#56 Inception

(2010, Christopher Nolan)

“Once an idea has taken hold of the brain it’s almost impossible to eradicate”

When we last saw Leonardo DiCaprio here on this blog, he was set adrift in the icy cold waters of the north Atlantic following the sinking of the Titanic. By complete coincidence, Inception starts with DiCaprio washing up on a beach.

For those who don’t remember, Titanic was a historical re-telling of the sinking of the titular “unsinkable” ship back in April 1912. A woman named Rose relates a tale of her experience on the ill-fated vessel, a tale of doomed romance as Rose tries to shake off the shackles of upper class society and escape from her unwanted fiancé when she meets a rogue traveller named Jack, who was played by Leonardo DiCaprio.

DiCaprio returns here in Inception as Cobb, a master of a technique known as extraction, a technique designed to remove ideas from someone’s head by infiltrating their dreams. At the beginning of the movie, we find that Cobb’s latest assignment has failed, but the subject of the extraction (a man named Saito, played by Ken Watanabe) approaches him instead with a new mission: plant an idea in someone’s head, AKA the titular “inception”.

Aiding him is a ragtag team consisting of his sidekick Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), forger Eames (Tom Hardy), newly-recruited “architect” Ariadne (Ellen Page) and chemist Yusuf (Dildeep Rao). The plan is to convince Robert Fischer (Cillian Murphy) not to take over his dying father’s business, meaning they can’t gain a monopoly on the market. However, in entering the subconscious world, Cobb brings along some emotional baggage of his own in the form of his ex-wife Mal (Marion Cotillard), whose presence threatens the entire team.

Much like the last Christopher Nolan movie we looked at, Inception is an intricate web of storytelling and can be kind of confusing to follow. If you remember, Memento was about a man named Leonard Shelby who had a condition known as anterograde amnesia, which prevented him from forming new memories, but he had conditioned himself to remember things using Polaroid photos and notes. He was on a mission to kill the man who killed his wife, and the whole film ran backwards. Well, this is similar, in the sense that there’s a concept of a dream-within-a-dream, which happens on multiple levels. In essence, we end up with a plot that consists of three small plots intertwined and happening simultaneously with the same characters. Following this? No? Don’t worry, it takes some time to get used to.

The way everything is constructed is fantastic. The film itself feels very dream-like, with scenes skipping through to the important action and rarely showing how characters get where they need to be. In fact, early on it’s hard to keep track of exactly where the characters are, but in a good way. And at the end, it’s easy to feel disorientated, not unlike the feeling of waking up from a very strange dream. However, where it differs from a dream is in the fact that it all adds up and makes sense in the end, where such a tangled mesh of subplots could have fallen down dramatically. Everything relates to something else somewhere in the film, and even some of the more confusing concepts have a consistent logic of their own.

In addition to its clever plotting, the special effects really bring the dream-like feeling to life. Paris folds in half, a hallway spins and rotates as gravity does strange things due to outside interference, and buildings explode and crumble around characters. Even more impressive is that very little of this was achieved with CGI, which makes it all the more effective since what we’re seeing is essentially “real”, fulfilling the dream-like illusion.

The movie is also a non-stop thrill ride. It hits the ground running as soon as it begins, and doesn’t stop. It doesn’t wait for us to catch up, we need to follow along as best as we can. This sounds like a criticism but it isn’t. By not explaining the method of actually getting into someone else’s dream, for example, we’re not tied up in too much waiting around for the movie to finish its explanation. We learn as the movie progresses, and it keeps the movie fresh and exciting.

There is one criticism though. Aside from Cobb and his relationship with his wife, the characters are severely underdeveloped. We barely know anything about Arthur, Ariadne, Yusuf or Eames, and all we know about Saito and Fischer is that they’re in charge of large rival corporations. It’s slightly disappointing, and even the dreamlike state the movie exists in fails to justify this lack of characterisation, and a little more depth on this front may have improved the movie. It’s entertaining, sure, but it’s hard to connect with much of the cast.

However, Nolan has produced a fantastic piece of work here. It’s clearly a labour of love for him, and his enthusiasm pays off in producing a stunning blockbuster movie that isn’t afraid to use its brain.

Starring Leonardo Dicaprio, Ken Watanabe, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Marion Cotillard, Ellen Page, Tom Hardy, Cillian Murphy, Tom Berenger & Michael Caine
Written by Christopher Nolan
Produced by Emma Thomas & Christopher Nolan
Music score by Hans Zimmer
Cinematography by Wally Pfister
Edited by Lee Smith

Favourite Scene: The entire hotel sequence is hugely entertaining and clever, even if it does frequently pop up in the Inception meme.
Scene That Bugged Me: Nolan, why did you do that to us right at the end? WHY?!

Watch it if: You want to go deeper
Avoid it if: You’ve come just for some action. Prepare to be confused

Originally posted Tuesday 14 February 2012

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Posted on April 14, 2012, in 2000s, Action and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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