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.