No spoilers… When you’re done, read SC favorite Kyle Rancourt’s review here. He manages NOT to sound like a blowhard movie critic crossed with a 10-year-old schoolgirl. Plus, clicking on the link will impress him with the sick traffic we get.
There are surprise endings, there are surprise endings, and then there’s Christopher Nolan’s brainbender “Inception,” which has one final twist, yes, but after 2 1/2 hours of finely orchestrated, backdoor dream-weaving, really shouldn’t come as a surprise.
The whole damn movie is a twist. You should’ve expected nothing less.
“Inception” works with a premise that could’ve been boiled down to summer blockbuster cliches and belief-suspending sci-fi appeal. It’s essentially a one-last-job heist movie: break into the mind, plant an idea, get out alive.
If only it was that simple. Instead Nolan constructs a captivating labyrinth of plot and counter-reality in which characters play by an entirely original set of rules.”Going under” plunges one into the mind’s subconscious. Death in a dream either awakens the dreamer or sends him deeper into the dream state. Architectural models (the one’s you’d see in a university studio), once built in the “real world,” can then be replicated in the mind. And most importantly, the mind-hacker can enter deeper levels: dreams within dreams – or in the case of the epic finale – dreams within dreams within dreams within dreams.
The setup, then, goes something like this: Business kingpin Saito (Ken Watanabe) hires Dom (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his team of thought guerillas to break into the mind of a rival energy tycoon and plant an idea convincing him to break up his father’s monopoly. Success would give Saito a superpower of his own and Dom the freedom to get back to his children.
There’s more, of course – physics-defying dream properties, counter-insurgent mind security, Dom’s own tortured psyche and a ghostly love interest hellbent on f*cking the whole thing up. The film is so intricately crafted that it’s at times hard to keep up. Yet everything is ultimately held together by one overarching line of questioning: what is real? what is dream? how do you know the difference?
In thrilling juxtaposition, Nolan manages to put the audience in the exact same dilemma as the characters themselves – namely, trying to distinguish where reality ends and imagination begins. Likewise, both Nolan and his characters push the boundaries of their dreamworld to the brink of collapse, so much so that you’re left awestruck by the simple fact that at it all holds together.
The final half hour, for instance, masterfully harmonizes four separate universes – all working in drastically different settings, all with different concepts of space-time, all to one deliriously exhilarating end. To belabor a point that needs belaboring: Nolan works like a Motzartian maestro, harnessing the notes of a million disparate instruments to create a perfectly in-synch concerto.
His deft accomplishments wouldn’t be possible without the top-shelf performances you’d expect from such a cast. Though DiCaprio and confidant Ellen Page turn in nonchalant excellence, it is partners in crime Tom Hardy (as the searingly witty Eames) and Joseph Gordon-Levitt (DiCaprio’s cucumber-cool wingman Arthur) who give the ensemble the juice it needs to keep pace with the plot. In a film short on comic relief, the duo delivers the kind of coyly slick and super-stylized banter you’d expect from Tarartino-lite. Dileep Rao (dream-inducing specialist Yusuf) also excels as the more jaded version of the bleeding-heart doctor he played in “Avatar” and Nolan cohort Cillian Murphy, though unspectacular, capably pulls off the crucial tear-soaked climax. The only week link for me – relatively speaking – was Tom Berenger’s Browning, who stood out on account of being Tom Berenger (minor distraction more than anything – his role as down-home family adviser required him to be nothing more).
I’m not sure how to describe Marion Cotillard other than to say that she damn near stole the entire film, managing to one-up love interest DiCaprio (a modern-day Romeo in his own right) in every moment of every scene. She’s nothing short of entrancing, not just in her old-Hollywood beauty, but in the way she simultaneously embodies both angelic elegance and gothic darkness. Cotillard is the girl that emo kids place on a pedestal – the girl for which they listen to The Cure and write poetry in blood. At one point, she asks, “Do you know what’s it’s like to be a lover? To be half of a whole?” and it’s like she burning those words on your soul. This may go without saying, but she is the class of her contemporaries.
A review, as I said, is rendered largely moot by the facts that A) the film’s $60 million opening weekend suggests that most have already seen it B) everybody seems to agree that it’s something of a virtuosic landmark and C) trying to put “Inception” into words is a self-defeating endeavor. You simply have to see it for yourself.
Or twice, like I did.
The visual acrobatics will leave you genuinely slack jawed, as they are perhaps the most technically and stylishly accomplished of any film. Though I would’ve said something similar about the second and third “Matrix” installments, it’s hard to imagine anyone besting the realness or creativity evident in Nolan’s dreamscapes. They are gorgeous, wildly imaginative and wholly seamless.
The writer and director revels in the intricacies of a lost city. He creates brain-teasing structural paradoxes. He turns splashing bath water into something out of “Fantasia.” He deconstructs one world as five and, with Gordon-Levitt’s first gravity-defying fistfight, forever changes the way you’ll look at a hallway.
In short, he makes dreams come alive.
The only flaw in this brilliant tapestry is perhaps an over-reliance on explanation – one too many scenes where a character, usually Arthur, tells his partners exactly what’s going on and of the dream properties that make it all happen. For a film that loses many in its complexity anyway (I’m 0 for 2 seeing it with someone who “got” it), Nolan might as well have let the plot unfold without the occasionally stale layman’s interpretation. Those left behind be damned.
“Inception,” like the faux-world it erects, is grandiose, towering, aesthetically arresting. It is a big movie by which all other big movies will be measured, and it introduces the concept of the “kick” – that feeling of falling that awakens you from dreams. That feeling, once the lights go up, that you’ve just had the rug pulled out from under you.