performance and by some editing decisions that rob emotional points of their impact by slightly cutting down their breathing space. Despite this, there is still a tear waiting to fall during such scenes. Cobb’s love for his wife, his desire to see his children again, and the guilt and tragedy that surround Cobb, all find their places within your own heart.
If you enumerate the aforementioned items–quality acting, smart story, palpable drama with action that matches the emotional heights (but doesn’t overshadow them)–Inception is damn near a perfect film. Nolan decided to bring us a summer blockbuster wallowing in the depths of subconsciousness and coming to terms with the death of not only the one we love, but the damaging memories of that loved one. For this, I not only want to see the film as many times as possible in cinemas, but want to personally thank Christopher Nolan for his work. There is so much love and so much power to the film, and it comes through at every level.
There are many reasons to see this film twice, but the main one is the act of rediscovery. During your first viewing of the film you’re seeing the world from the perspective of new architect Ariadne (Ellen Page). You have no idea what’s going on and when Cobb’s subconscious crops up you’re not really sure of its relevance. On your second outing you’re watching the film through Cobb’s eyes: you know what memories are tied to the appearing subconscious elements, which brings a whole new viewing experience.
What I’m struggling to describe is the all-encompassing uniqueness of Inception. The story is fresh, the drama isn’t grounded in clichés, the special effects (especially the practical pieces) are eye-gasm inducers. Inception is an inspiring drama, sci-fi, action, heist film, destined to become a classic next to Children of Men and possibly Blade Runner. Inception is why we have movie theatres: huge screens and booming speakers display an amazing story your home theatre system cannot rival. The film and its dramatic score won’t let you shrug it off as “just a movie.” If you only have $10 to see one movie this summer, you NEED to see Inception.
* I like to call him Scowly McScowlerson, who lives on Furrowed Brow Way.