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):
7 thoughts on “Film Review: “Inception” ★★★★ (4/5)”
Love the metaphor of the fish, the angler, and the man on the rock.
You found the movie around where I found the movie: good but not great, entertaining but problematic. I thought it was astonishing intellectually. I didn’t mind the guns, I didn’t mind the “unrealistic” dreams (kind of a zinger, but it’s what people said). What I did mind was how Nolan expected the audience to be shocked (and apparently it worked for some people) that SPOILER Cobb performed the first inception he ever did on Mal SPOILER. I figured that very early on. Also, I thought the writing was bad as it is in all Nolan films. The ideas are big enough that the writing can’t keep up with them, and that’s disappointing. As a friend of mine said, tons of “cliches” here. It stumbled a little “emotionally” as Grace Wang and others noted. Also, as others noted, it was very “expositional” but it had no other choice. My friend said aspects of the film (like the overuse of montage) were “artless,” and in comparison to “The Prestige,” the dialogue was. Maybe it was because Michael Caine did the delivery in the predecessor (Grace discusses him in her post).
The beginning is also intentionally incomprehensible (ingeniously putting the audience like a dreamer into a dream where they can’t see the beginning), so people complaining it’s hard to follow are missing the point. I was disappointed at first, but once I realized what it was trying to do, I appreciated it. It was crazy when it kept peeling back layers and when we didn’t know what the heck was going on. I thought it was going to be like “Memento”-style at first: a dream-within-a-dream-within-a-dream, on and on until the end of the film. That would have been a crazy avant-garde experiment. It also would have made absolutely no sense and would have been completely un-engaging except on a technical level.
Excellent review, even if it “dwells.” This is a dweller’s film, that’s definitely for sure.
I liked the film too. In fact I loved it but having seen it after a few days after the overhyped reactions (especially online #3 on IMDB? Really?) I couldn’t help but notice how it could’ve been so much better.
Still as you said, it’s the structure of the film that deserves praise. Nolan is like Cameron in that aspect. They both write cheesy dialogue but make up for it through the structure of their screenplays. I guess I was dissapointed a bit because I loved how the story unfolded before my eyes but didn’t take the time to explore the depth of the characters and the beauty of the cinematography. Nolan didn’t freeze frames to allow us to at least appreciate his work. He cuts the scenes too frequently, which in return results in forgettable sights.
Still the dream within a dream concept and the time expansion theory was very original and I did enjoy it. Even though it doesn’t make much sense (if you think about it too much).
“Inception” is a bit overrated as you said, but it aims smaller. It sets out few rules and goes strictly within its purpose and limitations. It’s just like one small, elaborate clock working tightly and beautifully according to its mechanism. There are indeed minor flaws in the mechanism and the story, but Nolan pushes the story and its logics as far as he can. The deductions resulted from that are quite amazing to look at. Only thing we can complain is that he didn’t go wild or over the top. Maybe he wanted to make something lighter after “Dark Knight”, like Coen Brothers’ “Burn after Reading” followed “No Country for Old Men”.
“Inception” lacks some heart, but watching how it works is compelling enough for the compensation. And I like several references in the movie from “Citizen Kane” to “Solaris”.
By the way, I wished Nolan would have been more slow on showing wonderful things in his world, like that terrific corridor sequence. The movie is a little too busy to appreciate its excellence sometimes. It looked quite real to me at least. I was surprised to know that the cafe sequence has less CGI than I thought(that was real!?).
1. I knew you would quote that expression from your previous review:), while watching Cobb and the story go deeper and deeper to the bottom of his mind. What an interesting year for DiCaprio.
2. I prefer “The Cell”(underrated) to “Matrix”(overrated). “Matrix” is a good action film with a interesting premise, but it does not fully live up to its potential like the former. “The Cell” is as good as ‘Inception” in that both movies do as much as they’re set out to do with their not-so-fresh story.
“The movie is a little too busy to appreciate its excellence sometimes.” Exactly my thoughts and I love the clock comparison.
Like you, I loved how he used real physical sets and tricks over CGI. Reality always looks and feels better than computer graphics, and it’s nice to see directors with limitless budgets execute films knowing the visual advantage of physicality.
I noticed some references too, most obvious is the “La Vie en rose” song/reference which also starred the talented Marion Cotillard.
I really look forward to watching the ‘Making Of Featurette’ on DVD as I was constantly asking myself “How did he do that?” when I realized he directed the bucket full of illusions and magic tricks known as “The Prestige”. Oh and yes, it’s a great year for DiCaprio, but isn’t it always? His selection of director collaborations reminds me of the young De Niro back in the 70’s and 80’s. Bobby De Niro worked with Coppola, Scorsese, Cimino, De Palma, Kazan, Bertolucci, Leone, and Gilliam during that period. So far DiCaprio worked with Cameron, Scorsese, Nolan, Spielberg, Boyle, Scott, Mendes, and Eastwood (his next film). Impressive, ey?
I also prefer “The Cell” over “The Matrix”. I’m glad to see I’m not alone here 🙂
Wael: 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.
If you’re in the minority for having that opinion, then I am in the minority with you (though it’s been a while since I’ve seen The Cell). That reminds me, I still have to see The Fall.
Anyway, all the reviews I’ve read on my “regulars” seem to be in agreement that, while Inception is a pretty great film, it falls short of the masterpiece it could have been.
“The Fall” is visually beautiful, maybe even more beautiful than “The Cell”, but the intensiy and horror of the situations in “The Cell” is absent, which is why I prefer it. The image of the split horse just flashed in my mind-God that was impressive.
Thank you foor sharing