Inception is the new hit movie from acclaimed writer-director Christopher Nolan, director of The Dark Knight. It’s a mixed bag of a movie, technically brilliant, with many clever touches, but overly long and dramatically confusing. I give it credit for its ambitiousness and originality, two qualities sadly lacking in most big budget summer movies.
Inception is a “high concept” film. To appreciate it at any level, you have to understand its basic premise: that one can access the dreams of another for the purpose of entering into their subconscious. Tom Cobb (Leonardo Dicaprio) attempts to go one step further: not only to invade another’s dream, but to plant an idea within the person’s mind while he is dreaming. Thus the dreamer will think the idea came from himself, not from someone else.
Most of the film involves the attempt of Cobb and his team to plant an idea into a wealthy man during a 10-hour flight from Paris to Los Angeles. The movie is most creative and enjoyable in the early scenes setting up the premise. Cobb and his accomplice Ariadne, a brilliant young architecture student (Ellen Page), explore the inner space of dreams, in which anything imaginable is possible. Paris streets suddenly ascend straight up into the sky, with Ariadne and Cobb walking up into the air. These scenes are technically amazing. The sets, editing, and special effects continue to dazzle throughout the length of the 2 ½ hour film. The editing sequence of a van driving off a bridge, spaced out throughout several minutes of the film, was fascinating to watch. Despite its technical brilliance, the film drags on far too long. My interest began to wane as the concept became more and more complex (“Whose dream are we in now?”)
Inception deals with the epistemological questions: What is reality? How do we know it? The characters, and the audience, will begin to wonder if they are in a dream or in reality. The plot becomes very far-fetched as it goes along: I kept wondering what a landscape that looked like Tibet, with a modern looking temple and snow-capped mountains, had to do with anything? Just remembering that we were in someone’s dream didn’t help much.
Also complicating things is the fact that Cobb’s wife Mal shows up deep within his dreams. Is Mary a dream or reality? What about their children? The ambiguous ending is surely designed to make the viewer come back for more, when the sequel is ready for release in a couple of years. A more conclusive ending would have helped me appreciate the entire movie more.
Inception deserves high marks for its technical accomplishments and original idea. In the few weeks it has been released, it has generated a lot of buzz, and many theories about its levels of meaning. Many are already going back to see it a second or third time.
If you’re choosing a movie to see this summer, you could do much worse than Inception. I think it would have been better had it been kept simpler and shorter. Ultimately, Nolan became too caught up in his high concept and technical wizardry. It’s like a homily that starts off clever and engaging, but becomes overly long and complicated. In cases like these, I usually get lost somewhere along the way and wonder when it will end.
Tom Condon, OP