Given the title of the film, it may be a bit ironic that I’ve been having a bit of trouble figuring out where to begin with my review of Inception. There’s a lot I feel like I want to cover, and yet at the same time, I don’t want to spoil anything for people who haven’t seen it. Director Christopher Nolan is known for producing some very cerebral films, and his 2010 effort is no exception. Just keeping track of everything that’s going on in Inception requires your brain to constantly be whirring along, taking note of everything and trying to figure out what’s coming next. Some films suffer when this happens, others aim for it and it can be a virtue; Inception falls into the second group.

Fortunately, it’s possible to discuss the basic premise without spoiling anything significant. Anybody who has seen any of the promotional materials, from posters to trailers, will have at least the notion that it has to do with entering dreams. The plot may be intricate, but the premise itself is fairly straightforward.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Leonardo DiCaprio, about to hold up the corporate headquarters of Brylcreem.

Leonardo DiCaprio plays Dominic Cobb, a dream “extraction specialist”; his job is to enter peoples’ dreams and engage in illegal corporate espionage, stealing secrets from the subconscious minds of the dreamers. His partner is Arthur, played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt. After a heist goes awry, they find themselves hired by their former target, Mr. Saito (Ken Watanabe), with an unusual proposition. Saito wants them to attempt an act of inception — the planting of an idea — in the mind of one of his business rivals, Robert Fischer (Cillian Murphy). Arthur says inception is impossible; Cobb disagrees, stating that although it’s extremely difficult, it can be done. He’s done it.

It’s not an extraction, but it’s still basically a heist caper by its nature. And so they assemble a team of unusually-named people in order to pull off the job. Eames (Tom Hardy), forger and impersonator. Yusuf (Dileep Rao), a chemist who can make the sedatives they need to enter the dreams. Ariadne (Ellen Page), an architect to design and manipulate the dreams of the subject, introduced to Cobb via his father-in-law (Michael Caine in one of those small-but-well-acted roles he does so well). Ariadne (named, appropriately, after the Greek mistress of the Labyrinth) is the most important of the three, and the one that gets the most character development. In addition to serving as an audience surrogate for Cobb and Arthur to explain things to, she also plays an important role as someone to argue with Cobb and Arthur, and to figure out solutions to the problems that arise. The movie wisely doesn’t try to pair her romantically with anybody; though there is some chemistry between Page and DiCaprio, and their characters, their relationship remains platonic even as Ariadne comes to understand Cobb better than anyone else on the team does.

While the other team members are always around, and feel like fully realized characters, Cobb, Arthur, and Ariadne form the core of the group and the film’s focus. And each of the three has a “totem”, a unique personal item that helps them to know when they’re in somebody else’s dream, as another dreamer would be unable to get the exact details of the totem correct. (Presumably the other team members also have them, but we never see them.) The three totems each have some symbolic significance. Ariadne fashions a metal chess piece for herself; like a chess game, she has to constantly be thinking multiple steps ahead, several layers deep. Arthur has a loaded die; he doesn’t like to take unnecessary risks and tries to eliminate wayward chance. And Cobb has a metal top; he’s always trying to keep moving, to keep himself in balance. But tops always tumble in the end… and his totem has another significance in that it originally belonged to his wife, Mal (whose name I misheard as “Moll”, short for Molly; the actual spelling has some additional significance.)

Bad, in the Latin.

Dominic Cobb is literally haunted by the grief and guilt over his wife’s death, which he feels responsible for. When he enters dreams, a projection of Mal (played by Marion Cotillard) enters with him… and as the manifestation of his self-directed anger, she interferes and fights him.

Between Cobb’s psychological issues, Ariadne learning the ropes of dream navigation, and the caper itself, Inception has to juggle several plot elements, keeping them all in the air. It manages to do so in a way that is always interesting and entertaining to watch; even when there are some artistic slow moments, they’re interspersed with more active scenes to keep things going. It weaves several different segments together, requiring the audience to pay attention and follow along, but it doesn’t get confusing. While Inception is as labyrinthine as the mazes Ariadne makes, all the audience is required to do in order to understand is simply to be attentive. This is no difficult task, since what’s going on is always interesting to watch. Nolan fills the film with special effects, both CGI and practical effects, and there are several good action set pieces. The dreamscape plays out with danger and excitement and a touch of surrealism all in one, like an actual dream, but one of the sort that leads to the dreamer waking up in a sweat. It’s a very well-directed film, and a lot of fun to watch.

The actors do their part as well. The minor members of the team don’t get a lot of time to shine, but their actors manage to inject a sense of personality into each of them despite their limited roles. Eames is cocky and flippant, Yusuf a bit nervous, Saito is efficient and determined. They’re “broad strokes” characterizations, but for characters who aren’t the focus, they work well enough. The leads all shine. DiCaprio has become one of Hollywood’s best over the last several years, and Gordon-Levitt is on his way to becoming one. There’s an easy familiarity between the two on screen, where even though their characters have differing views on how best to approach things (Cobb is far too willing to take risks for Arthur’s tastes) there is still a sense that they have been partners for some time and will continue to be partners. Ellen Page makes Ariadne seem like an interesting character in her own right, letting her serve as the audience surrogate for explanations without coming across as the naif or someone who needs to be carried through the plot. Rather, the film takes the position that an intelligent person being newly introduced to these concepts is going to start picking at them, and Page portrays this seamlessly.

Inception is a thought-provoking film, one that engages the audience’s mind and imagination and doesn’t entirely let go even after the credits start rolling. It’s shot wonderfully, with great special effects. The characters and the plot are both engaging. It is an excellent movie, and it may be Christopher Nolan’s best to date.

