Thursday, August 12, 2010

Movie Review: Inception (2010)

Although the trailer for Inception did pique my interest a little, I didn’t have it rated as one of those blockbusters I had to see or I would DIIIE!  Well really, the last one that imperative for me was Lord of the Rings, so you can see the level of passion needed to awaken the movie monster in me.  But such was the buzz surrounding Inception in the last couple of weeks that I decided to watch in online a couple of nights ago.  I loved it.  I can’t recall the last time I finished a film that enthused—possibly The Departed four years back, although the sombreness of that movie meant it was a totally different experience.

If you haven’t yet seen Inception, I can best sum it up this way: it is The Matrix of 2010.  Not as mind-blowingly revolutionary as The Matrix, admittedly; nor as philosophically and ideologically probing.  But it is a very, very enjoyable film.  At no point was I aware of the time or wondering how much of the movie was left.  Much of this was down to impressive acting by Leonardo DiCaprio as the eternally guilt-ridden Dom Cobb, one of the protagonists.  Ellen Page, Tom Hardy, Cillian Murphy, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Ken Watanabe all turned in solid performances too, while Marion Cotillard is terrifically dark and menacing in the scenes she makes an appearance in.  A lot of my unawareness of the clock was also due to the action (almost continuous but never gratuitous) and special effects (breath-taking in parts—keep an eye out for the hallway scene).  But for me the real interest lay in the logistical and psychological complexity of what was going on.  As I’ve mentioned, it does not perhaps pose as many ideological questions as what you could take from a movie like The Matrix (which I keep comparing it to because they are similar in scope and subject matter, to a degree), but the logistical depth will certainly keep the wheels spinning.  If I have a quibble with the film, it's simply that it didn't quite reach its potential with some of the themes it touched on.  Some more introspective and nuanced questions in the philosophical and ethical realm would surely not have gone amiss.  That said, it was a great spectacle, and highly recommended.

The basic premise is this: sometime in the not-too-distant future, it is entirely possible to enter another individual’s dream, whether consensual and innocuous—in order to share the experience, for example, or for more devious purposes—to steal information and/or influence a person’s thoughts.  Although the majority of dream invasion centers on stealing information, it is the latter, much harder task of influencing a person’s thoughts that is the focus of the story.  After Watanabe’s character Saito catches Cobb extracting information from him, he offers him an extremely difficult job in exchange for safe entry into the U.S., where Cobb’s children are.  For reasons not immediately known, Cobb is wanted in the States and as such hasn’t seen his children for years, but Saito's ability to pull legal strings through his weighty business connections provides a potential solution.  Cobb assembles his team in order to perform his toughest task to date: Inception.  This involves planting an idea in the mind of Saito’s business rival, Robert Fischer (Cillian Murphy).  The reason it is so difficult (and herein lies the psychological enjoyment of the film) is that, for the idea to truly take hold and develop to the point where it influences his thoughts, his actions—even his character—it must be subtle and convincing enough for him to think it is his own.

In order to do this, the team quickly realizes they will need to design and orchestrate not a single-tiered dream, but one of three levels—effectively, a dream within a dream within a dream.  Therein lies the logistical complexity of the movie, as we follow the team on their journey through different layers of the subconscious, having constantly to keep in the back of our minds which level they are in, and how that influences both previous and subsequent levels.  Added to the mix is the notion of ‘kicks’, or physical jolts designed to bring the dreamer back to a higher degree of wakefulness.

 The hallway scene

I won’t go further into the plot because it would take some of the suspense and excitement out of it, but suffice to say that it keeps you on the edge of your seat for all two and a half hours of the film.  It is an action-packed blockbuster, no doubt, but it is more--at times acutely poignant, such as the penultimate scene with DiCaprio and Watanabe; sombre at many others; and with a very ambiguous ending (I as an eternal optimist choose to interpret it accordingly) that offers a glimmer of redemption.  And although I’ve said it doesn’t quite live up to The Matrix’s probing questions, maybe I’m being unfair; it does raise some interesting points.  For example, What is the genesis of an idea?  Is it even possible to come to a conclusion objectively, or will we always bring our baggage and the thoughts we want to believe rather than what we know to be true? And if that conclusion harms no one and makes us happy, is that an acceptable alternative?  Is it ever alright to act on someone else’s behalf in their interests, even if those actions go against their will?  If so, where is the line drawn?  On a larger scale, at what point does the greater good outweigh individual benefit, or a person’s right to privacy? On a less ethical but nonetheless abstract level, how does the dreamworld work?  How is it that we can simultaneously create (often to extraordinary detail) and perceive within it without being conscious of the fact?

All interesting questions.  But my advice to you is to leave those for after.  For the two and a half hours of action, just enjoy the show.  And don’t worry about keeping up with the logistics—you can do that on your second viewing.  Or fifth, whatever.

My rating: 8.5/10

Runtime: 148 mins
Director: Christopher Nolan
Studio: Warner Bros.
MPAA: PG-13 for sequences of violence and action throughout


  1. Have you seen "Waking Life"? It's a completely different type of movie, no "action" at all, but deals with the dream world and raises many interesting questions.... I highly recommend it...

  2. I haven't. There was a film about 4 or 5 years back about dreams that came out that I wanted to see, by a French director, I think. I'll definitely check out 'Waking Life' if I get a chance. You should see 'Inception'--it's a very cool movie. To be honest, movies about dreams don't normally interest me too much since I've never been one to remember much of what I dream about, or if I've even dreamt. Occasionally I do, but most of the time it's as if nothing went on up there during the night. And yet they say that we always dream... I wish I remembered more of mine.