Now Playing: ‘Inception’ is Dreamy

For those who want to experience ‘Inception’ spoiler-free, you’re probably best advised to move on now. I’m going to try and tread lightly in my review, but I can’t promise that I’ll be completely pure. So come back after you’ve seen the movie. The review will still be here. I hope. You never know with those intrepid dream warriors. Click on!

Christopher Nolan’s breathtaking ‘Inception’ takes place in a world where private agents can slip into your dream and extract precious information. It’s a trippy conceit for sure, but one that writer-director Nolan makes absolutely real. At the beginning of the film, we see our two main characters – Cobb the extractor (Leonardo DiCaprio), and Arthur the point man (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) – as they attempt to scam a Japanese tycoon named Saito (Ken Wanatabe). Things go wrong. (Things I won’t be detailing here.) Once they’re out of the dream, they’re chased by various thugs, including Saito, who offers them an opportunity for redemption: the risky and potentially dangerous job of planting an idea in someone’s head. It’s called inception. And it’s very hard to do.

Saito is holding something very precious over Cobb’s head, so the film evolves into a “one last job” type “guys on a mission” heist movie, and sticks fairly close to genre conventions. I think this is actually a good thing, because the genre connection tethers the audience to the material. No matter how far-out things get in the dreams (and dreams-within-dreams), the audience can at least hang its hat on the ‘Ocean’s Eleven‘-y aspects of the movie’s plot. And that’s fine by me. Anyway, Saito instructs Cobb and Aruthur to assemble their team. Eames (Tom Hardy, irresistible) is the forger, a man that can impersonate people in the dream world. Ariadne (Ellen Page) is the architect, who designs the “levels” of the dream worlds. Yusuf (Dileep Rao) is the chemist, who concocts potions to keep the mark – the young heir to an energy company, Robert Fischer Jr. (Cillian Murphy) – deeply asleep. Saito also tags along in the dream world, this time as a tourist.

Once the actual mission begins, which takes up about the last 45 minutes of the movie, your jaw will be on the floor. The staggering complexity of the thing, which involves dreams-within-dreams-within-dreams, is just mind-blowing. Nolan constructs each dreamscape to be as identifiable and realistic as possible, and to have an unflappable internal logic. (Just because you don’t “get it” doesn’t mean it’s not there.) Those that claim that the movie is too “somber” or that there aren’t any laughs certainly weren’t in the packed critics-and-VIPs screening I attended. (Kathryn Bigelow was in attendance.) Every hiccup in our dream thieves’ plan got a gasp, every funny moment got a roar of laughter, and every appearance of Marion Cotillard – as a femme fatale who haunts the dream world – got an uneasy shifting in the seats.

Christopher Nolan has made bigger and bigger movies while remaining concerned with only a handful of thematic ideas: the price of guilt, say, or the power of magic. What’s so amazing is that the scale of the movies, while ever growing, never loses sight of these core ideas. It’s rare enough for a big budget spectacle to have a brain at all, but to have one that is so focused on these concepts… well, that alone is enough to blow your mind. The other chief complaint about the movie seems to be its perceived “chilliness,” which certainly wasn’t helped by early Kubrick comparisons. This I also have trouble swallowing. There are two emotional through-lines in the story, one involving Cobb and the other involving Fischer. Neither of these I’m entirely comfortable discussing, but both really do have an emotional punch. Even in the extended climax of the movie, with action delivered over several separate realities, you are clearly rooted and invested in what’s going on. It’s not going to make you bawl, but it will get you involved for sure.

The cast is great, too. I’d say that Joseph Gordon-Levitt and particularly Tom Hardy (who gets the biggest dialogue-driven laugh) are the standouts, but everyone does a really great job. Even Ellen Page, who hasn’t been given the best material post-‘Juno‘ (save for the wonderful and wholly overlooked ‘Whip It‘) and who is here saddled with the wide-eyed Luke Skywalker/Neo role of the audience surrogate, is really excellent. She’s cute and smart and the last person you want to see corrupted by the morally ambiguous nature of the mind crimes these guys pull all the time.

The spectacular nature of the dream sequences, and conversely their subtlety, is what makes the movie so rewarding on a visual level. For much of the film, I just sat and watched with a stupid grin on my face, because everything was just so cool. I guarantee that you’ve never seen a movie quite like this. (Or heard one like it either, with Hans Zimmer’s thunderous electronics-and-orchestra stuff.) Just to see a movie that isn’t based on a video game, or segment of ‘Fantasia,’ or breakfast cereal mascot is something of a relief. But to see a work as profoundly brilliant, challenging and unique as ‘Inception,’ well, that’s a dream come true.