Rating: 5 Stars

About Morgan R. Lewis

Fan of movies and other media
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16 Responses to Inception

  1. “Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Leonardo DiCaprio, about to hold up the corporate headquarters of Brylcreem.”

    šŸ˜€ šŸ˜€ LOL!!

    To me “Inception” is a great action/heist movie due to its inventiveness. Easily one of the best movies of the year of its release, and a movie I wouldnt knock anyone for if they had it on their favorites list.

    It just misses out on being like an all time great level movie because somehow Nolan never fully gets the heart to connect with Leo and his plight. I’ve been saying since it came out, if you could cross the emotionally falling apart Leo from Shutter Island (released the same year I believe) with this movie, you’d have had one of the greatest movies ever.

    It may have too much exposition though, that’s another big drawback… there’s a lot of ‘xplainin’ going on. šŸ˜€

    • Haven’t seen Shutter Island yet, but I’ve heard pretty good things about it.

      I can see what you mean about Leo, but for me Inception works a little better without him visibly falling apart on the outside… part of why Mal is such a problem is that he’s so deeply in denial about how unstable he is. “I’ve got it under control”, like he tells Arthur in the beginning. Maybe a bit of falling apart would have been appropriate though, in the third level, just before the epiphany scene in Limbo.

      Also true that there’s a lot of exposition. It didn’t drag, but it’s certainly wordy.

  2. Great review. I enjoyed “Inception” more the second time around, when I already had an understanding of the detailed plot and so could follow the storyline with greater ease. Still a fantastic movie.

    Although, I do think there was a teensy bit of romance with Ariadne — and it really was teensy, which was good for a film like this — in the scene where she and Arthur were trying to remain inconspicuous in the dream…

    But I suppose that was bordering on humour, rather than romance. Either way, one of my favourite moments. šŸ˜‰

  3. A FANTASTIC review here, Morgan. you put a lot of thought and effort into sharing the impression the film left on you. I really did like this movie and gave it a perfect score as well. Wasn’t thrilled with the Oscar snub when Nolan was not nominated for the category of “Best Director.”

    so much to enjoy in Inception.

    btw, thought you’d enjoy this:

    • A Best Director nomination would certainly have been fitting… but at least it got a Best Picture nomination, and took home some technical awards, including Best Cinematography (very well deserved).

      Nice share on the DREAMS image; I saw references to the acronym elsewhere after I finished my review and looked at others, but I haven’t seen it laid out quite so nicely. I edited your post so it’s nice and visible for people.

  4. Jaina says:

    Awesome review. Really brilliant. It’s made me want to watch the film again. And honestly, I’ve lost count of how many times exactly I’ve seen this film.

    I hadn’t picked up on the themes of the main protagonists totems in their relations to the owners – still learning things about this film!

    The cast bring this film together so well. As do the action sequences which are all pretty mind blowing. Especially love JGL’s fight in the hotel corridor. Moreso because it’s not CG! Loved seeing how it was done on the extras. Just amazing. And then the final massive blow out scene in the mountains? Amazing. That scene made me wonder if Tom Hardy could be the follow up to Daniel Craig as James Bond.

    Along with a stunning soundtrack, easily one of my all time favourite films.

    • The action sequences are very impressive; I didn’t have the luxury of checking out the extras (I was watching on TV), but had an article up just as I was watching it about various movies that achieved incredible results with practical effects, so I got to read about how a lot of it was done that way. Just incredible how much work went into those scenes.

      I’m sure I’ll add the movie to my collection eventually; it seems likely there’s a lot of things to be picked up on subsequent viewings. It feels like a very densely packed film.

      • Jaina says:

        One of the extras I highly recommend is one of JGL’s HITRecord features about Dreams that’s one of the extras. Really nicely put together and very interesting and in-depth. Really shows how much research Chris Nolan and his team put into Inception.

  5. Pingback: Checking Out the “Happy-Haps!” (6/16) « The Focused Filmographer

  6. CMrok93 says:

    Great review Morgan. This film totally stunned me when I saw it way back when in 2010. I know it’s not that long ago but I just remember checking it out on opening night and not realizing that what I was about to see was one hell of a sci-fi ride, courtesy of the man, the myth, the legend: Christopher Nolan. Awesome ensemble, too.

  7. I am one of the rare dissenters on Inception. I think I may have mentioned it back on the old Halls, but I thought it was a mediocre film at best and served largely as Nolan’s love letter to himself. It’s good that Fogs mentioned Shutter Island, because the films share so much in theme, tone, and storyline (and lead actor) that it’s virtually impossible not to compare the two once you’ve seen them both.

    But I know I’m in the distinct minority on this one, so I won’t give full voice to my loathing. Nolan’s been great for Batman, and I’m really looking forward to TDKR. I just hope Inception didn’t make him think he was Jesus or Wyatt Earp…capable of walking on water.

    • I know how it is to be the minority vote on a film that everyone else seems to love, so I’m not going to go giving you a hard time on this. Especially since I can see where there’s the possibility to just not buy into it. And heck, you’re right about it being Nolan’s love letter to himself in some ways; it was certainly his pet project, at any rate. I liked it, quite a bit, but it’s not one where I find it incomprehensible that someone else would dislike it.

      I also hope he doesn’t get too big of a head from the success of Inception, though to be honest I think if his ego were to run Batman off the rails we would have seen it after the success that Batman Begins was; since The Dark Knight came out well, the success with the Batman films themselves is probably the biggest “I am infallible” risk factor for The Dark Knight Rises.

  8. Pingback: Farewell, 2012! | Morgan on Media

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