Saturday, July 17, 2010

Review – Inception

July 16, 2010

Inception – U.S., 2010

Towards the end of Christopher Nolan’s excellent new film Inception, one person in the theater said in an audible whisper, “Oh, come on!” And while my reaction to the film is quite different from this young man’s, I imagine that many others will no doubt have the same reaction, for the ending of the film represents a choice, and it may not be a choice that every viewer will understand. Some may even see it as simply the act of a director trying too hard to be clever, something that has recently been unjustly said of M. Night Shyamalan. As I said, I had a different reaction to the film. In movies, characters often do things that we disagree with personally. We may even believe that normal every day people simply wouldn’t do some of the things that characters in films do or that a movie is somehow advocating the actions of its main characters. We forget sometimes that movies are not always about ordinary people, and what matters most is that the decisions that characters make are reasonable for that character in that situation. Looked at through this lens, none of the actions that any of the characters in Inception undertake can be called completely unrealistic.

Describing the plot of Inception is almost a fool’s errand, and perhaps only those confident in their ability to not reveal critical details or those who just don’t care about such things will attempt it. I will simply say that the film is about a group of people hired to plant a false memory into someone’s head, and to do this, they must enter someone’s dream. This requires a small team, each member of which has a particular role to play. For example, there are some who design the dream world, some who interact with the dreamer in the dream, and some whose responsibility it is to keep track of time and wake people up in case they have to scurry away because something went wrong. The job can also be quite hazardous, not because the team is always vulnerable in a dream, but because failure – and I imagine success in some cases – can lead to some pretty hard feelings in some pretty powerful individuals. Imagine someone like Donald Trump finding out that you had entered his dream in order to steal the plans for his latest business venture. He would most likely not be a happy camper.

Inception is broken up into three parts. The first part of the film takes great pains to explain the film’s mythology. That is, just how in the world is this even possible? The film does not attempt to answer this question completely, yet we see enough of the chemicals and the equipment used to convince us that if it were possible, this would be the way to do it. During this part of the film, we also learn about the difference between dream time and real time, a very important detail, and that’s putting it mildly. The second part of the film is a combination of interesting dialogue and great action scenes replete with among other things car chases and a snow adventure near a secret compound that seems to have been inspired by Blofeld’s lair in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, minus the bald man and the supermodels, of course. The third part of the film is its resolution, during which the film departs slightly from action and returns to some of the themes it touched on earlier: themes of family and the reliability of memory, the latter of which also played a big part in Nolan’s earlier films Forgotten and Memento. Having a good memory is important for viewers as well, as key things we learn in the first part of the film come back as the film nears its powerful finale.

What fascinates me most about Inception is the world that exists as a result of the newfound ability of specialists to enter and control a person’s dreams. There’s a large subculture that prefers the dream world to the real one, and because someone can enter your dreams, mechanisms have been created to protect the powerful against such attacks, making it possible for armed battles to occur in someone’s head. Is this damaging to a person’s brain? I’m not sure, but it doesn’t seem all that healthy. My only fault with the film is that it is simply too loud at times. At several key points in the film, the music and sound effects drowned out the dialogue, and I have a feeling that what I missed was rather important.

Leonardo DiCaprio gives quite an impressive performance in the lead role, hitting all of the right emotional notes. I haven’t always given him a lot of credit, but after his work in Revolutionary Road and The Departed, he’s beginning to win me over. Kudos should also be given to Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ellen Page, and Cillian Murphy. With Inception, Christopher Nolan appears to be going back to making the gutsy, mind-bending kind of film he was known for prior to reimagining the Batman series. Inception reminds us that it’s a genre he knows well and can succeed at perhaps better than anyone working in Hollywood today.

Inception is a film that will stay with viewers for a while. Sometimes when this happens, people begin to question what they saw and see plot holes that they didn’t see initially, which may actually diminish a person’s appreciation of a film. Inception has remained on my mind since I saw it, and yet instead of coming to the conclusion that certain parts didn’t make sense, I find myself continually putting the events of the film in a new order, as if looking for a better understanding of what I saw, and instead of telling myself not to question what I saw, I find myself wanting to see the film a second time. It’s just like that mysterious, yet somehow important dream that we can only remember bits and pieces of. We yearn for the chance to have it again, to perhaps finally comprehend its elusive message. Unfortunately, dreams rarely give us the opportunity for a second viewing. That’s not true of Inception. (in theatres)

4 stars

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