Note: I am experiencing computer difficulties, thus updates may be a touch sporadic this week. I am trying to resolve the issues as quickly as possible. In the meantime, enjoy this review.
Is All We See or Seem But a Dream Within A Dream?-Edgar Allen Poe
Just when I thought mainstream audiences were not willing to be challenged any more, along comes Inception, a film that manages to be philosophically satisfying as well as emotionally satisfying. It is the best experience I have had at a multiplex all year, and makes me realize that perhaps those who would ring the death knell of modern cinema are a touch premature.
As I am sure you all know, this film made sixty million dollars in its first weekend. That in and of itself was not surprising. What is surprising is how complex the film truly is. This film is a literal maze. I cannot tell you how the film began, how it all chronologically fits together, or whether or not it was all real. I can tell you that there has never been a film as philosophically satisfying since, maybe, 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Plot recap? You want a plot recap? Alright….groups of people are routinely hired in order to infiltrate the dreams of prominent businessmen and steal their ideas for rival companies. The process is called extraction. Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) is one such man. Yet a prominent Japanese businessman named Saito (Ken Watanabe) hires Cobb to perform the opposite procedure – plant an idea in Robert Fischer’s mind (Cillian Murphy) without letting him know where the idea came from. Cobb assembles a team that includes Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and Ariadne (Ellen Page) to infiltrate Fischer’s mind. Yet not only must they penetrate Fischer’s subconscious, they must fight Cobb’s, as he keeps simulating his wife Mal (Marion Cottilard) in the dreams and threatens to jeopardize the assignment.
And that’s about the best I can do. But then again, that is all I really should say. Ask your friends to do a full recap of, say, Pulp Fiction (or, more appropriately, Memento) and watch their eyes glaze over. That is the sort of level we are on here. And frankly, I am wondering what had happened to this Christopher Nolan. It is said that he planned to do this film immediately after Memento. Instead, he went on with his interpretation of the Batman character. I cannot say I fault him, and I am not going to sit here and call those bad films, but I will say that they far more mainstream than what Christopher Nolan was used to. One had the sense that he was merely toying with audiences, getting them hooked onto his vision before absolutely destroying their minds.
In some ways, it is quite pleasing that he took this approach. Stanley Kubrick did much the same thing at the height of his career. And luckily, Nolan made sure that what he had to say would be well researched and holds up under pressure. Usually, when introduced to universes like this, audiences are left with more questions as so many aspects go undocumented (this was an enormous problem in The Matrix) For example, why would things hurt in a lucid dream? It is addressed and answered carefully. Some characters even ask themselves questions I never even thought of. The effects and cinematography make it very easy to separate the dream world from the real world, or even the different levels of dreaming. One sequence, involving zero gravity in a hotel room, is wonderfully executed and also appears completely original. Besides, each of the performers (I cannot single out one who does it better than the other) appear to completely believe in the premise and thus are more likely to explain their beliefs naturally, rather than because the script requires them to.
But what does Nolan have to say? Well, what did Kubrick and Clarke have to say? Nolan was trying to discuss our perception of reality, as he had in Memento. “Just because we close our eyes doesn’t mean the world ends” went one quote from Leonard Shelby. Here, Nolan suggests that when we close our eyes, we are given a choice as to what our reality can be. Dreams usually do offer a sort of reality (they never look like the fantasies that other, poorer films would have you believe) that fool our mind for a few hours each night. Nolan’s film suggests that perhaps, if such dreams could be controlled, it may be possible finally find a sort of happiness that usually involves an existential crisis. But a mass audience cannot relate to that. They can relate to the constant twisting of the narrative, making them identify with the characters and wondering if they are dreaming themselves. Too soften it or try and add any sort of fantasy element (another temptation of such films) would be besides the point. It is not about the characters or the background – it is about the dream. The fact that Nolan retains a solemn tone helps – it shows the audiences exactly what parts of the mind he hopes to engage.
This is what films should do. They should challenge our convictions. They should make us think. They should make us ask questions. Inception does all that, better than most of the recent movies I have seen. This film will be a classic as time goes on, and audiences will look with awe at the zero gravity effects and scratch their heads as to the implications of the film. In an age in which Twilight still reigns at the box office, it is incredible to see a film such as this find a mass audience. Perhaps there is hope for the future.