Directed by:
Christopher Nolan
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Ellen Page, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ken Watanabe

Ariadne (Ellen Page) is given a guided tour of Cobb's subconscious in "Inception" (photo: Associated Press)

In many ways, Christopher Nolan’s noir caper set in dreamscapes is a love letter to the art of filmmaking, with a visual reference to “Rashomon” occurring in the film’s opening moments.

Which is fine by me. I’m all for self-referential material so long as it’s genuine and guarded. It’s when filmmakers actually make a movie about literally making a movie that they get caught in the dangerous bear trap of creating a distracting inside joke that nobody finds funny or entertaining, not even those who “get it.”

Similarly, this film also could have gone off the rails by beating you over the head with the fact that it’s an artistic exercise exploring the creative process. It could also fall into the trap of taking itself too seriously and getting wrapped up in the concept, making it largely inaccessible and a chore to watch.

In the hands of Christopher Nolan, that doesn’t happen.

It’s probably because more than anything, Nolan wants to entertain us. He did it with “Memento,” “The Dark Knight,” and every film in-between. He can get a bit too heady for his own good, but he doesn’t allow that to distract from the main point of filmmaking: to keep the viewer engrossed in the story and what they see unfolding before them.

Which is exactly what he accomplishes with “Inception,” a film that under any other writer/director would have spent more time convincing the viewer that the concept works and lose sight of its purpose and potential entertainment value. How he pulled it off is anyone’s guess.

One of the things I marveled at was the fact that I was able to actually follow and keep track of the story, even when it jumped between three different planes of a person’s subconscious (“dreams within dreams” and we’ll leave it at that). In fact, at times it seemed effortless. And the film’s pacing, dramatic tension and suspense in this structure is, to a writer, nothing short of breath-taking. I would often find myself completely frozen after a complicated sequence of events and asking myself how Nolan was able to write it without the entire story falling apart.

As it turns out, it took a lot of time and effort. After getting a spec script approved, Nolan spent eight years on and off working on the project. The film is an achievement and evidence of Nolan’s artistic vision and brilliance.

Still, credit where it’s due as well to a game cast. My only gripe was that we didn’t get to see more interplay between co-stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Joseph Gordon Levitt, who unfortunately becomes more of a peripheral character after the first act. Which is necessary for the purpose of the story, but also a shame; particularly since I thought the two had great chemistry and I prefer him as an actor to DiCaprio.

Then there’s the score from Hans Zimmer, which while a bit too reminiscent of his work on Nolan’s previous film still adds that extra bit to an action sequence that stirs you from your rib cage. In terms of visuals, the film is equal parts stunning and haunting.

I could go on, but I’d be gushing even more than I already am.

The flaws that exist in the movie’s logic have been examined in other reviews, but to me they’ree so tertiary I didn’t not notice them. Not only that, but even when they’re pointed out I have a hard time reconciling that they actually happened. I was too caught up and in awe of the cinematic acrobatics pulled off in this film to notice the minor gripes of contrarians and those critics that strive to get attention by authoring the loudest dissenting opinion of an otherwise universally praised film.

It i’s rare I come out of a movie saying that it was one of the greatest films ever made. I rarely if ever make that claim, and often I find myself on an island by myself when it comes to other films people think are instant classics (“The Departed” being a prime example). However, as I watched this film I felt something I haven’t felt in a movie theater in a very long time: genuine, organic excitement.

There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that “Inception” is one of the best films ever made.  In terms of greatness and influence, I’d say it falls somewhere between Kurosawa’s post-noir work and “The Matrix.” I say the former because I want people who discount it just because it made money to go a little crazy, and I say the latter because I can already feel the pretenders becoming “inspired” by this film and making insipid clones that mire my enjoyment of the film in hindsight.

But, for now, I’m coming off the high of seeing Christopher Nolan at his best. “The Dark Knight” proved he had his craft down. This movie proved that not only is he a master craftsman, he’s also an artist. He is, with full knowledge of an already daunting level of hyperbole, the cinematic equivalent of Michaelangelo: an artist has mastered his technique but still retains the creative inspiration that transforms his work into something more than a well-cut form of marble. His “David” is an action-adventure movie that is accessible to both pretentious jerks like myself who examine film as art and people who just want to munch on popcorn and be entertained.

It is not flawless, but nothing beautiful ever is.

In short, it was freaking awesome. Seriously, go see it.


8 Responses to Seriously, “Inception” is a Great Movie

  1. BL says:

    I am gearing up to see it, so I’m purposely not trying to read your post carefully until afterward. However, on one thing that did catch my eye, IMO, The Dark Knight was, based on all the hype, one of the most overrated movies ever. Heath Ledger made it worth watching, but overall I thought it very tiresome (and that’s speaking as a a big fan of Batman Begins).

