To the kids born in the late 90’s: Inception is your Matrix. It’s the film that, when you’re twelve1, is one of the greatest spectacles you have witnessed, and the movie that all others will be measured against2.
While it’s no Memento, it has a hook like every Christopher Nolan film3. Unlike Memento, which loses its charm for obvious reasons with repeated viewings, Inception’s hook is a bit more charismatic. The idea of riding through dreamscapes is an interesting notion in itself, but I think the hook of the movie is actually the relationship between real time and dream time. The compounding of that with the dream within a dream business is what keeps things lively4.
I don’t think the movie is trying to make a philosophical message, so I’m going to avoid the obvious allegory to The Matrix, but the storyline is mature and exciting, and I think that Nolan has set the bar for summer blockbusters from here on. It’s about time these films grew up out of the Michael Bay era of blowing shit up and doing it with the kind of style that Nolan showed.
Speaking of blowing up—this movie is beautiful. There are plenty of visual glitches—when Ariadne broke the mirror, for example, it looked like CGI from a 1995 movie—but the imagery is masterful. And to know that so little of it was done with CGI is truly something spectacular. The explosions around the Parisian bistro were done primarily with compressed nitrogen with CGI used to fill in. The awe-inspiring gravity-bending action sequences were done with a crazy mixture of wires and a huge, purpose-built rotating hallway set. The opening dream sequence where water floods the dream was done with carefully positioned and timed sprinklers. For maybe this alone, Inception will cause a generation of kids to look at action in a totally different way, and for a new generation of movie makers to steal from it. Just like The Matrix.
To complement the visuals is Lord Hans Zimmer’s score. I was blown away—this might be some of his best work. Powerful and raw, with a smooth flow through the editing that you don’t usually find in movies this elaborate. I was unimpressed with Zimmer’s last collaboration with Nolan (The Dark Knight). Must like the film’s floundering final act, the score didn’t stir emotion. Inception’s soundtrack is a different beast. It’s a throwback to the Zimmer who scored The Lion King, Gladiator or True Romance.
Acting is an all-round solid affair. Leonardo DiCaprio is shaping up to be today’s Robert De Niro. He seems very deliberate with his role selection, and has been a part of some solid chart-toppers. This is a role that was right up his alley. The brooding, damaged and flawed protagonist play to his strengths, and he had good chemistry with his supporting cast. I was glad to see Ellen Page had dropped her too-indie vibe to take a slightly challenging role (that was well executed). Joseph Gordon-Levitt was a surprise—I was worried I was going to see a potentially awesome character go to waste the way Topher Grace murdered Venom in my mind forever. No, Gordon-Levitt, despite having limited dialogue, was suave and surprisingly right for his action-heavy role. Knowing that he performed his own stunts for the magical hallway action sequences ups him on the respect ladder somewhat. The rest of the cast, particularly Tom Hardy, put on a good show as well.
What’s bad? Well, unless you’re like me and love to read into films far too much, you may find the storyline a bit pretentious. The “militarization” of the projections was probably, for me, the weakest part of the film. Conflict has to be made, but I can’t feel like it was a bit convenient. I can’t help but imagine that turning this movie into a psychological horror film5 might have served the very dark idea of invading someone’s dreams quite well, but I don’t think a Hollywood studio would have footed the bill for an audience-limiting film like that the way they did6.
Nevertheless, I think Nolan pulled it off. Definitely the best film of 2010 so far—not that there was really any competition—and definitely one of the better summer blockbusters in many summers. I hope this starts the same trend in summer films that Nolan managed to start with superhero films—giving the audience enough credit to write an intelligent script.
- As I was when The Matrix was released. ↩
- Or at least until you outgrow special effects. Not that The Matrix isn’t karate-chopping awesome. ↩
- Except the _Batman_ films. ↩
- Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but I seriously think the hook actually might be that the entire movie is just Ariadne pulling a Mr. Charles on Dom Cobb and we actually never see them awake. It’s all a dream! ↩
- It would be wonderful to watch an intelligent, legitimately scary one. ↩
- Nolan’s The Following is one of those movies. I’m extremely glad he made that when he did, because no studio would dream of paying for that kind of movie. Highly, highly recommended—one of my favorite films ever. ↩