Thursday, July 15, 2010
Inception has so many ideas going on that I decided to write a a bunch of jumbled paragraphs instead of my usual jumbled paragraph.
Inception doesn't try to fool us and it doesn't try to complicate matters just for the sake of confusing the people who see it. The complexities and perplexities are there because the story requires them to be. Christopher Nolan is a renowned mind game virtuoso, and yet here he's not pursuing anything but instead fulfilling a passion and bringing it to life in the greatest possible form. A comparison could be made to Peter Jackson and his 2005 passion project, King Kong. I thought I wouldn't see such a high budget movie be so personal again, but then I saw Inception. Jackson needed fame and money to make Kong, but he made it more for his own sake than for his mass audience. Nolan does the same, and the final scene of the film indicates that this is his story and that there was no manipulation from the studio that bought his resplendent screenplay. Respect is a wonderful thing.
Nolan spent a great deal of time toying with the ideas that eventually led to the clever procedure known as inception. From what I hear he was working on the script for ten years, but who knows how long the actual ideas were swirling around in his head. That he wrote, produced, and directed the film is indicative of his desire to own the movie completely. His other works, though developed along his own creative path, were influenced by his brother. Here, it's just him. And with it he's outdone himself.
If you can access the mind of a person through their dreams, you can do anything you want and get anything you want. An Extractor will remove an idea from the dreamer and use it to his advantage. But what's better than stealing an idea? Planting one to manipulate the victim so that when they wake they will do what you want them to do. And what's cooler than that? How about a dream within a dream. These ideas are totally cool of course, and Nolan supplies us with nearly all of the concept's high potential. Nolan, prudently bringing his idea into a world just like the one we live in (we don't want this looking too much like The Matrix, do we?), starts things off with the protagonist, Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) employing this concept without offering much of an explanation as to what it actually does. And before it's fully explained, Cobb is in negotiations with Saito (Ken Watanabe) a businessmen who hires him to access the mind of Robert Fischer Jr. He's the son of a deceased business tycoon who has built an empire and has passed it along to his boy. This is where the new idea of planting an idea in someone's dream comes into effect. While preparing for the dream heist, Nolan appears to be in pure heaven explaining the rules of inception through a team of experts, led by Cobb and and his incredibly percipient assistant, Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt). There's also an architect (Ellen Page) and the Forger, played by Tom Hardy. Cillian Murphy also re-teams with Nolan as Fischer Jr., and Michael Caine is Cobb's father. Cobb is the front and center of the film, but with all these supporting players, Nolan has also created one of the best ensembles in recent cinema.
Nolan does trade some intrigue for action in the second half, as the heist becomes an expeditious thrill ride on the slopes of a snowy mountain-complete with skis, snowmobiles (or something like them), and high-tech weaponry. But through all the intelligence that occurs early on, you may have forgotten that Nolan is also a master at seamlessly staging an action scene. Combining long, wide shots and frenzied quick cutting close-ups with Hans Zimmer's penetrating score (sometimes intrusive, but still solid) and the outstanding locations, Nolan makes these sequences truly thrilling and cutting edge.
Through all of this is Inception's emotional core concerning Cobb and his dead wife, Mal, played in yet another great American role by Marion Cotillard. Mal, though dead, is present in the dream world, and she keeps finding her way into the heist as Cobb seems to be accessing his old world throughout the mission. As Cobb explains, he brought Mal into the dream world and together they created a life for themselves that had everything the real world didn't. Throughout the movie we know something is haunting Cobb, and by the end we feel this movie isn't really about that final job, but about Cobb's personal connection with Mal, his battle to let go, and his quest to be with his two children. We also learn that Cobb's wife was killed and without even asking the question the movie makes us wonder if Cobb is responsible. The revelation at the end, which to reveal would destroy much of the film's emotional resonance, demonstrates a major problem that obsession creates.
That Inception lacks a villain further bespeaks Nolan's attempt to make this as unusual and individual as possible. One would guess that the Cillian Murphy character would be the antagonist because in nearly every other Hollywood movie he would be. But he's actually a pretty cool guy and that scene between him and his father near the end was one of the film's most touching and sad moments.
Christopher Nolan is not just one of the great directors of today, but also one of the greatest thinkers. It's not just that he manages to initiate these ideas, but it's how he is able to expand on them and make them work. And while most people would look upon the success of The Dark Knight with glowing eyes and hastily proceed with an even bigger follow-up, Nolan saw it as an opportunity to get the green light on the movie he's always wanted to make. It's his best, most fulfilling project to date, which is remarkable considering how good his other films actually are. Nolan has personally said that Inception is a work if inspiration and while watching it you can see glimpses of The Matrix. But he uses inspiration the same way Tarantino does: as a tool to make your own work more original.
The point of Inception is first and foremost to throw the viewer into Nolan's dazzling world. He wants us to just experience it and marvel at what he's created. The complications of the this idea, most of which I haven't revealed, force us to use our minds more than any plot-driven movie ever has. The heist is thrown in to give it all a purpose and to move the story along, but really this is about the experience and the characters. The movie is complete sophisticated grandeur that makes us think not just about the puzzle as it evolves, but about the people involved in it.
I saw the movie with about 500 other excited people, and when it was over, I heard a guy comment that he had never heard an audience so quiet during a movie. That's evidence as to just how much attention Inception requires from the viewer. Diverting your eyes to feed a straw into your mouth or checking your phone will ensure that you don't experience the movie in full. Take nothing with you into the movie but an open mind and the knowledge that you must remain alert throughout. If you feel your eyes drooping beforehand or notice a few yawns on the drive to the theater, then might as well turn around and go home.