Inception: A Review

I saw Nolan’s Inception for the first time a week from last Monday, and at last I have mustered up the courage to attempt to review it. My first impression: a marvelous, finely-crafted film that extends the reaches of the mind to yet another dimension. It has the fine action of The Dark Knight, the stupefying creativeness of The Prestige, and the intelligence of both.

Now, Inception relies on a highly improbable plot. The science that the story depends on is barely rationalized. Somehow its protagonists survive (in dreams, of course) action scenes that would make five Jason Bournes shudder. And yet, for all that, it makes one so much want to believe that it is possible that none of this is distracting. The viewer is sucked in and ready to take almost anything. And Inception gives the viewer something to at once enjoy and think about.

First of all, it’s about a concept new to popular cinema: the possibilities of entering dreams and the mechanics of the mind. It handles this in an extremely delicate fashion, dealing with high complexity in as understandable a way as possible. The premise, that of planting an idea in someone’s head, is explored in a thorough and exciting fashion. Dropped into this is a fascinating and conflicted protagonist, Cobb. He is conflicted because his job is what cost him everything, and it’s also what gives him the greatest chance of getting some of it back. There is a normal way to invent a conflicted protagonist; usually it involves someone struggling with self-doubt or guilt, feelings of inadequacy. There is certainly guilt here, but we soon realize that this person is not like every other conflicted antihero we see on screen. I won’t give away why he is guilt-ridden, but his struggles are at once unique and somehow relatable, dealing as they do with themes of love, possession, loss, manipulation, and insanity.

Standing tall beside the struggles of the protagonist, and perhaps even dwarfing it, is the ingenuity and artistry that went into the film’s design. The world of the dream is at once believable and fantastic. We can accept the (somewhat flimsy) explanation and really delve into it, layered as it is with many possibilities, some explored by the film, but many that could be imagined outside of it. The idea of the film is truly what makes it great, and fortunately for those captured by it Nolan does his best (and his best is really good) to make it an enthralling story. Its intellectualism does not destroy its heart.

The action scenes are neither altogether overblown (well, if they weren’t in dreams, they probably would be, but here they are not), nor do they fall short, nor are they just like those in any other movie. The tension, and not just from the action, is some of the greatest I have ever experienced, for there was no way to foresee who would suffer what fate.

The place where Inception falls a bit short of perfection, in my opinion, is that of characterization and writing. Each of the characters was skillfully handled in that they were all sympathetic and distinct; the acting was brilliant, and everyone was sufficiently in-character to be believable. The protagonist, Cobb, and his wife are handled very well and sympathetically, as I have mentioned. The target of the operation is pleasantly complicated. But the supporting characters were so briefly “reached into” that we had to go on very little. Now, that very little was enough to make them feel distinct, but for most of them not quite enough to understand their motivations. Adriadne, for instance, is probably the third most important character in the film, standing in as she does for the viewer with her naiveté about the world of the dream. But we do not get beyond the functional details to learn about her. This does not disrupt the film; I mostly thought of it in retrospect. But it would be nice to have a more well-rounded film in this regard.

All in all, I would recommend it to anyone who likes either action, intelligence, or imagination in their films. It’s not a sit-back-and-relax film; it is most definitely one that will pull you in and affect your dreams that night.

Oh, and for my interpretation of the ending (highlight to read): If he did not wake up (I have doubts about this), then he is still in limbo.

5 comments on “Inception: A Review

  1. salvageroost says:

    I started to review Inception after I saw it the first time… this makes me want to try again.

  2. Eastman and I also agreed it was pretty overwrought. I think it begs more comparison to another recent DiCaprio film, Shutter Island (which is, in fact, in no way a horror film) that with other Nolan films (although it definitely has the same feel as the prestige). What it has on Shutter Island is its moral bearing — that is, its struggle for objectivity over subjectivity and the victory of reality over fantasy (I mean, this is a conflict in Shutter Island, but the meaning is much less than subsidiary to the mystery — and it has no bearing). I think the nature of this conflict brings more reality to Cobb and his conflict.

    I didn’t like Ariadne as the “magic” character. Ellen Page’s voice just isn’t genuine enough. It’s always too earnest, like she’s acting. Also, Ariadne’s dialogue and characterization, if her conflict with Cobb is a central dilemma, is very poor. It left her with no weight.

    Perhaps Nolan needed to focus more on characterization, and split it into two film. Imagine the ridiculousness of that cliffhanger.

    What I was impressed with though, getting lost in those layers of dream, was coming out of the theater. I hope that makes sense.

  3. salvageroost says:

    That Ariadne failed to be genuine specifically by being too earnest is an excellent way of putting it. I also like the suggestion that the film should have been made as two; that never occurred to me. That would indeed have left more room for characterization. There was just so much plot going on in the film as it was, it left no spare room for characterization, and the dialogue had to be choppy in order for us to proceed from point A to point B in a timely manner. My main problem with that choppiness, as with Ariadne’s lack of believability, was that it made the “real” world feel dreamlike. Everybody was too acquiescent, especially Cobb’s father and Ariadne.

  4. We should also note that Ariadne is a convenient name for someone who weaves webs of deception. I find it very shady. But that’s just the Naturalist in me.

  5. alafel says:

    I would like to point out for the tenth time that the real world only felt too dreamlike, and the supporting characters too acquiescent, because Cobb was actually still dreaming the whole time.
    After viewing the movie a second time, I must agree that Ariadne did indeed “fail to be genuine specifically by being too earnest.” However, it was only when she was trying to say something very meaningful that it felt that way.
    I am intrigued by the idea of them splitting the movie in two. They would have had to make them both at the same time, release them maybe six months apart, and make the second a direct continuation of the first, without bothering to try and explain things to the people who didn’t watch the first one. The result would have been two movies standing at about two and a half hours a piece. The danger in that would be that by the time the second one came out people would have lost their sense of wonder at the concept. The second movie would not feel nearly as novel and wondrous.
    Nolan had to make a difficult structural decision, and I don’t know whether an ideal compromise exists. The movie needed to be self contained and stand alone so that the ending would still be awe-inspiring. For the sake of characterization, it needed to be longer. However, Nolan knew that by the end of three hours his viewers would be shifting uncomfortably in their seats. Something would have to give. I think the best way to handle it would be with one marathon movie, Lord of the Rings style. I’d rather sacrifice the patience and comfort of the viewer than sacrifice the story and characters.
    If Cobb actually did wake up in the end, and reality actually turned out to be reality, I must conclude that the writing suffered because of a solution-less problem. I hesitate to criticize the writing skills of the man who penned The Dark Knight.

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