“Inception” is one of the most cerebral, kick-ass, poignant blockbusters you will ever see. Period.


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.

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8 responses to ““Inception” is one of the most cerebral, kick-ass, poignant blockbusters you will ever see. Period.

  1. SPOILER ALERT!

    How come, if Leo and Juno went down to limbo to find Scarecrow before Katsumoto died, Katsumoto was way forever older than Leo?

    WTF mate? Fucking dreams. How do they work?

  2. Warning: this post will almost certainly contain spoilers!

    Well, I must say, I’m a tad surprised at how much differently I feel about this movie, compared to most of the folks I know who loved it.

    I agree that Christopher Nolan generally avoids some of the typical problems associated with most big-budget blockbusters. The problem is, I don’t think this means that he is in any way avoiding mediocrity.

    Yes, there were a few scenes that were awe-inspiring, visually. Almost every one was CGI, of course. It seems to me that much is being made of the rotating hallway fight sequence, with specific praise being given due to the scene’s lack of computer-generated trickery. I will admit that the visuals during the sequence are impressive and moreover that the IDEA for the scene is genius. But I must point out that perhaps the only reason Nolan was able to pull the whole scene off with only “practical” effects is because he all-too-obviously relied on shaky blurry camera work. Here I must come clean and admit that I’m one of those obnoxious movie viewers who finds the MTV-strategy of shake-n-blur to be hopelessly amateurish, and I don’t know why we keep rewarding filmmakers who rely on it… But I digress.

    Back to the visuals: combined with my lack of enthusiasm for the cinematography during the lauded hallway fight, I additionally find it puzzling that some viewers take it as an opportunity to praise the movie’s non-CGI elements. I don’t get why we should congratulate a movie for the few moments it avoided CGI when, let’s be honest, the movie is wholly dependent on it. Without CGI, Inception doesn’t exist. I think the movie is so dependent on CGI that it would’ve been literally impossible to make, just 5-10 years ago.

    Switching from visuals to story… I find myself seriously hesitant to call the film’s premise or plot intelligent or cerebral, considering how little effort is spent on making the protagonists’ method of dream-hacking believable. Simply showing a montage of the characters playing with cardboard models, and then relying on the bare presence of a suitcase and vague IV lines? I have to call bullshit. Constructing a toy city and pushing the squishy button in the fancy case is completely insufficient as believable execution of the story’s science fiction aspects.

    Big interesting crazy idea + sloppy or nonexistent support for how the idea works = no thumbs up from me.

    I almost forgot something. What the hell was up with the tundra sequence? It’s like the movie just tumbled out of control. In my book, super-awesome movies don’t usually include nonsensical ski chases that have been edited so as to defy comprehension, nor do they include dozens and dozens of nameless faceless badguys with machine guns that seem to miss 99% of their shots. It’s cliché in the worst way, don’t you think? Made me wonder if Christopher Nolan was thinking to himself, and perhaps said “Hmmmm, this is a pretty huge movie… Maybe I should throw in an old-fashioned 007 action sequence, or something like they did towards the end of Die Hard 2… It will be an out of control train wreck, but this late in the movie I’ll have arbitrarily jumped the characters into yet another shared dream and the audience will accept any crazy shit I throw at them.”

    Speaking of clichés, here I also take the dissenting view. Even the action sequences only mostly avoided cliché — I say mostly because I was perturbed, to say the least, at having to sit through yet another car chase where smaller faster cars armed with machine guns can, for tens of minutes, fail to stop the big lumbering target vehicle, let alone cause one smidgen of harm to any of its occupants. This, all the way up to and including a terrible roll down a rocky hill that not only leaves every character without so much as a bruise, but also finds the van to still be in perfect working condition. I’ve a sneaking suspicion that even Nolan himself knew that it had gotten patently ridiculous, considering that he has the van driver call attention to it.

    Furthermore, I felt that the drama was explicitly tied to cliché after cliché: he just wants to get back to his family; he’s innocent of the crime he’s accused of; if he can just do this one last job; big scheming corporate espionage; will the new girl be able to resist the allure of the secretive people she’s met and their miraculous technology? I found these elements and others to be entirely derivative, and I thought the script itself was baldly cliché in several places. Not the least of which occurs when Gordon-Levitt’s character gets to easily shove the bad guy off the stairs while delivering the expected one-liner of…..”Paradox!” Unbelievable.

    Anyway, speaking of Joseph Gordon-Levitt, I thought he was far-and-away the best thing about the movie. I love him in a serious role, and look forward to him further escaping his “Third Rock From The Sun” reputation. So, speaking of the performances, and Mr. Scowly McScowlerson from Furrowed Brow Way, I am of the opinion that anything lacking in said performances is a consequence of a script that doesn’t give the actors much room to impress. DiCaprio has had many detractors over the years, and I don’t think Nolan’s lines and direction give him any help here, but he’s the kind of actor that has proven repeatedly how great he can be when given a perfect roll, a taut script, and a great director (I’m thinking of The Departed).

    To address the ending, I guess I’ll just confess that I don’t see why people find it terribly hard to decide about. The movie telegraphs its dream-within-a-dream “twist” during the first reel. The main character admits, without being pressed, that he’s breaking his own rule about how to tell if you’re stuck in a dream by using a totem that isn’t his own! These things and others, combined with a neat-and-tidy stuck on fast-forward conclusion make it glaringly obvious, in my mind, that the entire movie is Cobb’s dream. I see little room for debate – the movie leaves us absolutely no good reason to argue that Cobb is actually home.

    For my money, all of the points above add up to this: I’m with the last three critics (Edelstein, Reed, Scott) mentioned in the Reception rundown of the Wikipedia article. In my opinion, Christopher Nolan is much more appropriately compared to the likes of Michael Bay than he is to Alfonso Cuarón or Ridley Scott.

  3. (not sure what I did wrong with the link in my second-to-last sentence, so here you go…)

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inception_%28film%29#Reception

  4. Pingback: The Filmsmith’s Best of 2010 | The Filmsmith

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