Inception (2010)

The lucid dreamer in me wants to hate Christopher Nolan’s Inception. My own dreams, since you asked, tend to revolve around mastering flight, and then impressing girls with it. Were I to encounter Leonardo DiCaprio in said dream, I would show him exactly how high I can go (this goes double for Ellen Page and quadruple for Marion Cotillard), and probably give some game away, as I’ve just done here. But the dreaming in Inception, prevalent though it is, is primarily a cipher for questions of illusion, identity and reality. There are no rabbits who talk with the voice of one’s dad to be found here.

This is, of course, the plot’s main conceit – Dom Cobb (DiCaprio) and Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) specialise in the extraction of information from the dreams of their marks, and the construction of unassuming dreamscapes is part of the job. When energy mogul Saito (Ken Watanabe) contracts them to perform an “inception”, that is, to plant a single idea in the mind of another, things become complicated. Assembling a ragtag heist team, consisting of a dream architect Ariadne (Page), subconscious forger Eames (Tom Hardy) and sedatives expert Yusuf (Dileep Rao), the extractors embark on a dream-within-a-dream-to-the-power-of-x inside the mind of Cillian Murphy.

What proceeds is chiefly an action-thriller, with some brilliant set-pieces emerging from the film’s core ideas. The premise that the body’s movement in the real world affects the physics of the dream world is consistently applied with remarkable (and oft remarked upon) results. More notable, in my opinion, are the projections that populate these dreams – as Cobb describes them, “white blood cells”, which act to censor the foreign presences in the dreamer’s mind. Indeed, it might be argued that this psychological aspect of Nolan’s dream-world is underplayed, in favour of the reductive body-is-moving/camera-is-shaking spectacles. Further, the concept of warped dream architecture, supposedly Ellen Page’s specialty, takes a backseat to the proceedings but for one comic interlude.

But the sinister nature of these projections and illusions are incorporated into the film’s emotional drive, in the figure of Cobb’s deceased wife Mal. I’ll admit to being dazzled, as always, by Marion Cotillard throughout this film. She was the best thing in Public Enemies, the only good thing in Nine, and continues to exude an otherworldly, European-film radiance that makes my commenting on her performance irrevocably compromised. But her character is guilty of cinema’s cardinal sin. Citing Shutter Island, The Departed and Romeo and Juliet as precedents, I’d warn all fictional women that under no circumstances should you engage in a romance with Leonardo DiCaprio. Seriously. It just ends in tears. We at Schlock Footage are beginning to suspect that Titanic was an inside job.

Leonardo Bluebeard’s agenda aside, Inception is notable, in true Nolan style, for its treatment of well-formed characters and their reaction to the impossible. There are bumps, however, and in a film as big as this they’re bound to crop up. Cobb’s backup Arthur, despite Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s precise take on the character and his role in the plot’s heist mechanics, is arguably undeveloped by the script. At times the scenes are (necessarily) exposition-heavy, bordering on goofy slingshot-around-the-sun analogies. Of course, Nolan incorporates a complex set of rules into his standalone narrative, follows them thoroughly, and accomplishes technobabble in probably the most succinct way possible. There are some sequences of gratuitous violence (narratively, not morally), and there is a sense that some scenes could be compacted without hurting the plot, such as those revolving around Cillian Murphy’s godfather (Tom Berenger).

But, while Inception is imperfect, it is no doubt destined to be a classic. Few films display such an exploration of original ideas, Nolan’s mastery of setting and composition, or the unforgettable series of images produced by modern special effects. This spectacle is grounded by strong performances, a sensitive treatment of memory and fantasy, and an uncanny handling of time, space and sound. You don’t need me to tell you to see this film. See you in the stratosphere with an anonymous redhead.



5 thoughts on “Inception (2010)

  1. What makes Inception so wonderful is the variation in they way viewers experience and understand this film. To this end Mr. Cunningham we experienced this film differently.

    What I saw was a movie about movie making. Cobb is the director, Arthur who does research and sets up is the producer. The architect Ariadne is the screenwriter – the worlds creator. Eames is the actor. Yusuf is the tech guy. Saito is the financer. Fischer (‘the mark’) is the audience.

    Dom takes Fisher on a journey by the end of which Fisher has a deeper understanding of him self – even if its an inception. Its the same experience that directors hope to impart on there audiences.

    As to the projections (“white blood cells”). Again I think this to is a reference to movie making. We only become aware we are dreaming when the ‘reality’ of the dream is broken. In the same way the spell of suspended reality is broken when the ‘reality’ of the film world is breached (really bad visual effects or shocking one liners for example).

    Also note its not just Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s character that is underdeveloped, with the exception of DiCaprio no character is – in fact with his exception not one aspect of this film is clearly defined. If like me you prescribe to “its all a dream” take of the film, the underdeveloped characters make sense. Like the characters we experience in our own dreams they can only be carature of those we base them upon.

    Love the sight Sunshine!


  2. I must say, I was disappointed with this film. I’m no Christopher Hitchens contrarian but the film has some problems.

    1. As you mention, it’s exposition-heavy. 30 minutes in I was looking at my watch thinking, “Enough of the ‘how the dreams work’ shit, give me some fucking story.” And after all that I didn’t even know on what premise that stupid briefcase dream insemination thing worked.

    2. I get better special effects when I sit on the couch upside down, when I used to line up the mirror on the back of my door with one on the other side of the room, and when I put a can of deodorant in an open fire.

    3. Unlike The Matrix or Memento, I didn’t leave this film going, “Wow, that blew my mind”. Rather I was left trying to align scenes: “Was that first scene the deep subconscious? And if so, then the wife was correct in the apartment scene.” Which was hardly the enjoyable mindfuck of Memento.

    But yes, Marion Cotillard is smashing. If only my dreams were filled with such women, even if they did stab me.



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