Movie review – Inception

Inception PosterI think I love Christopher Nolan a little bit. He’s made some of my favourite movies of all time – Memento, Insomnia, Batman Begins, The Prestige, The Dark Knight. I am constantly going on about the homogenous rubbish coming out of Hollywood and lamenting that there are no clever, interesting, new stories being made into film. That’s not just because I have two novels out that would make awesome films. Incidentally, I’d give a testicle if Christopher Nolan would make my books into films, but that’s digressing and probably letting go a little too much information. But I go on about how Hollywood needs to take chances with films, trust their audience’s intelligence and challenge us with quality storytelling, not just impressive visuals on the story equivalent of See Spot Run. All of Nolan’s films above are clever, challenging movies.

Inception tops them all. It’s incredibly beautiful, using the medium of film perfectly to tell a story that is deep, complex and intellectually stimulating. And audiences clearly love it. At the time of writing imdb has it at 9.2/10 and Rotten Tomatoes at 87%. That’s some going, especially with today’s hyper-critical filmgoers.

And yet, the basic premise of the movie is not especially convulted. It’s a heist movie. I love a good blag caper, with someone assembling a team, getting the people he needs together with their special skillsets and their cool names like The Architect, The Forger and The Chemist. Except this is a heist of the mind.

The film centers on Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio), an extractor, who enters the dreams of others to obtain information while their subconscious is vulnerable to his skills. His job has cost him his family and his country, but he is given a chance at redemption if he can be successful in planting an idea in a corporate target’s mind, instead of taking one out. Known as inception, this is far more difficult and dangerous than extraction. And so we have a reverse heist of the mind. Cobb needs to assemble a team capable of putting something into the tightest vault of all.

So, accepting that the technology and methodology for the heist exists, the principle idea is fairly simple. It’s the execution in terms of story, film-making and acting that is simply outstanding. There are amazing performances all round. Leonardo DiCaprio is still playing the same character from Shutter Island in some ways, but with a different twist. His performance is brilliant. Surely, between Inception and Shutter Island, he must be venturing into Oscar territory soon. The ensemble cast are all exemplary, but Tom Hardy as Eames was a standout for me and deserves a special mention. As does Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Arthur, especially for his zero-g fighting.

Inception DreamInception was written, produced and directed by Nolan, a truly amazing achievement. He originally pitched the idea in 2001 or 2002 and the studio liked it, so he went away to write a final treatment. He kept working until he was happy with it – which took eight years. And it shows. The story is largely flawless. A few conveniences keep the plot moving, but nothing that took me out of the picture. It’s so bloody clever, and Nolan’s use of the device of dreaming is inspired. I know I’m gushing a bit, but this is finally a film worthy of our adoration.

And it was spectacular to watch. Avatar was spectacular to watch, a beautiful visual feast, but the story was painting by numbers. A three year old could have written it. And the beauty of the film was almost entirely special effects. Nolan excels for using reality.

His story, as I’ve already said, is excellent and intellectually engaging. It’s also a story that uses the medium of film perfectly. This would be a great book, but it’s a fantastic film. Every sequence has a balletic, dream-like quality, even when they’re not dreaming. The visual devices of dreams within dreams, the bending of reality in the subjects’ minds, is inspired. Yet Nolan insists on avoiding CGI as much as possible. This movie had less special effects shots than his Batman films. His use of in-camera effects and stunts is sometimes breath-taking. And you can tell it’s happening. If you watch for it, you can see that there’s a distinct lack of CGI in a film that would usually, these days, be blithering in post-production.

Nolan has made a film here about the nature of shared dreaming and how that might be used or abused. At the end of the film, as the lights came up, I looked around the theatre. I was stunned and peoples’ faces all around me were equally blown away. We’d all just shared Nolan’s dream and we were better for it.

Now, where’s my totem? I need to make sure I’ve actually woken up.

(And Mr Nolan, sir, please option my books next!)

EDIT: I’d love to hear your comments, so please leave your thoughts below, but BEWARE – there are spoilers in the comments section!

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11 thoughts on “Movie review – Inception

  1. When can we open the floor to a spoiler section? There’s still a few bits I need to nut out. It’s always a sign of a good film where people talk about paying to see it twice.

  2. Let’s open these comments to spoilers – I’m happy to discuss. I’ve added an edit to the post above that there are spoilers in the comments.