  1. J.R.

    Just saw it this morning. I agree with you– it’s completely stunning and awesome. I got no hint of coldness, and have no complaint with how serious it is. I loved it. I just wish I could talk about it with more people. 🙂

  2. BostonMA

    i read the last paragraph to be sure. thank you for warning us of the spoilers that are in there.

    i’m glad you’re another reviewer who’s in love with Zimmer’s score. his music for BB and TDK is one of my favorite film scores of all time and i’ve been singing, or i guess making noise (out loud and in my head) to the music in the Inception trailer, and i’ve thought of the same adjective to describe it as you (thunder/thunderous.

    can’t wait till tonight, a little more than 8 hours.

  3. J.J.

    Good review (sans the corny title). I have had plans to see this for quite a long time. Nolan is quite reliable in quality films.

  4. Ken

    I’m sorry, I was totally disappointed by “Inception.” First off, Nolan spends more time setting up the rules of the dream worlds than he does with the characters. So, “Okay,” you say, “It’s a heist movie. It’s all about the set up.” Well, the characters suffer for it. They’re archetypes – low on actual character, but high on plot usefulness. DiCaprio, as much as I love him, plays the exact same role as “Shutter Island.” The man needs to pick a better variety of material than the “sullen husband whose wife has gone crazy and whose kids are ghostly absent” thing. (Or his agent does.)
    The visuals are great, the action is cool (if overly prolonged)… But the problem is, I didn’t care about anyone in the movie. The extras getting killed are just “projections” of a guys’ imagination… They might as well be nameless video game bad guys. Let alone questioning the ethics of “implanting” an idea into another person’s brain… Thereby changing their perceptions of reality as well as their personality. Honestly, corporate espionage and theft is a lesser offense, as far as I’m concerned.
    But okay, it’s just supposed to be fun, right? Wrong. The movie is so packed with heavy-handedness, without any real intellectual value besides forcing you to pay more attention to the puzzle than actually caring about the characters. And I’d be fine with a cool cinematic puzzle, even after the hour and a half of screen-time that Nolan takes to set up his dream-world rules, but then he friggin’ BREAKS them. Seriously, he spends half the movie explaining the rules that govern his so-called “masterpiece” and then he throws them out the window. (I won’t go in depth here as to HOW he breaks them, so as to not spoil the movie for potential viewers. But please, pay attention to the movie and you’ll see.)
    Here’s the thing… There have been a lot of Kubrick comparisons between “Inception” and say, “2001.” I take personal offense to that. “Inception” doesn’t ask any questions about human nature or psychology… It doesn’t engage with any deep mysteries of the “human condition.” “2001” does. Don’t give this movie more intellectual credit than it’s due.
    And Nolan betrays the rules of his own fictional universe. But he hides it by adding so many knots and wrinkles to his story that most people don’t seem to notice. Please, pay attention. See it multiple times, if you have to. Yes, I’m advising wasting your time and money, but I’d rather that people take the time to analyze the crap out of this movie and see it for just how plot hole-filled it is, than remain blissfully ignorant.
    Ultimately, the greatest offense to me is that I just didn’t give a crap about anyone in the film. Nolan was more interested in saying, “Hey, look at all the cool s*%t I can do!” Well, guess what dude? Just because it’s something new, doesn’t mean it’s good.
    You’re all welcome to your own opinions, of course. But the more I’ve thought about Inception, the less and less I’ve liked it.
    And don’t get me started on the last shot of the movie. (Again, I won’t spoil it for potential viewers… I hate that.) But how trite, gimmicky, and overused can you get?
    Yes, it’s nice to see a completely original, big-budget movie come out of Hollywood… But that doesn’t make it “good.” It just means our expectations have been so lowered that we’d be happy to chew on any new bone they throw at us.

  5. Joe B

    And now I’ve read your review. And I agree with it all the way. I see a second trip to our local IMAX before the drivel pours back in in a few weeks. Thanks for treating your audience as respectfully as Nolan is treating his! It’s been awhile, that’s for sure.

  6. I agree wholeheartedly with Ken on this. A massively over rated film from a director who has produced nothing but ordinary post Memento.

    Overly long, full of WAY too much exposition, unemotional (who am I supposed to be caring about?) and with an ending that reeked of disdain for the audience (find a clue within the narrative that truly links to the last shot and I’ll be surprised).

    Total and utter waste of a fantastic premise.

    Wait for the DVD if you must.

    • The “unemotional” complaint is interesting. Nolan has always been a chilly, intellectual filmmaker. That’s his cinematic voice. Is that necessarily a bad thing?

      About his work after Memento, would you really classify Insomnia or The Prestige as “ordinary”? They may not be up to the same level as Memento, but I’d hardly call either one of them “ordinary,” especially not The Prestige.

  7. SamBeckett

    Definitely a movie that had me thinking as I was leaving the theater. I will most definitely have to see it again. I have to agree with the review I think it is a brilliant original idea that I do want to see again. Can’t wait for the blu ray

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