01 August 2010

Inception: A Movie Review

Written and directed by Christopher Nolan, Inception is clever and absorbing film making and one of the few movies involving long and involved dream sequences that I have ever found watchable or engaging. Set in the near future where the military has created the ability to enter and to interact with a person’s dream, a criminal enterprise has arisen using that technology to pull someone into a carefully constructed dream to trick their subconscious into giving up closely held secrets without the mark even knowing that they have been robbed.

Leonardo DiCaprio plays Cobb, a master thief using this new technology. If you want a secret stolen, he’s the best. So it is to Cobb that Saito, an ultra-rich industrialist, turns when he wants something even more difficult. Saito wants Cobb to break into someone’s mind and leave a thought behind without the mark knowing or suspecting what’s been done, to plant the inception of an idea.

On its face it seems impossible, how do you get someone to think something, to have than initial beginning of an idea, and for them to think that it was there idea all along? But despite the seeming impossibility of the task, it’s something that Cobb is willing to try once Saito finds the right way to pull to motivate him.

The structure and the plot of inception borrow heavily from the classic caper movies combining basic elements from two standard storylines, the reluctant bank robber enticed into one final heist and the -layer within layer confidence scheme. Nolan breathes new life into these storylines and in truth I did not even see the parallels until I was reflecting on the movie later at home.

At 158 minutes, Inception is a long film, but it moved along at a brisk pace and seldom seemed to drag. It’s a visually spectacular film, but oddly one of the things that made the movie work for me was a sense of restraint. Typically I find that when attempt to portray dream states or altered realities they become impressionistic mishmashes that make me vaguely seasick. While Inception has no shortage of special effects that are extremely well done, there is a logical believability to them, mostly because the camera frame is full of everyday objects, even if they are seen behaving in unusual and unexpected ways. Any CGI that was used was held to an almost photo-realistic standard. I didn’t have any moments where my suspension of disbelief crumbled because the CGI was so mind blowingly unbelievable.

And just because a lot of the action takes place in dreams, thankfully the characters don’t get to go around dodging bullets in slow motion or jumping tall buildings in a single bound. Characters are still bound by laws of physics and placed in believable jeopardy. There is a fight scene in zero-gravity that is especially well done. Not only was there a logical reason these people would be fighting in zero-gravity, but it actually looked like a fight that was taking place in zero-gravity. It was good enough that I had to go online to see if maybe Nolan and company had perhaps used an airplane to actually achieve temporary zero-gravity to shoot the scene.

When we go to movies, we suspend our belief to become emotionally engaged with what the director has created. The director has created a world, with sets and actors to manipulate our minds and emotions. There are some similarities in what Cobb and his crew do. They build the set, take on roles, and follow the script. But morally the two things are as different as night and day, and I almost wish the film had demonstrated more of an awareness of that distinction. As the outsider of the gang, Ellen Page’s character of Ariadne does make some attempt to ask ethical questions, but it’s done weakly and she never gets close to any of the big questions.

Not every tale has to be turned into a morality tale to be enjoyable, but on reflection I find making a business of breaking and entering into a person’s dreams and manipulating their subconscious into revealing their innermost secrets a terrible form of assault on the self. And breaking in to leave thoughts the victim would take for their own seems worse. There is enough backstory that we understand Cobb and his motivations, but should that translate into us routing for him and his gang to succeed?

But morality aside, Inception is one heck of an original caper film.


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