Saturday, July 17, 2010

Inception (2010)

There is no arguing the grandiose nature of Inception, in its presentation, its ambition and its cinematic soul.  The latest product of master craftsman Christopher Nolan, this Leo DiCaprio-starring heist thriller looks to go further down the rabbit hole than any film that’s come before it…and then to press on even further.  A kaleidoscopic tale of dreamscapes and nightmares, Inception sucks you in with its familiarity – luring you into the umpteenth film about dreams and mind exploration – then carries you away into uncharted realms of fantasy and science, smacking you in the face with rules and understandings with a casual banality, only in the very next moment to smack you again and tell you all that was only half true.  Indeed, watching Inception is very much akin to dreaming itself, with all the wonders of introspection, complication and sloppiness with which dreams may come.

DiCaprio is a dream thief named Cobb, a man hired by powerful men to steal the deepest hidden secrets of other powerful men.  We meet him in the middle of his latest gig, and when that gig goes wrong, he’s hired by his nevertheless impressed original target (Ken Watanabe) to plant an idea (an “inception”) in the mind of yet another powerful target (Cillian Murphy).  “Inception” is a risky proposition, and Cobb’s partner Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) doesn’t want to risk it.  But the reward for Cobb is too much to pass up – a trip home with a clean slate and a second chance at the past that torments him, in the reality of the flesh and the mind.

  To say anything more would be to lessen your experience, and the trailers and TV spots have done enough of that already.  Inception is a film to be awed by, a chance to be swept up by the amazing and the inconceivable, and it’s pretty hard to do that if the trailers themselves have already planted the conception.  Suffice it to say, things get as complicated as any narrative I can remember encountering… and with that complexity comes fallibility.

  In fact, the film kicks off with a needless framing device, planting us in its final scene to establish an unnecessary air of mystery that eventually becomes an answer to (and spoils) a more pressing and interesting mystery.  But then that’s also how it goes in Inception, a film that treats information as a virus, something to be both feared and revered, and dealt with only as necessary.  As beautiful and creative and adventurous as Nolan’s film is, it too often manages to keep us at a distance, allowing for accessibility when it comes to Cobb and his broken humanity (his tortured past is this film’s beating heart), but spiking the deck with trick cards only Nolan knows about.  When it comes to viewing Inception, we’re never really “in on it.”  We’re along with the mystery ride, tossed in the back of the van with a bag over our head and taken for a drive.  Only occasionally can we sneak a peak, or get a whiff of where we are.

  As a Nolan film, Inception is drawing comparisons to Memento (2000) and The Dark Knight (2008).  And indeed it is as masterfully inventive as the prior, and almost as strikingly cinematic as the latter.  But as a film toying with groundbreaking exploration, Inception is also drawing comparisons to The Matrix (1999), a film it is actually quite inferior to.

  In a summer of remakes and reboots, Inception feels fresh, because it is.  But it’s more mind-bending than mind-opening, and it offers nothing as technologically groundbreaking as “bullet time” or any of the other neat tricks that elevated The Wachowski brothers film to astounding new action flick levels.  Inception is a movie about dreams, and we all know what those are.  Heck, it isn’t even the 10th film to tackle their exploration.

  But the primary difference between The Matrix and Inception is how they offer up their information.  In The Matrix, we learn as Neo learns.  It’s like a class – we take notes, we practice, and then we see it all in action.  It’s a process.  Being a film about dreams, their expansiveness and their randomness, Inception chooses to avoid the process, instead handing out tidbits of wealth, shoving us into the world, then pulling us in for more info, and more shoving.  Rinse, lather, repeat, right up until the very end, which is itself left open for interpretation.

  There is nothing particularly wrong with this choice, but there are side effects – if we spend too much time trying to figure things out, it’s hard to simply sit back and enjoy it.  And if we instead choose to simply sit back and take it in, we abandon our sleuthing flashlights, and are left running blindly through the dark.

  But oh what a pretty darkness it is.  Nolan is nothing if not a gifted filmmaker, and everybody involved here understands just how special it is to be working with him.  The acting, the wardrobe, the FX - it's all very cool, and very top notch.  Inception is wondrous and challenging, in a time when many films are told to be not.  It is rebellious in spirit, and it is to be cherished for being so daring.  And at the very least, it is a film to be seen again.
Updated Summer Blockbuster Standings:
1.) Inception
2.) Toy Story 3
3.) The A-Team
4.) Iron Man 2
5.) Get Him to the Greek
6.) Knight and Day
7.) Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time
8.) The Twilight Saga: Eclipse
9.) Shrek 4
10.) The Last Airbender

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