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By Preston Garrett · July 16, 2010
Last night. 12:14am. Arclight Hollywood. The Dome theater. I was there. And my fanboy corduroys sweatily stuck to my legs with the lustful palpitations of an adolescent boy's first glimpse of Pamela Anderson on Baywatch. Inception would be starting in exactly one minute.
It started raining in the theater, and gravity got supremely messed up – everything started tilting on it's z-axis towards the "right," and I started floating upward. As I started free falling toward the ceiling, the din of Styx's "Come Sail Away" (at the exact 2 minutes and 25 seconds mark) started crescendoing over all the eruptions of hoots and hollers in the theater. Right as I was about to hit the top of the ceiling, it started to crumble all over me, and then I was suddenly falling toward an ocean smack dab in the middle of Sunset and Cahuenga…
Then I snapped awake in the backseat of my buddy's car. The radio was blaring Styx, I had to pee, we had just taken a really sharp turn onto Cahuenga, and my asshole friend in the backseat had just spit water all over my face.
In regards to the aforementioned 2 paragraphs, these are the types of dream vs. reality parallel rules that come into play Christopher Nolan's Inception. And simply put, it's fucking enthralling. Just to throw out an all-encompassing statement about the movie up front, Inception is a sweeping ode to the beauties and mysteries of subconscious x-factors; an altar crafted for the seemingly banal lurkings of bizarre metaphors during REM; and a testament to the sheer fun that's supposed to be had at the movies.
Inception. Before I really get into it there are 2 things I need to iterate:
1) To fully appreciate the film, I highly recommend checking out Leroy James King's blog regarding Inception director Christopher Nolan.
2) Ever-so-slight SPOILER ALERT. I promise I'm not giving anything beefy away – just shedding some ambiguous light on a few things. A lot of the novelty of this film rides on being oriented with the physics of the Inception world; the rules; and the why.
At its barebones, Inception is a heist film; a "one last score" film; a riff on The Matrix; a noir-ish LOST experience where multiple planes of reality take place simultaneously; and it's what I'd like to consider the unofficial sister movie to Scorsese's (and Di Caprio's) Shutter Island (I got some flack for making this analogy last night, but I was pleased to see that Max Read of Defamer saw a similar parallel – check it out here.) That's the barebones.
It's safe to say that most of the world now knows the basic plot: a band of thieves who can extract ideas from peoples' minds while they dream are challenged with the task of planting an idea into the head of a corporate big wig. The payoff: an ungodly amount of cash for the crew, and per their employer's word (Ken Watanabe), the dream thieves' ringleader, Cobb (Di Caprio), can finally go home. To put it lightly, he might have an outstanding criminal record stateside that prevents this… but I'm not really saying that…
Surprisingly, the plot is pretty straightforward, and Nolan is obviously ever-aware of the existential danger zones he's wading in throughout the movie. Thus, the first act of the film is really an orientation into the how and why of dancing in other peoples' dreams. Too fun to watch – no more explanation required.
I really don't think I have license to go much further in giving plot details. The film is such a well-crafted secret that gradually peels away like an onion that to know anything else would truly be a hardcore spoiler. As far as praise goes, it should be strongly noted that Joseph Gordon-Levitt definitely anchors this film. He's really the only tension releaser of the film, the true zero gravity badass, and the only one that seems to have a grip on reality vs. the dream world. He's a pleasure to watch, and certainly challenges Di Caprio's performance as the more superiorly acted in the film. Kudos, duder.
In spite of all the Nolan felatio I've done above, yes, there are certainly issues with the film that make it shy of perfect. Simply because the story is so carefully constructed and unfolded, there are certain loose ends in the film that become incredibly conspicuous after viewing it. In a movie charged with a thousand questions, and about 995 that are answered, Nolan pretend shoots himself in the foot. His attention to detail and eye for perfection leaves you damn near seething for the answers to the those few questions that probably wouldn't have mattered if there had been other holes in the movie… but since there's not so many, those trivial ones drive you a little crazy when it's all said and done. In so many words, Nolan sets such a high standard for himself and the film, you're left wondering, "Well why the fuck didn't that get explained?"
In the same vein, there's a very conspicuous similarity to the presentation of Inception's reality, and that of The Dark Knight. Nolan wields absolutes like Baby Ruth hit homeruns. In DK, Nolan totally breaks outside of Batman convention by completely bypassing the villain's backstory, in this case, the Joker's. He a crazy ass, he's evil, and he did a stint in Arkham Asylum. That's all we get, and it totally works, in large part due to Heath Ledger's ridiculously haunting performance.
Inception employs a very similar use of absolutes, namely when it comes to the dream inhabiting technology. The world of Inception is could easily be today, except that there's this dream technology – the dream technology just is. We're never oriented in "time," that is to say the present or future. So in this vein, the technology is a total absolute. It's never explained; there's no backstory for it. And I get Nolan's choice for this – as a writer, I can see where this would add a lot of pages to the script, especially if you wanted the explanation to be on the same par of quality with the rest of the film. But at times during the film, I caught myself thirsting for how this technology came about; when people started "training" to exploit it for criminal purposes; etc. Honestly, Nolan could have done this ever-so-quickly in a Minority Report sort of way, yet as it consistently seems to be with Nolan, he's incredibly choosy about what he feels his audience needs to know.
These are obviously pretty minor "complaints," but if I had to pinpoint one actual irk with the film, it would have to be the decision to cast Di Caprio as the lead. Don't get me wrong – he does a fine job. I really do think he's a great actor, one that consistently turns out solid, memorable, and iconic performances. But re: Shutter Island, this role just felt too similar to me. It kind of made me wonder what his thought process was when he read the scripts, likely back to back. Yes, both movies (in my opinion) are great, and the stories are incredibly taut. But it doesn't seem like there had to have been much of a challenge going between the 2 films for Di Caprio. So it just made me wonder who of a similar caliber could have taken this role on and really made it something new. I think it would have been just as good a film with any of these guys taking the lead – perhaps even better: Matt Damon, Jon Hamm, Phillip Seymour Hoffman (seriously, it could have worked), Daniel Day-Lewis (yeah, probably not even close to a possibility), Forest Whitaker, or… gulp… Tom Cruise (I really think he could have brought some crazy, psyched out hardass-ery.) Just some thoughts.
The only other real criticism – the movie never lets up. You feel like you're holding your breath for about 2 and a half hours straight, which isn't a bad thing. It just would have been a little nice to have a breather every now and again. But again, I really did love this film. What Nolan has got going for him in this movie, and many of his others, is total OCD scrutiny over everything that happens onscreen. Any frustrations I have about Inception are really just the manifestations of Nolan's humanity – there's no such thing as a perfect film, even if it's the whole 995 questions answered out of 1,000. It's almost comforting to have these frustrations – it proves he isn't just a droid staring at brick wall.
In short, what fucking fun. Yeah, there's some flaws, but I challenge you to see a smarter, more original, and well executed tent pole the rest of the year. Definitely my pick for best film of the year so far, which honestly isn't saying a whole lot thus far. But damn, it's still such a wonderful traipse down mindfuck lane.
My final props go to Tom Berenger and Cillian Murphy. Towards the end of the film, they're sitting in the rain, and have such a fucking touching and haunting exchange with one another… it nails how a dream truly feels, and evokes with such restrained potency the subtle emotions that can overtake us in our waking state, even after the dream ends.
I give this 4 out of 4 brick walls.