Every once in a while a film comes along and stirs up, arouses and awakens my imagination. Christopher Nolan’s “Inception” came very close to pulling this off but never quite hit the mark. I longed for it to be an addition to my list of film experiences that reached that level of awe-inspiring intellectual harmony but never landed on satisfactory results. “2001:A Space Odyssey”, “Persona”, “The Exterminating Angel”, “Last Year at Marienbad”, “Synecdoche, New York” came to mind. Yet, the main reason I wasn’t blown away by this still very great thriller is because it reminded me of another film I loved, perhaps a bit too much. This brought back memories of when I first saw “The Matrix”. In the dinner party that followed I kept thinking of “Dark City”.
Like “The Matrix”, “Inception” reminded me of another underrated film. While it was “Dark City” for the former, the latter reminded me of Tarsem Singh’s visionary masterpiece, “The Cell”. Entering the mind of another to retrieve vital information, losing grip of reality and ending up stuck in a dream world, physical motion to be pulled back to reality, visiting memories of a painful past, should I go on? How about the similarity of some of the scripted lines? Here’s a line from “The Cell” that could’ve easily been said by a character in “Inception” –“Do you believe there is a part of yourself, deep inside in your mind, with things you don’t want other people to see? During a session when I’m inside, I get to see those things.” More? “My world (/dream), my rules!” I can go on but this piece would only dwell away from being a review.
The twisting of the originality of another film can be justified if the end product feels different or better yet improves upon the former film. I’m probably, heck I am in the minority here but I thought visuals of “The Cell” were staggering, memorable, haunting and inconceivable whereas the images in “Inception” were less ambitious and lost potential. In my opinion, it’s because Nolan presents dreams that feet real rather than surreal (most of the time). That doesn’t mean the cinematography wasn’t breathtaking. Compared to most films “Inception” is a rarity and it’s only fair to applaud the depth of Nolan’s grand visualization of dreams within dreams. “Inception” is best described as a treasure chest with less gold than silver.
The gold here is how Nolan presents the story. It’s been a while since I watched a film that challenged me to work hard in order to keep up with a cerebral storyline.
The best way to understand the story is to watch or experience it rather than read about it, which is why I’ll try and keep it short. Leonardo Dicaprio is Dom Cobb a specialist hired to “extract” information from sleeping subjects. When hired by Saito (Ken Watanabe), Cobb finds himself in the midst of a much more difficult task- to impose an idea rather than steal one. The task “has never been done before” and so he assembles a team of experts to help him. Ariadne (Ellen Page) is an architect, Eames (Tom Hardy) is an identity forger, Youssef (Dileep Rao) is a pharmacist and Arthur (Joseph Gordon Levitt) is his partner. The target is Fischer (Cillain Murphy), the son of a buissiness tycoon.
While it is a thinker’s film, the more I think of it, the more I discover flaws. To discuss the flaws here is to spoil the movie and there’s no point in further describing the plot as it will only have you scratching your head. I find myself in a similar position writing the review of “Shutter Island” earlier this year, another film where DiCaprio deals with the loss of a loved one and the reality of his being- purely coincidence though. In my “Shutter Island” review I described the experience as follows:
‘You will start out a tiny fish swimming in a pond. As the plot thickens, you evolve into the angler who keeps an eye on the confused fish. By the end of the film, the viewer becomes the person standing on the rock studying the angler who himself is studying the fish.’
With “Inception”, it’s the other way around. You start out as the man on the rock, and go deeper jumping into the world of the angler, only this time you’re aware of the man on the rock and the fish underneath. There’s more than one world in this film and each time the viewer is exposed to a different environment, it becomes harder to grasp the scope of it all and that’s the fun of it and what I essentially mean by the gold in the treasure. “Inception” will be (already is) the subject of many debate, I wouldn’t want to miss any such conversation and neither should you. I highly recommend this film to everyone, if not for the cinematography than for the puzzling first-time experience.
A Mind-Bending Scene from “The Cell” (2000):