Inception. Directed by Christopher Nolan. 2010. Warner Bros.
Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ellen Page, Tom Hardy, Ken Watanabe, Dileep Rao, Cillian Murphy, Marion Cotillard, and Michael Caine.
My initial intention (before I saw it in theater last night) was to review Inception. But, I think this is one of those movies that I just can’t critique. My words cannot do it justice. I’ve seen it once and all I wanted to do once the credits began rolling was see it again. It’s that good. So, I’m just going to tell you why it’s so amazing. There will be no major spoilers, but if you want to keep your brain a virgin until you actually see it as I did, then you might want to stop reading here.
Written and directed by Christopher Nolan, the same genius who gave us Memento, Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, and The Prestige, Inception‘s effect on its audience mimics its premise: by the end of the movie, you, like a few of the characters, are unsure of what is reality and what is dream. The film plays with concepts of alternate realities and parallel existences, but the difference in Nolan’s creation is that these layered universes reside wholly within the confines of the human mind’s dream-state. While remaining what Wired magazine calls a “cerebral sci-fi” flick, Inception is also a heist thriller, though the characters are not attempting to break into your safe to steal millions, which is the gist of the “typical” heist movie (in an interesting twist…well, let’s just say that the defenders of the “treasure” aren’t people) I won’t tell you what they’re trying to do. If you want to know for yourself, go see the movie.
DiCaprio plays Cobb, a man who we know from the beginning of the film cannot return to his home and his children in America for reasons which are revealed during the middle of the film’s action. Approached by Saito (Ken Watanabe), a powerful businessman who tells him he has the power to send him home to his children, Cobb must complete one last heist before the boss will make “the call.” Thus, the film’s action begins.
I haven’t been disappointed with a single role DiCaprio has played. His performances in The Departed, Revolutionary Road, and Shutter Island persuaded me to go see any movie he ever makes again. Once again, he doesn’t disappoint. He plays well his role as a man who injects himself into the dreams of others to extract information from their sub-consciences. Most importantly, DiCaprio brings to the screen an intangibility reflecting his character’s dream-caught state of mind. Any other actor would be hard-pressed to do so.
Likewise, Marion Cotillard (2008 Academy award winner, Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role for La Vie en Rose), who plays Mal, Cobb’s wife, shines with a sharp ethereal quality that is almost piercing. At several points in the movie, I found myself shrinking into my seat as she threw the camera shriveling death-stares. Her character haunts the film’s audience just as she plagues the mind of her lover Cobb. In one interesting interaction between herself and Ellen Page’s character Ariadne, Cobb’s rookie “architect” (she builds within the dream-state, not the conscious world), Mal confronts the young woman who has foisted herself into her husband’s dream and nearly spits the question, “Do you know what it is to be a lover, one half of a whole?” In that moment, the audience should realize that Mal will be a force that could shatter the whole operation for Cobb.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt has grown up! Who remembers him as the confidence-lacking nice guy-who-desperately-wants-the-popular-girl in 10 Things I Hate About You? (Interesting tidbit: Gordon-Levitt and Nolan both worked with the late Heath Ledger, the former earlier in Ledger’s career and the latter in his final days. You probably already knew that.) As Arthur, Cobb’s debonair right-hand man who provides “kicks” for the heist team, Gordon-Levitt still brings a bit of boyishness to the screen, but it’s tinctured by his mature presence and his connection with Ariadne (Ellen Page). Ariadne’s name is very interesting if you consider its mythical connotations–perhaps Mal is meant to be Ariadne’s and Cobb’s Artemis, the one who feels pity for Ariadne, who just doesn’t understand the web in which she’s entangled herself and Cobb’s fierce heroine whom he must [SPOILER AHEAD] eventually abandon? Arthur and Ariadne together construct a bridge between the audience’s knowledge and Cobb’s mind. Arthur often tells us what we should already know but may have missed. Ariadne probes (literally) the depths of Cobb’s mind and reveals the secrets that are essential to his character but which he himself cannot unveil. Without her, Cobb would not be able to [SPOILER AHEAD] confront his demon in the film’s final scenes. Ariadne forces Cobb to live in “reality” even as they are embedded within a dream within a dream within a dream (that’s three levels/layers of dreaming, by the way).
The rest of the cast is terrific as well. Michael Caine’s role is surprisingly small, though it’s not shocking that his character Miles is the father-figure/mentor to Cobb. Cillian Murphy for once plays a character who isn’t extremely creepy or a villain. I very much enjoy what I can only call his character’s innocence. Dileep Rao as Yusuf, the provider of a powerful sedative, is very much the film’s comic relief. The comedic aspect isn’t too prevalent, but a few laughs are necessary to lighten the heaviness of Inception.
[SOMEWHAT OF A SPOILER AHEAD] The ending left me breathless. It doesn’t give you all the answers. Usually I love films that do this, but I hate not knowing. The ending is cathartic, but I’m not mad about it at all. I think this is one of the few times I’m completely comfortable with a residual big looming question and with not knowing what the hell just happened. I’ll definitely be going to see it again, next time in IMAX, though.
With intelligent action throughout, a stellar will-blow-your-mind concept, a unique heist format, an intense love story saturated with a good ol’ dose of guilt, superb acting, and an ending which leaves you, at best, confused, Inception has everything and cannot be classified as one type of film. In this way, it definitely has a universal appeal. Most of all, Inception is the kind of movie that I predict will stay with us for decades to come.
If DiCaprio doesn’t get a Best Actor nomination for this, I’ll be extremely disappointed. And, I think it’s about time he actually wins one (he’s been nominated for three). He’s long overdue for one. Cotillard might just steal another one, too. We’ll see. We will see.
Go see it. Now.