MOVIE: Inception (2010)

Man, this is going to be a hard review to write.  Why?  Because A) I don’t want to tell you too much about this movie — I think the less you know, the more thrilling your experience with it will be, and B) it was so incredibly awesome, I’m not sure I can do it justice.  Can I just sum the whole thing up with a 64-point boldface “AWESOME!”?  Okay, maybe not.

I was, to be honest, a little wary of seeing Inception.  Several of the reviews I read before I went last weekend led me to believe it was going to be really hard to follow, which made me kind of nervous.  I hate feeling stupid in movies (Syriana! *shakes fist at sky*), even though I love being challenged to think and think hard.  There’s a fine line between those two things sometimes, though, and I was a bit concerned this one might cross it.  I don’t mind the type of confusion or complexity that makes you spend three hours later comparing your theories with those of your friends, but I don’t want to feel LOST.  Know what I mean?

Yeah, I thought you might.

I should’ve known better than to worry about that here, though.  Christopher Nolan is the same filmmaker who brought us Memento, after all, another extremely complex movie that challenges you to think but never leaves you confused for long.  When I first saw Memento in theaters (back in 2000), it blew my mind — how smart, how well-written, how amazing you could tell a story like that (backwards!) without ever once losing your audience.  That takes real talent, both with the script and the filmmaking, and it’s exhibited here with equal mastery.

I’m going to keep my description of Inception‘s plot relatively short, and I promise I won’t spoil anything important without warning you first.  The less you know going in, the more fun you’ll have, is my thinking on this one.

In short, it’s about a team of thieves who have developed a process that, through the use of a device they carry around in a suitcase, lets them get inside people’s dreams and manipulate them from inside their own sleepy heads.  Other people hire them to steal corporate secrets — a process they call “extraction.”  The team kidnaps the target, hooks themselves and their subject up to the machine, and then slips into the subject’s dreamscapes, modifying them in such a way that the subject eventually leads them right to the information they seek.

For the most part, the process has been remarkably successful.  But when they botch a job for a huge corporation, the company puts a hit out on the team.   So, when a Japanese big-wig named Saito (Ken Watanabe) offers to get the evil corporation off their backs in exchange for doing a job for him, the team leader, Dom Cobb (Leo DiCaprio) can’t refuse.

The new job, though, is going to be harder than anything else Cobb has ever done.  Because it’s not an extraction this time — it’s an “inception.”  Saito wants Cobb and his team to break into the dreams of the son of one of the wealthiest men in the world and plant an idea in the son’s head.  He wants Cobb to make the son do something — I won’t say what — and he wants the son to do it believing it was his own idea.

To pull this off, Cobb will have to delve into multiple dreams-within-dreams — not a concept I can explain clearly without ruining some of the most fascinating elements of the film — and to construct and manipulate all those dreams, he’ll need a team that includes an architect (someone who can design the dream worlds and their stories), a forger (someone who can take on the identity of another person in a dream), and his most trustworthy friend and partner Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who is brilliant as usual here).

Every dream layer has its own unique setting, story, and time dimension, and every aspect of the plan must be pulled off perfectly or it’ll never work.

And I think that’s all I’m gonna say about the plot.  Aside from this:  I thought it was beyond brilliant.  I’ve always been fascinated by the way dreams work — I bet most people feel that way — and the thoughtfulness of this film’s approach to that subject completely blew my mind.   Dreams are cool; dreams within dreams within dreams triply so.  I thought the concept of the “totem” was likewise incredibly clever and it gave the entire film an extra layer of complexity, as well as a truly kick-ass ending (you’ll see what I mean when you get there).  I left this movie absolutely in awe.  I can’t wait to see it again (preferably with my mom).

There were a couple of things about Inception that kind of bothered me, though.  PLEASE NOTE: The rest of this review contains spoilers and probably ought to be read only by people who have already seen the film.  While I’m at it, it’s likely the comments on this post will also contain spoilers — look out!

Several critics have complained that it was hard to engage emotionally with the characters in this film, but this wasn’t something that stood out to me as a problem, possibly because there were few times when the characters weren’t being professionals, completely involved in their work, and that doesn’t leave a lot of room for personal stories.

But Ellen Page’s character (the architect) seemed thrown into the mix just so we could have a young, pretty girl in the story, and she was incongruously empathic (for her age, anyway — I thought, anyway) about both the inception process and Cobb himself.   For much of the movie I was convinced there was going to be a twist that revealed her to be something other than what she seemed to be, in fact.   For example, that it might turn out that SHE was the one running an inception and she’d inserted herself into COBB’S dream in order to somehow manipulate him.  But when it didn’t go that way (not demonstrably, anyway) her intimacy with those two elements ended up not making sense to me.

