Inception is the type of film that grows on you. In the film, Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) talks about how an idea is the most resilient parasite and how it can spread like a cancer. Well, in the best possible way imaginable, Inception has that very similar effect on you long after you've seen the film. It's been a few hours since my initial screening and my mind has been abuzz with meditations on all of the many, many layers the film has to offer.
To be fair, this review is incomplete as I feel Inception demands a second viewing. But I can honestly say I have never had a moviegoing experience quite like this one, leaving with so many emotions and ruminations about the themes, characters, and then technical skill behind the film (the heist itself is jaw-dropping).
Dom Cobb. The central character to Nolan's Inception is a destroyed man, and also the anchor to keeping Nolan's brain-busting jaunt through the dreamscape from spiraling into the pretentious headspace of "look what I can do." Cobb's journey in attempting to reconcile with his wife's death, a death that he is essentially complicit in via his use of inception, is terrifying. The love story here is brilliant, as two lovers find themselves developing their love in a false world that functions relativistic to our own, getting years out of hours and decades out of days. It's a great metaphor for what love is about, how it has the ability to stop time itself -- and how too often we wish we had more time for it.
In this, I have to applaud Nolan's ability in ensuring that the dream-invasion technology was used in more ways than just one. For the most part, the tech is given to us by default. We get no real reason outside of a somewhat placard "military development" explanation as to why it exists, and simply accept it as a given technology that people may or may not know about in this world. In fact, the entire world has a slight comic book feel to it -- as the fantastical exists right alongside the mundane with surprising ease. It would have been easy to keep the focus of the tech on the heist, but Nolan integrates it seamlessly into Cobb's emotional journey as well: dream-invasion destroyed his life, and now it's the only thing that can save it.
From a pure genre level, Nolan's creation of a femme fatale that is literally the embodiment of the guilt/insecurity/flaw that traditional femme fatales typical exploit in the hero is just one example of the genre tropes turned on their head by Nolan, but still servicing the genre. Mal ("bad" in French), his dead wife who now haunts his subconscious, is also a wonderful antagonist. She is an evil god in the dreamworld, sending trains barreling through the best laid plans, able to be anywhere at once, and do anything she wants. And what's worse? Cobb's entire salvation, if it is to be had at all, rests in the dreamworld she rules. And the thing is: she is a construct of Cobb; she is Cobb, and in the film's final moments, when Cobb finally confronts her/himself, the language and word play resulting is quite something.
"It's never just a dream", Cobb muses at one point in the film, and despite the basic premise, Inception is not just a movie about dreams. Like many excellent Christopher Nolan movies, the film explores various different ideas and themes. The movie most reminded me of Darren Aronosfky's The Fountain, which used science-fiction as a filter in which to explore his own meditations on life, death and ultimately grief. Inception, while incredibly tragic, is not as meditative as Aronosfky's film and instead uses the guise of the heist thriller to push along the narrative of the story, always keeping things exciting and revelatory.
Inception has its sights more so on letting go and moving on, and the feeling of guilt over ruminations on life & death. Which is quite frankly a really compelling subject matter, which jives perfectly with the state of dreaming. Dreaming often -- according to some people -- challenges you to face something you had either repressed or neglected to deal with. On that level, Inception presents its protagonist with an extremely haunting idea of a repressed memory and through the dream world forces Cobb to deal with this and move on. In that sense, and in the non-traditional heist story that surrounds the film, Inception is a fantastically existential yet rewarding film that is driven by a fascinating emotional epicenter. Everything that happens, including the James Bond-esque third act, hinges on the emotionality of the narrative drive. The major decisions and choices all hinder on the emotionalism of the characters, and because of the multi-layered labyrinth of the film, when you're watching one scene, which one character tries to obtain information from another, what you're really watching is something entirely else, something multi-faceted and extremely dense. In fact, I would have to say that Inception is one of the most dense and complex films I've seen in a while. While it is relatively straight-forward in its comprehensive explanation of what's happening, that still doesn't mean what is going on isn't dense as fuck. The best possible comparison for Inception is that of an union: the more layers you pull back, the more in-depth you become. What begins as a relatively simplistic story gets even more and more complex when new ideas and concepts are introduced to supplement what you're already seeing. However, Nolan is such an incredibly ambitious filmmaker that he never loses sight on what he's weaving and while Inception is an incredibly tangled web, by the film's end he untangles everything in such an emotionally, intellectually and viscerally satisfying way that you can only just sit in awe of the filmmaker's relentless ability to juggle all of these ideas and themes and interweave them into something extraordinary.
Besides the sheer intelligence of the storytelling, Nolan has also improved as a visual storyteller, giving us some of the most incredible action sequences ever committed to film, and that's not an exaggeration. That was one point in the film that my jaw was literally agape, trying to absorb everything that I was watching on-screen. Nolan builds and builds and he creates one of the most entertaining and incredible third acts ever, having achieved some miraculous type of balancing act between story and action.
There is so much more to discuss when it comes to Inception -- more than I can discuss here. I haven't even gotten into what I think actually happened, thematic overlaps, narrative blah blah blah blah. All I can say matters is now a full 12 hours after having seen it, Inception is still sitting with me and making me feel things for the plight of its main character. The ending will leave you reeling. I sat in a theater and watched as a filmmaker took one of the most mundane objects and synchronized an entire audience's hopes and fears on its fate...
The film will leave you with little answers as well. Multiple interpretations will abound. Was it all a dream? Was it all a heist to break Saito out of limbo? Was it all an inception on Saito himself, implanting an idea in his mind to get Cobb home? Was it Mal trying to save Cobb, whose stuck in dreams? Who knows? And that's the point of Inception. In the end, reality is overrated -- what matters is the emotions and experience. And Inception plants all those and more.
Inception is a movie that absolutely warrants multiple viewings just to absorb everything you witness on the screen. There were times that I was so emotionally moved, captivated and simply put awed by the visceral magnitude of what I was seeing. My expectations were crazy high and I'm humbled and amazed by it. It's just the type of movie that that's so ambitious and succeeds so well it reminds me why I love movies in the first place. It is, without a doubt, Nolan's greatest success. I'm just happy to be living in the time where we can look forward to his movies.