  2. derryX says:

    I had one issue with the film, and it is one brief scene and one line where I just thought it was all kinds of wrong. Trying not to spoil, but when Mal falls out of the window and Leonardo DiCaprio’s character, Cobb, watches her fall, he exclaims, “Mal! No! Jesus!!” The addition of “Jesus!!” made is seem a little over dramatic and definitely is an example of Leo’s overacting. The fact that this scene repeated at the end of the movie just drove that point home for me.

    In fact, if you were in the theater at the same time as me, you would have heard me laughing rather profusely.

    Also, I’m a little tired of the whole Leo-pointing-his-finger-at-people-in-close-quarters-when-he’s-pissed, but that’s more of a problem with the actor (since he does it in every movie) and not really the film.

    From a conceptual perspective, Inception was truly a genius concept. They really did their homework when considering the gravity and time effects of the dreams within dreams. I even got myself to think back to my calculus days and think about derivatives and second derivatives to try and understand what was going on with gravity. Good stuff.

    And much like you, I could go on for days praising the film, so I’ll stop.

  3. Kevin says:

    Agreed completely, especially with the negative reviews coming from those critics trying too hard to not jump on a bandwagon of praise. Cannot wait to see it again. What’s your take on the ending? Do you think it was left to interpretation or was explicit?

  4. KC Orcutt says:

    Really well-written post!!! I want to see this movie, plain and simple. I also tend to view film as an art instead of solely for entertainment and I often wonder if I’m studying the wrong thing in college! :-P

  5. I thought it was a bit slow out of the blocks, but once it got going, it was thrilling, indeed. We saw it at Colonie Center the night that the massive electrical storm blew through, and the power went out twice, so that added a whole ‘nother layer/level of surrealism to the thing for us . . .

    In re: self referential, in the good sense . . . I liked the fact that Nolan used an Edith Piaf song as a key plot device in the movie, given that he had the woman who portrayed her definitively in film as one of his stars . . .

  6. Greg Baumbach says:

    My wife and I were in the same theater the same night as J. Eric Smith. The movie was so enrapturing that when the first power outage hit and the theater went stark black, I believed this to be part of the film. It wasn’t until the generator powered lights came on that it dawned on me just how deep this movie had drawn me in.

    Considering I’m a dyed in the wool skeptic, that’s a heck of an accomplishment Nolan pulled off.

  7. Steve says:

    Last night I saw Inception for a third time. I’m certain my Facebook friends are sick seeing the I-word in my posts by now. Every time I watch, I understand the happenings a little bit better yet I flip-flop on the ending. I am also realizing with each repeat viewing that there is probably no definitive answer for the final scene… even in the mind of Nolan himself!

    It’s brilliant film-making from a creative mind that has yet to disappoint (Insomnia was fine but certainly overwhelmed by the strength and labyrinthine boldness of his other offerings). I love that his original work makes me think, sparks conversation and causes me to look up articles to go deeper. Inception didn’t leave my head for hours the first time I saw it which is why I had to go again the following day. I’m pleased to have someone in Hollywood who doesn’t dumb down his content and what’s more is I’m glad he’s successful! This means we’ll have more depth to look forward to in the future – “Downwards is the only way forwards.”

  8. -S says:

    > Last night I saw Inception for a third time.Every time I watch, I
    > understand the happenings a little bit better yet I flip-flop on
    > the ending. I am also realizing with each repeat viewing that
    > there is probably no definitive answer for the final scene…
    > even in the mind of Nolan himself!

    There is :) Two times should be enough :) The answer *is* in the final scene, but it is concealed so that we will only be 100% sure once somebody can freeze a few frames from the DVD release or a bootleg. The answer is the wedding band. Starting from the very beginning of the movie, up to the final scene, Nolan explicitly shows Cobb’s left hand in numerous occasions, and there is never any ambiguity: after his wife’s death, he is only wearing it when he dreams, never in reality.

    Now your answer is in the final scene: is he wearing his wedding band? Nolan is completely in control on the editing here, and he knows you will be looking for it: he makes very explicit choices to conceal that left hand. DiCaprio will grab his suitcase with his left hand, hiding the ring that way. When he spins the totem with his right hand at the end, Cobb put his left hand on a chair at the same time (in an awkward move if you ask me) so that his fingers are hidden by the back of the chair, etc. But your answer is still there because there are enough frames where his left hand is reaching for something, and I’m 99% sure whether he has it or not :)

    Anyway. This is not very important, imho, it’s more a gimmick. What’s important in that scene, to me, is that he is ignoring the totem. It doesn’t matter to him anymore, whether he is in reality or not, as long as he is happy.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>