I have seen Inception three times. It still confuses me. However, this is a good thing. To say the film is a puzzle or a maze is an understatement, because we don't even know the true nature of the puzzle we are attempting to solve by trying to understand this film. Reading through many different interpretations of the film, I would like to say that no one has a complete idea of what the film truly is. There is a scene where Leonardo DiCaprio's character Cobb asks Ellen Page's Ariadne to draw him a maze in two minutes that takes longer than one minute to solve. Christopher Nolan spent ten years writing this puzzle of a film, and I wouldn't expect anyone solve the real explanation of the film (if there is one) within the first two weeks of its release.
I will not share with you my own theories of the film now: this is merely a spoiler-free review and that will have to wait for a later analysis post. My job is merely to convince you to see the film, and I must say, this is a very easy job. Nolan's film is a triumph of originality; it feels like nothing you've ever seen before. In a year full of adaptations and sequels, whether good films or not, Inception stands out for telling us a story we haven't heard before. This is the movie James Cameron's Avatar should have been. Originality aside, this is a fascinating story full of literal and figurative (and possibly imaginary) layers. The themes and motifs presented almost make me want to write a paper explaining them all, almost (this will have to wait for later).
Oft criticized is the development of the characters beyond the main protagonist Cobb. Yes, the supporting characters are perhaps underwritten, but the talented cast brings much to their characters through their wonderful performances. Notable is the young Joseph Gordon-Levitt very much holding his own alongside veteran DiCaprio. His rivalry of sorts with the ever jovial Tom Hardy add much needed comic relief. While I wouldn't trust a comedy in the hands of Nolan, his films are far from devoid of humor. While the criticisms certainly have basis, the film still gives us effective characterization in a minimal amount of time; if we were to be satisfied with an arc for each character the film would have been overlong. In the end, the triumph of Inception is that it makes us care for each of the characters, while still being a spare, visual film.
If one element of Inception stands out to me, it is the music. At first, it sounds like a standard thriller score, not unlike that of Shutter Island or Nolan's own The Dark Knight. This, however, sets itself apart with a theme that applies the same rules of time dilation as the film. This score is both ominous and touching. It is like the MSG of music: listening to it will make any situation exponentially more awesome including board meetings, first dates, and, of course, writing blog posts about Inception. While it includes all the standard pounding strings, horns, and drums that you would expect, it also weaves in atmospheric Blade Runner-esque synths and electric guitar progressions so awesome that they must have been played on the top of mount Everest, blasted from IMAX theater speaker stacks, and recorded from passing jetliners.
There is much still to be said about Inception, but the review must end somewhere, so I will leave you with this final thought. As with most great works of art, Inception comments on its own medium. Cobb is known to use a certain tactic in dream extraction, known as the "Mr. Charles". This is where Cobb, as "Mr. Charles", tells the dreamer he is dreaming, using reverse psychology to get the dreamer to let down his subconscious guard. What Inception does is pull a "Mr. Charles" on the viewer. It lets us know we are watching fiction, so we willingly suspend our disbelief as characters fold cities and grapple enemies in zero gravity. The trick is that we subconsciously let the characters into our minds and start to deeply care about them, even projecting our own subconscious over the characters, so we too, feel a part of the film. Whatever the film ends up being truly about doesn't matter. What matters is that Nolan is the architect, and we, the audience, share the dream.
Official YAMB rating: Like
J. Bernard Muyskens