2010 finally has its first great movie, and it’s Christopher Nolan’s “Inception.” That shouldn’t be surprising since — now that I think about it — I’ve liked every one of the writer-director’s films: the backward “Memento,” the thriller “Insomnia,” the period-piece magic show “The Prestige,” and the two “Batman” reboot movies. (I actually think “The Dark Knight” is his weakest entry; certainly it’s his most overrated, but that’s not his fault.)
It took me awhile to see “Inception.” The previews weren’t great (it’s not a movie that lends itself to a good preview), but the reviews and word of mouth (particularly from my friend Chance, who has seen it four times) got me out to the theater.
I was worried it would be entirely a mental exercise — kind of like “The Matrix,” which bored me to tears — but there is more heart to it than I expected. I like the group of characters (not exactly heroes, but not exactly villains) who go into the mind of an heir-to-a-mogul to plant an idea for the benefit of a rival businessman.
With “Inception,” Nolan has made a movie unlike anything before: The exploration of a dream state, through four subconscious layers, with multiple characters contributing to the fabricated world.
Cillian Murphy is the head they go into to plant the idea, and Ellen Page is the architect of the dreamscape’s physical attributes, but Leonardo DiCaprio has some psychological issues involving his dead wife that get in the way an inopportune times. There’s also Joseph Gordon-Levitt as DiCaprio’s second-in-command, Tom Hardy as a guy who shapeshifts within the dream state and Ken Watanabe as the businessman who guides the way.
There are too many “thrilling” shoot-’em-ups in “Inception” that aren’t remotely thrilling, but that’s a problem I have with 99 percent of modern movies. On the other hand, there are also zero-gravity fight sequences that cut right past my jaded-moviegoer cynicism. The trick probably involved wires that were painted out in the computer, but it looks amazing.
Also visually impressive are some of the dream worlds. In the expository section of the film, we see Page (the architect) mentally fold a cityscape into an inside-out box so there are streets where the horizon and sky should be. But also, we get a dream world that’s nothing more than a large snowscape, and the shoot-’em-up on the ski hill could be from any old action movie. One shivering character asks, “Why couldn’t you have built a beach?” It’s a good question, and for that matter, why couldn’t she have built a snowscape-slash-beach? Dreams don’t have to follow the rules of climate.
“Inception” almost demands a sequel just so the filmmakers can dream up even wilder dreamscapes now that the exposition is out of the way.
Then again, even with things being explained fairly thoroughly, there are elements that didn’t make sense to me. On the first level of subconscious, a van is flying through the air, which is why the characters are in zero-G on level two. But on level three, they have gravity again, without explanation. In a film that tries to take a logical approach to something illogical (which I appreciated), this is a bit of a plot hole. Another problem is the shapeshifter: How does he do it? I don’t recall that being explained.
Granted, “Inception” wraps up with one of those “You might want to rethink everything you just saw” endings; not exactly like “The Sixth Sense,” because you’ll see it coming to some degree, but it’ll still get your brain working.
The complexity of the film is part of why it’s drawing repeat viewings, but if it was complex and boring, people wouldn’t go back again. Actually, it’s complex, compelling and a bit understated (as big as Nolan’s ideas are, he doesn’t try to blow you away in every single scene; the whole of his movies are always better than any individual scene).
We’ll be talking about “Inception” for a while, in part because it’s been an absolutely atrocious year for movies, in part because “Inception” is a great movie, no qualifier needed.
How many times have you seen it? And if you can explain that gravity conundrum or the shapeshifter, I’m listening.