Sometimes, expectations are exceeded…Welcome to that day. Capone reviews INCEPTION!!!
Published at: July 15, 2010, 12:50 a.m. CST by Capone
Hey, everyone. Capone in Chicago here.
When I ran the Ain't It Cool contest for tickets to the Chicago INCEPTION screening last week, I asked those who entered to tell me what they thought the film was about when they saw the first trailer. Now having seen it twice, I can say with complete confidence that nobody, including me, came even close to capturing just what this miraculous effort accomplishes. The first thing you have to realize is that INCEPTION isn't simply a movie; it's a symphony of images, ideas, performances, and, yes, music that is meant to continue on living and breathing in your head long, long after you've taken it all in. And it is absolutely crucial that you see INCEPTION twice before you really form your opinion on it. The work is not confusing, but it is dense and layered and complicated and is a powerful exercise in using your brain. Don't let any of that scare you. See it the second time wasn't as much about clearing things up as it was making a select few fuzzy moments become crystal clear and tightly focused in my mind.
Another thing you must realize about INCEPTION (and this may be something you've figured out long ago) is that writer-director Christopher Nolan's brain works differently than the rest of us humans. His eyes see the world as something that needs deconstructing and rearranging. This is evident going all the way back to his first feature FOLLOWING, but it really became clear with 2000's MEMENTO, a mystery that was only a mystery because the story was told in reverse through the eyes of a man with no short-term memory. Perhaps the only truly disappointing thing about Nolan's work on BATMAN BEGINS and THE DARK KNIGHT is that he doesn't quite have the free to tinker with reality. But that doesn't mean he isn't playing up the psychological elements of the plot. Sure, The Joker is the villain, but he's a villain in who we see fractured pieces of ourselves. He's the sum total of a broken society and the ugliest parts of human behavior.
But INCEPTION shatters all expectations that Nolan has demanded we have of him. Much of what we think we know up to this point about the film is a lie. The trailers have been somewhat misleading. Many of the money shots we've seen up to this point (such as the awe-inspiring image of an entire city folding over on itself) are not especially important to the overall story. Even the plot synopsis that have been released (with the exception of the final press notes) have been guiding audiences to think this movie is about a man who is hired by corporate giants to protect their executives from a technology that allows people to go into your dreams and steal your secrets. This is, in fact, what the character Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) does for a living, but that's not really what he does in this movie.
When I ran my contest, I also had a lot of people draw comparisons between INCEPTION and films like THE MATRIX or DARK CITY or DREAMSCAPE or a half-dozen other landmark sci-fi films. But no, Inception is entirely it's own movie. Actually, the one movie it kind of did remind me of was, of all things, THE STING, for the simple reason that Nolan's story is about the "long con," and I didn't notice this until the second time I viewed it. When Cobb is asked by an exec played by Ken Watanabe (THE LAST SAMURAI; BATMAN BEGINS) to implant an idea into someone's subconscious so deep that the target (Cillian Murphy, playing the son of a dying energy-company head) thinks the idea came from his own thought process, he takes the job because it will restore his life of exile away from his children, whose faces he's unable to conjure in his memory.
The element that takes INCEPTION from great to fucking brilliant is the layer of tension that is added to the mix by Cobb's psychological instability. He's the man in charge, he's partially responsible for training and concocting the scheme that will fulfill the contract, and he's got issues of the mind that would keep a psychiatrist's kids in Ivy League schools from kindergarten on up. There are very few actors of DiCaprio's caliber and age that could pull off a role this complicated. Actually, there might not be anyone. He thrives when he's loaded with angst. Cobb is not that different than the character he played in SHUTTER ISLAND. At times, they are uncomfortably similar--both dealing with dead wife issues, often never sure what is real and what isn't. But Cobb is aware of his weaknesses; he just refuses to actually deal with them, even if it compromises the safety and lives of his team.
Like any expansive long con, the man in charge needs a team, each member of which has a specialty. Cobb's regular partner is Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a guy who basically is a back-up Cobb. He's the micromanages the job while Cobb provides the big picture. Levitt gets a dialogue-free, anti-gravity sequence that serves as a portion of the film's climax that seals his status as one of the coolest actors on the planet.
BRONSON's Tom Hardy is the cocksure Eames, who seems to be the expert in deceiving the mind. He can plant the idea that someone in your dream is a person you know (even if he's played by a member of Cobb's team), and then you have no choice but to see exactly what he wants you to see. He also knows how to blow shit up and shoot with remarkable accuracy. But he also has great insight into the best way to get this idea so deep into the mark's mind that it seems like an original thought. Dileep Rao (AVATAR) is a chemist, who designs sedatives to knock the subjects out in very specific ways. And in a wonderful sequence set in Paris, Cobb recruits a new "architect" named Ariadne (JUNO's Ellen Page), an actual architecture student who must design each level of dream in such a way that the mark doesn't realize they are dreaming.
To say too much more about the plot would be criminal, because the truest joy of watching Inception is watching the plan come together and then fall apart, all the while the team is adjusting and recalculating. Not surprisingly, in order for them to plant this choice thought deep enough in Murphy's head, the team must go several levels of dream deep. I think at one point, there are five levels of existence happening at the same time (if you include reality, which has very little screen time here), and all are meticulously timed to converge at the same time. That's pretty tough considering the deeper you go, the slower time seems to pass (five minutes in the real world=one hour in the first level of dreamland).
As much as INCEPTION might seem like the worst physics or chemistry final you ever took, it's not a purely intellectual experience. Cobb's twisted tale concerning his wife's death is carefully parceled out during the course of the film, and it's truly heart crushing stuff. I suppose we are always meant to assume that the possibility exists that the entire movie is a dream, but in the end, I don't think that really matters. I think more likely, we are meant to understand that Cobb is a man who feels more at home (if not at peace) in his dream world which he has unwisely populated with guilt-born memories (both happy and sad) of his life with wife Mal (Marion Cotillard of PUBLIC ENEMIES and LA VIE EN ROSE) and their children. A part of him knows that this is not really his beloved, but seeing her look so lovely is better than not seeing her at all. I hear you, buddy. I'll say it again: DiCaprio is at his best when he is drowning in angst.
For a film that seems ripe for intellectual analysis, INCEPTION also has some tremendous action sequences, a great deal of humor (much of it from Hardy), and a real sense of mischief--after all, these are criminals, technically. And then there's that must-buy Hans Zimmer score that has already won an Oscar in my head. I particularly liked the bizarrely (yet perfectly) timed horn blasts that almost sounds like a Tuvan throat singing concert performed at the gates of hell. Forgetting the sweeping disappointment I've felt for a large percentage of the summer's releases, INCEPTION clears the decks of shit and sets the bar higher than it has been in quite some time (maybe since SHUTTER ISLAND; one day the two films will make a double-feature that will melt your brain). So get a good night's sleep before you see it, have a healthy breakfast, eat whatever you eat to increase brain power, leave your electronics in the car, and scream at anyone around you that distracts you from enjoying this film fully. Every once in a while, expectations are exceeded. Welcome to that day.
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