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Extractor Dom Cobb has an interesting job,
To steal people’s secrets through dreams.
On one inner outing, the target starts doubting
And knows all is not as it seems.
This Saito solicits their service illicit
To plant an idea in one’s brain.
With just one exception, attempting inception
Has always been ventured in vain.
Cobb gathers a team to invade someone’s dream,
The rich Robert Fischer, an heir,
But the image and strife of Mal, his dead wife,
Lurks still in his mind’s inner lair.
They enter the dream with a qualified scheme
That’s more hazardous than designed.
Each resolute sleeper goes deeper and deeper
Through levels of Fischer’s taut mind.
As deep as Cobb goes, there is guilt to expose,
And he must let go of his wife.
The mission complete, the rewards for the feat
Allow Cobb’s return to his life?

Even with his prior success with The Prestige and two popular Batman movies, Christopher Nolan’s Inception was a bolt from the blue, a film so startlingly original in plot and scope that it cemented him as a truly brilliant director. It also is the only film I’ve seen (or wanted to) that allows me to see Leonardo DiCaprio as anything but Jack from Titanic. On top of that, it’s the only film that so blew my mind that I was left with a thunderstruck “Whoa” at the end.

There is so much going on in this movie that anyone who left to get popcorn surely missed something. Nearly every scene held meaning, whether to understanding the mission, Nolan’s rules of the dream world, or the relationships between Cobb and Mal or Fischer and his father. One thing my VC does not enjoy is not knowing what’s going on in a movie without some quickly forthcoming answers. Mystery is one thing; it’s another to give a strange, random train riddle in the first hour and then not explain its significance until almost the end. While it was all too much for her, I was impressed that everything did have significance. Nothing was thrown in without a reason, a reason I felt was worth waiting for. The mazes and time differentials and dreams within dreams and dreams within memories within dreams can get confusing on the first viewing (or the fourth), but the audacious complexity lends itself to watching over and over with new appreciation.

I mentioned way back in my review for Entrapment that I’m no fan of heist films, due to their convincing audiences to root for those committing an illegal act, which they typically get away with. While that concern is still present, Inception has so much else involved—visually, emotionally, artistically, technologically—that the morality of the central plot falls to the wayside, for good or ill. Cobb’s ultimate reason for taking the job, to be reunited with his kids, does raise the emotional stakes, but considering the unforeseen results of his previous success at inception, I can’t help but wonder what will happen to Fischer.

The cast, composed of many Christopher Nolan favorites, fill their roles admirably, with the standouts being (of course) DiCaprio as Cobb, Ellen Page as Ariadne, Marion Cotillard as Mal, and Ken Watanabe as Saito. Despite not having much screen time or deep personality, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Tom Hardy, Dileep Rao, and Cillian Murphy do an outstanding job with their supporting roles. My VC did comment on the film’s lack of character development for these minor players, a reason to care for them, but such a deficiency need not detract from the ensemble and the awesomeness of their mission. Besides, the pathos of Cobb and Fischer is surprisingly well-realized considering how swiftly the plot moves along.

With its philosophical discussion of dreams and the frustratingly dubious conclusion, Inception was sure to spark conversations. There are plenty of theories as to the meaning of totems and what scenes might or might not have been dreams. Did the top fall or keep spinning? Was Cobb’s totem really his wedding ring, which he only wore in his dreams with Mal and was not wearing in the final scene? Was Mal right, and Cobb was in limbo the whole time? Was it all perhaps an inception on Cobb to rid him of his obsession with his dead wife? I tend to accept the straightforward, happy ending, but few films have garnered such consistent mind-boggling debate.

The film as a whole was rewarded with Oscars for Best Cinematography, Best Sound Mixing, Best Sound Editing, and Best Visual Effects, as well as several other well-deserved nominations. With some astoundingly memorable visuals (that gravity-shifting fight with Gordon-Levitt is stupefying), a climax that is extremely fast-paced and layered, and an emotional payoff that left me satisfied despite that darn top, Inception is a modern cinematic wonder.

Best line: (Cobb) “Listen, there’s something you should know about me… about inception. An idea is like a virus, resilient, highly contagious. The smallest seed of an idea can grow. It can grow to define or destroy you.”

Rank: 57 out of 60

© 2014 S. G. Liput

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