Christopher Nolan is the master at taking a relatively simple story idea and turning it upside down by playing with the timeline.  Memento is a prime example, but his earlier work, Following, used a similar technique.  Nolan is back to his old tricks with Inception after a stint doing the more direct Batman reboots.  With Inception, Nolan not only plays with time, but with space as well.

Dreamspace, that is.

Cobb (Leonardo Di Caprio) and Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) are doing a little dream stealing.  These two fellows mine the unconscious for secrets via shared dreaming.  They ply their trade on an Asian businessman, using it as a highly sophisticated way to practice corporate espionage.

Ethical?  Of course not.  But it pays darn well and these folks are pioneers into the science of dream manipulation.

Leader Cobb has personal demons that follow him into every job, and his next challenge brings them to the fore and causes him to go beyond any reasonable limits, deep into his own subconscious.

Inception is really a lot of gimmicks surrounding two simple stories. The first deals with a company implanting an idea a man through shared dreaming, a risky process called Inception, and the second follows Cobb need to face his past.  Lucky for him that past is hiding in his own dreams and tags along on his mission.

The very best way to describe Inception is layered.  Layers of fantasy over layers of reality, layers upon layers of dreamspace, layers of characterization with plot, layer after layer after layer of dreamspace special effects – every layer adds depth and interest to the core ideas.

Nolan uses some truisms about dreaming and twists them to fit this new reality.  Facts like dreams that seemingly last hours really only taking minutes are woven into the essential fabric of the world of Inception, adding a touch of familiarity to what can be a confounding set of fantastical elements like folding streets and zero-gravity action scenes.  His concept of levels of subconscious allows the story to segue between locations without time consuming exposition.  We get that it’s okay to jump from an office building to the Arctic because we’ve jumped to another level of the dreamscape.  Everyone has dreams that make these nonsensical jumps, and Nolan uses that intrinsic understanding to his advantage, making his frequent deus ex machina feel not only possible but inevitable.

Inception is visually brilliant, with fantastic special effects and amazing CGI.   The CGI is obvious, but we don’t care because there are things to look at that we’ve never imagined, much less seen.  Watching Inception on a nice big screen is worth the effort!

The acting in Inception is secondary to the action and imagery.  DiCaprio’s actin is a little weak, feeling wooden and falsely stoic.  He’s okay, but not great.  Gordon-Levitt fares better as a straight man– he’s moving into adult roles with remarkable ease.  Ellen Page is along for the ride as the token “new person” to whom everything needs explaining (so they can explain it to us, of course).  She’s fine, but her character is not well written, and she doesn’t really have enough gravitas to handle the role being both too young and too slight in appearance and attitude.  Marion Cotillard shows up as Cobb’s former wife.  Her performance is also  fine, but the role doesn’t give her much room to shine.

Inception is an incredibly cool set of cinematic ideas wrapped around a simple story and it works.  The visuals alone are enough to recommend the film; the Nolan-added layers of complexity make the movie a cool funhouse into the subconsciousness of the characters.  Lots of gorgeous detail and beautiful CGI make it a terrific movie experience.

If you watch Inception as an action adventure rather than a deep exploration of the human condition, you’ll have a great time with the imagery and deliciously convoluted concepts.

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