Year of Release: 2010
Date Viewed: July 16th, 2010
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Writer/director and some say master storyteller Christopher Nolan brings another mind-bending tale to the big screen which suitably enough is all about the mind. Inception rounds up some of Nolan's past actors with some new A-listers to present a destined blockbuster that does not directly follow ideas from past films like we're so used to seeing in the summer season.
When the hypefest for Inception began during the months leading up to its release, I remember reading one online article with the headline: "Is Inception Too Smart for Today's Audiences?"
I think a better question would be: "Is Inception Too Confusing for Today's Audience?" Or how about any audience? It's probably best to judge for yourself. In the meantime, I'll give you my take.
Inception has two main plots and seemingly infinite subplots. The first main plot follows our hero and leader Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio). His role is the extractor. Through his mastermind invention of shared dreaming, Cobb can mentally but not physically enter any person's dream in order to gain knowledge from a subject that may otherwise never be learned. Shared dreaming is the revolution of interrogation methods. By infiltrating the mind when it's at its most vulnerable, Cobb has almost God-like powers and seems unstoppable. These powers are also the reason he lives his life on the run.
Cobb eventually finds himself cornered by Saito (Ken Watanabe), a man with the authoritative power to stop Cobb. Instead of bringing him in, Saito offers Cobb a chance to do him a favor in order to retain his freedom. Cobb must perform shared dreaming on Saito's enemy (Cillian Murphy). But this time, he is asked to do the opposite of Extraction called Inception. An idea is planted into someone's head rather than stolen from it. Cobb agrees and begins to assemble a team for the mission.
With his right-hand man and fellow dream infiltrator (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) by his side, Cobb acquires the other most valuable ally for this quest: a young architect by the name of Ariadne (Ellen Page). Her role is to build things in the dream so that a path exists only for Cobb's crew to follow. After this lengthy setup is finished, the quest begins and the movie throws in twists and turns so rapidly that the audience barely has any time to breathe.
I almost forgot to mention the other main plot. Cobb's past is shrouded in mystery that is slowly revealed over the course of the film. His wife followed his studies on shared dreaming so intently that she eventually became convinced the world she was living in was not real. Without spoiling the consequences, I will say that her actions following her new state of paranoia is shocking to say the least and it has left Cobb in permanent distraught in own unconscious.
The psychology of dreams is explored brilliantly. It may be an exercise in exposition but it is fascinating exposition nonetheless. Nolan's descriptions flow like unconscious information that is normally lost on an individual but become so clear once it is spelled out. Among the many ideas explored is how time can seem to pass normally in a dream state while in reality hardly any time has expired at all. And how many instances can one recall when someone realizes he/she is dreaming before they wake up? The movies ponders great questions and offers some answers.
Yet other questions are not answered. Why was it so important to have an architect on the team? With the way Ariadne's character was introduced, it led me to believe that she would play a major role on the final result of the mission. After her formal induction under Cobb's command, she is hardly given anything to do for the rest of the movie. At times, the plot feels like it is drifting along without its characters. Such an odd problem considering how dedicated the story seems to be at developing them.
Here's my biggest disappointment with Inception. For a movie that is all about exploring the dream phenomenon, there is so little imagination put into its visuals. The human mind is capable of seeing anything when asleep yet most everything the audience sees is bland and uninspired. The trailer shows promise of jaw-dropping environments but doesn't deliver on what should have been the sauce on the Big Mac. I recognize that Nolan is more of a storyteller than a visionary director but someone somewhere dropped the ball on this golden opportunity.
Furthermore, the movie soon becomes its own worst enemy by attempting to be too smart. After a satisfying first act, things go downhill once Cobb's team begins operation Inception. We are supposed to come up with our own explanations for why things happen and who is responsible. There is a difference between films that purposely leave things open-ended and films that have no idea where to go next. Considering Nolan's obvious talent, I was surprised to find that he is not immune to the latter type. If a film requires this many puzzle pieces to connect even after its conclusion, something is sorely missing. I can picture many conversations taking place with people who "got" the film and try to explain things to their peers. The ironiy is that every explanation is bound to be different. As an attempt to compensate for this mess, countless random and brief action scenes are thrown in with their purpose being to wake up the audience from their trance instead of complementing the plot. This sort of "stop-and-go" pacing hurt my ability to get emotionally involved with onscreen events.
I have so much respect for Christopher Nolan. The man was brave enough to deliver a summer blockbuster free from sequel tie-ins and past ideas. An impressive feat for today's era. And he tackles a subject with such complexity that there really is no way around making the product somewhat confusing. Yet despite being fully prepared to have my mind challenged, it didn't take long for me to throw in the towel and lose by technical knock-out due to falling off the bus headed for the movie's destination. The strange part....and I can't believe I'm typing this....is that I don't even think Nolan knew where he was traveling.