I’m not a huge fan of director Christopher Nolan’s films (his Batman movies are overrated in my opinion), but his original scripts are quite interesting (Memento). For his part, Leonardo DiCaprio is quickly becoming the finest actor of his generation through his careful film choices. Inception is one of Nolan’s babies that was originally conceived almost 10 years ago, and later DiCaprio helped flesh out his character. Although Warner Bros. was keen on the film back then, Nolan was smart enough to step back and realize he needed more experience working with big budget special effects to turn his sci-fi vision into reality. Warner Bros. then gave him Batman, which taught him everything he needed to make Inception. Like any great idea it survived its considerable incubation. Strong ideas have a way of sticking with you, which is one of the film’s key concepts.
Which is not to say that Inception is totally original; there are certainly shades of other films, most notably The Matrix. Shared dreaming, conjuring and altering the dream world, and even the notion of a dreamer’s subconscious defending itself through bystanders are all very Matrix-y. That said, there are key differences. The characters are never really at risk of physical injury or death in their dreams, and even then they aren’t capable of superhuman strength or agility. It is also very much a heist film, with a crack squad of specialists teaming up to steal secrets from the target’s subconscious.
Here the concept of shared dreaming is used as a window to peer into the hearts of the characters. The emotional center and driving force of the film is Cobb (DiCaprio), tormented by his past and his uncertain future. They say you can tell who the protagonist of a story is by how much they change by the end, but Cobb isn’t the only well-developed character. Another character’s story is perhaps a bit cliched but is wonderfully realized considering they are a side character. Bit parts are padded out by talented actors including Ken Watanabe (The Last Samurai), Joseph Gordon-Levitt (The Lookout), and the relatively unknown yet disarmingly witty Tom Hardy.
I haven’t even begun to talk about the action and effects sequences, one of which involves zero gravity and is truly incredible to watch. Others don’t fare quite as well, coming off more like a deleted scene from a Bond flick. They’re well-paced, but they’re not the reason to see Inception. I can understand why some people felt the film was confusing, but it made sense to me. I like a film that doesn’t underestimate its audience. I enjoyed how Nolan worked in elements of our understanding of dreams, like how time gets distorted, and that he chose to end it poetically. This has the side effect of leaving room for a sequel, which I hope is ignored. Inception works so beautifully as a standalone film that I fear diluting it with sequels would only sully the first film. It’s quite rare that I see a film that feels like an instant classic and Inception left that impression on me. It’s worth checking out while it’s still in theaters.
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