Review: “Inception”

July 19, 2010 at 3:11 pm Leave a comment

Take any screenwriting class and the teacher will tell you that you can’t have  a movie without conflict.  Well, you can make a movie without conflict, but it probably won’t be any good; the audience wants to see the hero struggle.  That same teacher will probably tell you that there’s only three types of conflict: man vs man, man vs nature, and man vs himself.  The history of cinema is filled with films that explore these types of conflict individually, but rarely does a single film tackle all three in one go.

The film stars Leonardo DiCaprio as Cobb, who is an expert in stealing ideas from within the mind of his targets.  Backing him up are point man Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), con man Eames (Tom Hardy), architectural student Ariadne (Ellen Page), and chemist Yusuf (Dileep Rao).  Marion Cotillard, Michael Caine, the always-awesome Ken Watanabe, and Cillian Murphy have supporting roles.

Inception, the latest big summer film from Christopher Nolan, is a crazy hybrid of heist, science fiction, and action genres, and it succeeds in all those area.  I won’t go into the details plot, as it really is something to be experienced for yourself.  What I found interesting is what Nolan used as obstacles for our heroes.  In the ‘man vs man’ conflict, the protagonist usually faces off against another person or being.  The most typical of these is, say, our hero cop battling against terrorist (Die Hard).  In Inception, there is no clear-cut bad guy, as the people they physically fight against are more like representations of the mind, but nonetheless, these representations are manifest as physical beings in the dream world that they all interact in.  These representations are soldiers or security guards, whose bullets have dire consequences for anyone who gets shot.

From the trailers of the film, it’s obvious that dreams play a major role.  The world of the dream has its own set of rules, like how gravity and physics are represented.  Chief among these is time, the nature of which governs virtually every aspect of the dream world.  Time speeds up considerably within the mind; a few minutes in the ‘real world’ equate to hours in the dream, and hours dreaming could mean a lifetime within the mind.  As our heroes race to unlock secrets and plant memories (hence the term “inception”) within their targets, they race against time itself, and the nature of time is something they must understand in order to get their job done.  Not to give anything away, but there is a significant plot development where Cobb and Co. realize they must go deeper into business empire heir Robert Fischer’s (Murphy) mind in order to allow more time for the inception to occur.

The final conflict, man vs himself, plays an important role in the story of Cobb.  Again, not trying to give anything away, but the personal struggles that lay within Cobb’s mind have dire effects on the entire crew.  He must physically do battle with his inner demons in order to save his partners and finish the job.   The ending ties in directly to this, and understanding of the ‘man vs himself’ conflict can lead to various interpretations of what the final scene ‘really meant’.

If there was any real issue I had with this film was that it didn’t leave me as floored as The Dark Knight did.  I guess I’m just more attracted to morality plays and really grounded villains, which the previous Batman film had.  There wasn’t a ‘message’ that I picked up on in Inception, but it doesn’t really need one.  This film may not have worked if Nolan tried to inject a villain like the Joker, who is a representation of pure uncontrollable chaos.  Oh, and indie darling Ellen Page is kind of blah here; not bad, but she seemed like she was phoning it in at times.

Writer/director Christopher Nolan has already established himself as one of Hollywood’s top directors, having burst on the scene with Memento (which this film has been compared to).  What sets him apart from many Hollywood directors is his ability to use the camera to tell the story.  Inception is a gorgeous film, with incredible choreography, camerawork, and set and costume design.  Nolan had mentioned in an interview that he wanted to shoot more IMAX-formatted scenes, but the crazy camera movements in this film wouldn’t have been possible with a large IMAX camera.  Apparently, he and Michael Bay are the only ones who embrace the large format of IMAX, and I could only wonder at what Inception may have looked like with nearly twice the frame space.

Without a doubt, Inception is the summer’s best movie (though Toy Story 3 comes really close).  This James-Bond-meets-The-Matrix mashup probably would’ve been entertaining if given to another director, but this is a Christopher Nolan film through and through.  The reviews of this film can’t do it justice, this is a story that must be seen to be understood, and it a testament to the skill of who is quickly becoming one of the best of the contemporary filmmakers.

9.5/10

(images from Yahoo!)

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