Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Films of 2010: "Inception"


Christopher Nolan’s mind-bending sci-fi/action-thriller creates an entirely original universe that transitions back and forth between reality and dreams (not to mention dreams-within-dreams, as well as dreams-within-dreams-within-dreams, and so forth). It is a highly-complex maze of drama, particularly in the case of the relationship(s) and conflict(s) between reality and dreams.

It is also a rare film that stylistically and cleverly culminates notions of ideas, including their essence, their power, and their purpose (economically, globally, and personally).

“An idea is like a virus, resilient,” says the film’s main character Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio). Such is the case with the story’s illustrations of manipulation (by means of a heist). There are also illustrations of an idea’s control and effect (e.g., messing with physics), how it can grow on us, challenge our sense of responsibility, or even lead us to a sense of guilt or death. In addition, the blur between reality and fantasy challenges what we know and what we feel, and how our mind perceives time. There is also the notion of creating worlds, including what we choose as our reality.

With that in mind, the underlying theme of Inceptioninvolves the question of what ideas are based on, and how they are motivated. Should they be based on what webelieve they should be or have the potential to be, or should they be based on what others believe they should be or have potential to be? What effects do they have on our lives, on our jobs, on our relationships?

Note the notion of hidden dreams/secrets, and how that effects said relationships and emotions. “These are memories and regrets I have to change,” Cobb says at one point, regarding his wife (Marion Cotillard) “A prison of memories,” as the architect character Ariadne (Ellen Page) calls it. She is the most identifiable character in the whole movie, as we learn what she learns and understand the process as she does.

I’ve noted a similarity between this film and Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia (1999), in terms of how the story is supposedly about one primary thing (e.g., the notion of coincidences), and also about another (e.g., the effects of past sins on a later generation). For Inception, the “one thing” on the surface (as already mentioned) is the notion of ideas and their worth (including economy). The “other” thing deals with one’s effects on ideas, particularly in the case of Cobb’s character, his expertise, his ambitions, and his conflictions.


As with all of his films, Nolan assembles a brilliant, exceptional cast with an equally brilliant, exceptional script. Add to that crisp editing and an electrifying score by the always-amazing Hans Zimmer. The actors really inhabit their roles intellectually, emotionally, and believably. The action is intense and on-the-edge-of-your-seat (with the street/train and air-fight sequences as stand outs), and the sophisticated and seamless visuals help set a new bar in filmmaking, as well as in the science-fiction genre a la The Matrix. An especially noteworthy aspect is how things and actions in the real world have effects on the dream world, and how each of the actors senses it and distinguishes whether they're dreaming or in the real world.

On this same note, I should mention that as a viewer, this movie requires a much attention, more than one viewing, obviously (or, in my case, notetaking), just to keep up with what's going on, where everybody is, and what's at stake. DiCaprio described the whole film this way. ". . . [I]t's Chris Nolan delving into dream psychoanalysis and also making a high octane, action-filled, surreal film that is all spawned from his mind. He wrote the entire thing, and it all made sense to him. It didn't make much sense to us when we were doing it, and we had to do a ton of detective work to try to figure out what the movie was and what we were doing from day to day, but, thank God, we had somebody who knew what he was doing" (IMDb). 

Written June 19 and July 17, 2011
Updated January 8 and April 24, 2012