Film Reviews

Inception Christopher Nolan

Rating - 8/10

According to Christopher Nolan's latest futuristic science fiction thriller, Inception, the title of the film references the act of planting an idea in one's head through an induced dream state.  While the modus operandi is inexorably convoluted, inherent difficulty arises as the subject of the 'inception' is always prone to trace the origin of an idea, which initiates a lingering internal suspicion.  Therefore, the simplest version of a proposal is necessary for insemination and its subsequent blossoming.  With a massive preface, the film is both the epitome and antithesis of this tortuous theory.  In the opening sequence, main character and 'extractor' Cobb (Leonardo Di Caprio) declares to his new client Caito (Ken Watanabe), "No idea is simple when you need to implant it in someone else's mind."  The visualization of Nolan winking at audiences remains fixated in one's mind's eye, since the quote is a brand of meta commentary on the logic of the film.  As the first project since Memento (2000) to belong solely to Nolan and not his brother, Jonathan, or David S. Goyer, Inception is a thrilling and fulfilling universe with expertly crafted reason implemented to the utmost degree.  However, while the film intends to become its own singular force, it is clearly reminiscent of Philip K. Dick's writings, Charlie Kaufman's films, The Matrix (1999), eXistenz (1999), Waking Life (2001), the James Bond franchise, and even the New Wave masterpiece Last Year at Marienbad (1961).  Inception draws from a vast array of literary and cinematic sources to form a tremendously entertaining package although an imperfect and somewhat manipulated one with underdeveloped supporting characters, a redundant musical score from Hans Zimmer, and occasionally disorienting action sequences.

While it would be nearly impossible to capture or even summarize the rules and logic of the film in a single paragraph, it is a fictional thematic proposition for the future of civilization and humanity's dwindling grip on reality.  Instead of training soldiers for traditional warfare, Inception situates the battles within the cerebral and intuitive landscapes for the control of information.  The film utilizes the idea to its maximum confines with characters, specifically Cobb, consistently spouting philosophical rhetoric in the film's former half.  While grooming a new 'architect,' Ariadne (Ellen Page), to construct proverbial dream mazes for him to extract information, Cobb mentions the logic of simultaneously creating and perceiving a dream yet never fathoming the exact origin of it.  Dream consciousness exists entirely within the present tense; this quotation is yet another sly allusion to the opening scene and its recurrence in the final act.  In Nolan's signature credit-less introduction, Cobb is found disoriented along a shoreline and witnesses projections (or dream mirages) of his children.  More prominently, Cobb's former deceased wife, Mal, is then revealed to be the major source of his psychological woes; she not only appears more frequently but as a more vicious and imposing projection.  Cobb's reconstructions of his actual memories as dreams preserve the intensity of their courtship forever in the present moment.  Initiating moral questions, the act captures his inability to accept death as an inevitability.  Nolan recognizes humanity's ability to alter lives through the physicality of actions, but instead accentuates the more complex indirect transformation of one's perception.  Although possibly unintended, this application is sharply reminiscent of the publicity of information in the modern age through the Patriot Act, touching upon current sentiments surrounding the invasion of privacy.

With a tremendous amount of exposition necessary to formulate genuine credibility, the final hour of the film concerns momentous implementation of those ideas with the attempts to penetrate the mind of young business heir Robert Fischer, Jr. (Cillian Murphy).  Cobb arranges a meeting on an airplane; during the flight, his team of dream extractors hook themselves and Fischer into their patented 'communal dreaming' device concealed within a suitcase.  Propelling the narrative to unravel into yet another layer, this plot point reveals the dilemma of Fischer's militarized subconscious to prevent the extractors' mind intrusion.  Cobb and company aim to perform 'inception' on Fischer that will cause him to ruin his family's business empire by averting reconciliation with his dying father, but it obviously becomes a multi-step process that involves simultaneous dream manipulations.  The film successfully plays with audiences' perceptions in discussion of death within the stages of dreams; in a third layer of a forced dream (or a "dream within a dream within a dream"), one perishes to a limbo or raw infinite subconscious state.  Since Nolan never truly presents a representation of limbo to the audience, he is able to shift setting and narrative at will, specifically concerning Cobb, who references his own quandary in limbo at one point.  While casual moviegoers will undoubtedly remain puzzled and apprehensive, it brands the film with unique depth and beckons subsequent viewings and interpretative measures.

Innate to Nolan's craft, the panorama and logic of Inception are principal with many of the characters merely serving to populate the world he has created.  Like alternate reality landscapes or futuristic sci-fi films before it, characters tend to become secondary to circumstance and portrayal of an environment's relationship to modern day.  This is the case with Cobb's younger assistant, Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), identity forger Eames (Tom Hardy), and Yusuf (Dileep Rao), a drug-developing chemist, all potentially engrossing characters but concurrently worn and threadbare against the nostalgically tormented Cobb.  Additionally, none of the secondary roles are provided with defining characteristics, which ultimately foster inconclusive fates.  Hans Zimmer, the composer for the film, also stylistically revisits Nolan's last entry, The Dark Knight, for inspiration while layering that brooding orchestral tension with the subtlety of dark ambient and electronic music, inadvertently akin to Graeme Norgate's music for the TimeSplitters series of games.  While Zimmer even cleverly manipulates Edith Piaf's "Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien," the score is a bit redundant in the context of his previous oeuvre, forcing the film into emotionally stale territory.  The punctuated, haphazardly assembled action sequences also lend themselves to monotonous confusion with an overindulgence of gunfire.  However, these minor nitpickings are insignificant to the universalism involved in the project; Christopher Nolan has managed to procure an extraordinarily abstract concept, accomplish it in a flourish of coherence, clever ambiguity, and logic, imbuing the intensity of his filmmaking within the narrative and main protagonist.  Recalling Cobb's quote at the 'inception' of the film, it is difficult to convince someone of a wholly original idea; while Nolan borrows from preceding art films and executes well beyond simplicity, he is successful in crafting an innovatively entertaining amalgamation of genres.  By returning to the enigmatic roots of Following (1998) and Memento on a grand scale, the director blends a classically tense thriller with a unique enigmatic post-modernism to fall just shy of that "summer blockbuster meets maze-like art house" nirvana.