Maybe it was Ellen Page’s acting — her facial expressions and tone — that made her seem “off” in this way to me, rather than the script itself.  But in any case, compared to the other actors in this movie, who were all amazing and completely believable (including Leo, though if he doesn’t stop frowning all the time, those eyebrow furrows are going to turn into the Grand Canyon), she stood out as the weak link.

The other complication, which is not necessarily a bad thing, just a thought-provoking one, was the film’s moral ambiguity.  It’s impossible not to root for Cobb and his team to succeed — we’re clearly meant to, and they’re funny, cool, and smart, so why not?  But it kept occurring to me that, in fact, they weren’t actually the GOOD guys.  They’re thieves putting people at risk for money (the extraction/inception process is dangerous for all those involved, including people not involved by choice).  I wasn’t sure how I ultimately felt about the inception, because they were targeting a young man, manipulating his complicated, painful feelings for his distant father, in order to help a super-rich dude destroy a major competitor.  Isn’t that cruel and wrong?

Then again, the outcome of that manipulation seemed extremely likely to be GOOD for the young man:  to improve his memories of his father, to restore some confidence in himself, and to free him from one ginormous burden of a legacy.  So, does that make it okay?

I don’t have an answer.  All I know is I can’t wait to see this one again, talk about it with others who have seen it, and spend a lot more time coming up with theories upon theories upon theories.  Triply so.  Hit the comments, yo.  Let’s chat.

[Pre-queue at Netflix | View trailer]

Genre: Science Fiction
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ellen Page, Tom Hardy, Ken Watanabe, Cillian Murphy, Tom Berenger, Marion Cotillard, Pete Postlethwaite, Michael Caine, Lukas Haas

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8 Responses to “MOVIE: Inception (2010)”

  1. Verna Says:

    I just saw Inception this weekend. I normally don’t like Leo’s movies anymore (too dark, I suppose), but I really enjoyed this one. Which was surprised me because I was expecting to be extremely confused. I wasn’t though. The plot was very different from any other movie I have seen. And that is saying something these days (Transformers, Sorcerer’s Apprentice anyone?). Which is why I think I will remember this movie for a long time. Though I agree with you about Ellen Page’s character being unnecessary, I never thought she was the bad guy. I did think there would be a lot more to the story between Cobb and his wife. That could have been fleshed out more and I think it was sorta just dropped for the special effects (which, wow!). All in all though, a movie I really enjoyed and would certainly recommend!

  2. megwood Says:

    I didn’t necessarily think she was the bad guy, but I thought she knew more than she was letting on. We were in her dream. Or she was in someone else’s. Dunno.

  3. Trip Says:

    For me, the presence of Ellen Page was a breath of fresh air for such a major Hollywood production.

    I mean, you have a whip-smart college girl who, upon becoming an indispensable member of a crack team of professionals, does not spend most of her screen time in a bikini, or taking the brunt of the boys’ collective ogling and penis jokes. In fact, the male-dominated team seamlessly incorporates her and treats her as an equal from the get-go.

    Isn’t that, like, cool in this age of American Pie-styled flicks?

    BTW, I liked Joseph Gordon-Leavitt’s you-sly-dog flirt attempt – nice comic relief there, and a welcome sign that the movie wasn’t taking itself too seriously. His supporting role was one of the best things about this movie.

  4. megwood Says:

    Yeah, it was nice she was wearing hoodies and jeans. We got plenty of cleavage from Cotillard!

  5. Trip Says:

    BTW, couldn’t Leo have come up with a better way of disposing of his mental baggage about her than putting her head on railroad tracks? Egad. I would think maybe smothering her with a Hello Kitty pillow might be a bit nicer…

  6. Florence Says:

    This movie rocked-Loved it. Thank you Christopher Nolan! I think this was one of the best of this type of movie since Momento-as you so kindly pointed also by C.N. But-and I feel like a total moron for bringing this up but I have to ask-and I need to try to do it w/o giving too much away here so go w/me-my hubby thinks that the ending was one thing and I think it was another-I feel like we are supposed to be left guessing-he thinks it gives you a definite answer… make sense? Any thoughts? I think I may need to see this again too!

  7. megwood Says:

    I think we were definitely supposed to be left guessing, Florence. The thing was still going (not to give too much away), but also wobbling. Was it going to go on? Was it going to fall over? We’ll never know! It’s rare that I find an ending like that satisfying (the ending of Limbo leaps to mind as one I found deeply UNsatisfying, for example), but in this case, I really did. It felt like either way, he was going to be happy. It didn’t matter what the ultimate outcome (go or stop) was. You could make it end however you wanted. Loved that!

  8. كازينو Says:

    Nevermind, works now!

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