  3. I agree this story would make a good book, but the film is exceptional. Nolan’s work shines. I like how it is clever and engaging without being difficult. The zero-g fight choreography is beautiful. Great art throughout. My favorite movie is Memento, but Inception just might beat it.

    Nice review, Alan.

  4. Ok a couple of questions and SPOILERS incoming:

    Really, spoilers beginning.

    1. Awake or asleep at the end? I didn’t think the kids looked any older than he remembered, and they sounded much older on the phone, but in the credits there were separate actors for one kid aged 3 and 5, and the other aged 20 months and 3, so maybe they were older and I’m just a terrible judge of things.

    2. Where did Leo get his little spinny totem from in the waking world? He discovered it in his limbo world, but it never covered him managing to find it as well while he was awake, in which case was the whole thing in a dream?

    3. I’ve heard bits and pieces about when he spins his top in the chemist’s and it falls off the bench, that that’s the point after which he didn’t wake up, but I’d have to go back and watch it again for this. Any thoughts?

  5. 1. Hard to call. I agree about the kids, but I could be a bad judge too. Also, Michael Caine was in France originally, then turned up to collect Cobb in America. He could have been told about the job, but not that we know.

    2. Good question. But it could have been on her body or somewhere in their place.

    3. I’d have to see it again for that bit – I can’t remember for sure. Although the whole bit around his first visit to the chemist does leave a few gaps open.

  6. Spoilers:

    (2) The story implies that Cobb took the totem after their shared dream.

    (1) The kids threw me off a little, too. Cobb’s wife tries to make the point that their kids are part of the dream they’re still stuck in. If she’s right then that would mean the entire movie is a dream, which for many, feels like a sham.

    Or unable to return to his children is a ‘dream’ given the dialogue about Cobb running around doing these jobs could be a dream. The final job could have been created in order to implant the idea in Cobb that he needs to get back to reality, to his real children. One could also argue that Cobb is avoiding his children due to having trouble coping with reality, having doubts, unable to let his wife go, which The Architect helps him with.

    Or go with simplest explanation: everything is as it appears from Cobb’s perspective (assume someone contacted Caine’s character about the flight.)

    At the end, the spinner totem wobbles as if it’s about to fall, but most important is that Cobb doesn’t care to see the result. Cobb knows he’s home.

  7. 2 – That was my impression too.

    1 – I agree that Cobb decided to not check the totem because he doesn’t want to know if he’s still dreaming. Whether he is or not is another matter entirely.

  8. Ok, I finally saw it last night, so it’s still pretty fresh in my mind. I can clarify a couple of things mentioned above, but don’t think I’m gonna actually answer anything!

    1) There’s a point where Cobb is talking to his kids on the phone and he says he’s going to send a gift over with Grandpa (Michael Caine). This explains him already being in the US when Cobb arrives and we just need to assume that someone told him what flight Cobb would be arriving on.

    2) The Kids – difficult one, but given his wife’s belief that her world is a dream (even the real world), she is convinced that their kids are also part of that dream and she say’s so. This is her psychosis, caused by Cobb. It may make us doubt whether he’s in the real world at the end, but you have to assume he is otherwise we end up with the disappointing “it was all a dream” ending.

    3) Totems – I am certain that at no point do they say that the Totems are for making sure you are awake. I’m pretty sure that what is said is that a Totem is so you know whether you are in someone else’s dream as it’s a detail they would never be able to recreate exactly. I know this implies that it would let you know you were awake, but it doesn’t because if it was YOUR dream the Totem should be accurate. There’s a whole load of questions about the effectiveness of Totems and how they work because in effect they are all in someone else’s dream – the Architect’s. Maybe the wobble we see in Cobb’s Totem at the end is what the real totem should do and we’ve only ever seen it in dreams in the rest of the movie. Cobb spins his Totem a lot and maybe the fact that it never wobbles is his reminder that he’s in a dream. Of all of them, he’s the one that needs reminding of this most frequently.

    Oh, it definitely needs another watch now!

  9. 1. That’s an interesting observation – makes that part a lot clearer.

    2. I think this is the only story that could ever get away with that ending!

    3. This is an interesting one too. You’ve actually highlighted a flaw in the concept of the film. I see it that as the architect has no idea what a person’s totem is or does, there’s no way they could build that into a dream, so your totem shouldn’t work in any dream. It would only work in real life – or, of course, in your own dream. So if you didn’t know you were dreaming, the totem would work and you’d think you were awake…

    Gah!

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