Cinema Psycho

"You know what? You have a losing personality." – Manhattan

Dream Warriors: Christopher Nolan’s Awesome Inception

Posted by CinemaPsycho on July 18, 2010

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You know, sometimes I feel sorry for professional contrarian critics like Armond White, whose entire shtick is based on hating films that everyone else loves, and loving films that everyone else hates. It must be difficult to find a way to deny excellence when you see it. One can only imagine the mental gymnastics it must require to prefer something like Jonah Hex (a complete failure on every possible level) to a clearly effective and brilliant piece of work like Inception. I’m not really sure how the guy does it, but it would almost be admirable if it wasn’t so bizarre. It’s not an act that I could pull off, that’s for sure. Too much work.

Purely as an experiment, I actually tried to find something I didn’t like about Christopher Nolan’s latest film. Needless to say, I couldn’t come up with anything. Let’s see, I could say that it’s just too intelligent, too incredibly written, acted and conceived on every imaginable level. Of course, none of that would qualify as a negative to any rational person. How about this – it’s not dumbed-down enough for the idiots in the audience who likely won’t understand it. Oh wait, I don’t care. Yep, I’m out of criticisms. That about covers it.

What Nolan has pulled off here is not just the best film he’s ever made (in my opinion), or the best film I’ve seen this year. No, Inception is nothing less than a giant leap forward in filmmaking, a true next-level Event Film that, much like The Matrix in 1999, will leave the rest of Hollywood scrambling to catch up. It’s bold, audacious and absolutely stunning, and it’s going to be difficult to go back to watching typical movies after seeing it. Does that sound like hyperbole? Perhaps. But it’s also the truth. Nolan has wisely used the cachet he earned (and deserved) from the smash hit The Dark Knight to make the kind of movie that Hollywood generally won’t let anyone make: a big-budget blockbuster about ideas. Let’s call it the anti-Transformers. The result leaves all the other A-list directors in the dust – at this particular moment, Nolan is the auteur du jour, the genius who has not only topped himself but has left the Earth trembling in his wake. It’s pretty rare that a director’s work gets better as it gets bigger, but that’s absolutely the case with Nolan, who started out making very good indie films (Following, Memento) and has emerged as one of the cinema titans of the past decade. As much as I love the films of David Fincher, Inception makes him look like an underachiever. No offense.

Without giving too much away (part of the pleasure of movies like this is watching the story unfold before your eyes), Inception is basically a sort of Advanced Class heist film, in which Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio), leads a team of thieves to enter the dreams of businessmen and extract their ideas. He’s presented a new challenge by Japanese tycoon Saito (Ken Watanabe); to actually implant a new idea into the mind of corporate heir Robert Fischer Jr. (Cillian Murphy). Cobb deems this impossible at first, but eventually assembles his team (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Tom Hardy, Dileep Rao) and gets to work. There’s just one little problem – Cobb is haunted by memories of his wife Mal (Marion Cotillard), which tends to make things a little complicated when your line of work requires you to explore dreams and memories. After a complex opening sequence in which we’re not sure what the hell’s going on (but it all gradually becomes clear), we learn everything through new recruit Araidne (Ellen Page), who is quickly brought up to speed, and so are we. It’s due to Nolan’s confidence as both a writer and director that we instantly buy into this new world of dream invasion and creation: we never question for a second that this technology exists and that these people are smart enough to know how to use it. Lesser films might have made us wonder – “hey, wait a minute…” but Nolan never slows down long enough to let us formulate the questions.

What ensues from there is a masterful game of cat-and-mouse, with Dom and his crew invading different levels of reality, dreams within dreams within dreams, to the point where the climax takes place in no less than four different simultaneous dream states (plus the “real world”). Nolan and company pull this off so incredibly well that (provided we’ve been actually paying attention), we always know which level we are watching, which characters are in which dreams and what’s going on in each of them. The audience never loses track or needs to catch up at any moment, and that’s an impressive feat indeed at a time when most blockbuster directors can’t keep a coherent handle on one reality, much less five. This is truly bravura filmmaking here, and it’s difficult to imagine anyone who truly loves film not appreciating it.

While some critics have noted thematic similarities to Martin Scorsese’s DiCaprio-starring Shutter Island (another of my favorite films this year), I don’t think the comparisons should really bother anyone that much. Might make for an interesting double feature, actually. It’s also telling that I never once thought about other dream-invasion movies such as Nightmare on Elm Street, Dreamscape, etc. while watching this. Inception is very much its own experience, and one that any cinephile should find thrilling. It’s not just a visual rollercoaster ride, though; it’s also just as satisfying emotionally as it is viscerally. I love Nolan’s perfect casting of underappreciated actors (like Eric Roberts and Anthony Michael Hall in The Dark Knight), and Tom Berenger is quite terrific here as Fischer’s confidant and mentor. Michael Caine isn’t in this that much, but any excuse to watch Caine in anything is a good one. The cast is generally excellent, with special mention going to Ellen Page, who finally gets an adult role to play and knocks it right out of the park.

To anyone who would complain about a masterpiece like Inception, I would just have to say that you just don’t appreciate quality when in it’s right in front of your face. I guess you would prefer if Nolan wasn’t so smart and ambitious and was content to make the same old crap. I don’t understand the Armond Whites of the world, and after seeing Inception, I honestly hope I never do.

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