Mark Reviews Movies


2 ½ Stars (out of 4)

Director: Christopher Nolan

Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ellen Page, Tom Hardy, Ken Watanabe, Marion Cotillard, Dileep Rao, Cillian Murphy, Tom Berenger, Pete Postlethwaite, Michael Caine

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for sequences of violence and action throughout)

Running Time: 2:28

Release Date: 7/16/10

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Review by Mark Dujsik | July 14, 2010

Writer/director Christopher Nolan is too obsessed with the mechanics of the gimmick and plot of Inception to make any intellectual leaps off the screen. Confined to the plot alone, the ideas of the movie—about dreams, perception of reality, the subconscious, etc.—are sound in the way they help to implement the story. People talk a good deal in Nolan's world of and about "shared dreaming," but most of the dialogue is establishing (then re-establishing, adding new twists, or changing) the rules of the game.

And make no mistake about it: Inception is a game, through and through. Nolan has proven himself adept not only at creating mind games like this and carrying us through their elaborate narrative structures but also sewing at least one, guiding thematic core to them. This is what is missing in Inception. For all its talk of big ideas, none of them involve us in the movie apart from considering how they tie to and lead the cat's cradle of a plot.

Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his partner Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) specialize in securing the subconscious thoughts of their clients, although they are also prone to stealing them, too. A Japanese businessman named Saito (Ken Watanabe) approaches them with an offer: Plant the idea in the mind of Robert Fischer (Cillian Murphy), a rival's son, to break up his father's company, which would help encourage competition (mainly, that of Saito's business) in the field.

Arthur argues it's impossible to place an idea in someone's head and then asks Saito not to think about elephants. Nolan has some chutzpah to show how simple this "impossible" task is in the real world and then spend the rest of the movie putting his character's consciousnesses in jeopardy to do the same thing in the most convoluted way imaginable. It's a simple dismissal that since the idea of elephants isn't actually Saito's own, it won't stick. The process of planting the thought in Fischer's brain is so complicated that the issue never arises again.

Once Saito has planted the seed of the inciting incident in Cobb's and Arthur's noggins, the rest of the movie takes on the form of a heist. Cobb runs point. Arthur does research.  Ariadne (Ellen Page), an architecture student, designs the dream worlds the team will use to navigate through Fischer's subconscious. Eames (Tom Hardy) will impersonate key figures in Fischer's life within his dream to load the scenario in their favor.

The characters are their types without any further elaboration (except that Arthur and Eames don't get along and Ariadne is curious about the whole process and her new boss), and they only exist to lay down the laws of sharing another person's dream and to go through the motions of the reverse heist. Only Cobb has a backstory, which involves the subconscious influence of his dead wife Mal (Marion Cotillard), who repeatedly interferes with his plans, and visions of his two children, whose faces he longs to see again.

His history, which he maintains in a dream world of his own creation—an old elevator that stops at different floors showing memories of life moments he regrets—is without resonance. Nolan is too busy with the planning stages and execution of the mission, hence Cobb's turmoil conveniently snaps into place within the confines of maneuvering through Fischer's dreamscapes.

The intricate staging of the multilayered caper is ingenious. Cobb and his squad plan a dream within a dream within a dream situation, which means that events in one affect the rest. When their driver (Dileep Rao) makes a sharp turn in the van containing the dreaming sleepers while being chased by Fischer's defense mechanisms, the planes of the next worlds (a hotel where besuited men chase and fight them and a fortified shooting gallery in the Alps—funny how people in the movie seem to only accept dreams that fit the mold of typical Hollywood action sequences) shift along with it. This leads to a clever fight in a hallway, where Arthur scales the walls like Fred Astaire. Multiple events must happen at once, but "at once" means taking into account different perceptions of time in each, successive world.

The clearest evidence of Nolan's shifty and self-reflectively hollow intentions rests in the final shot, which pans from a brief establishment of a character's catharsis to an overly foreshadowed device to differentiate fantasy from reality. This is not about people, and it's only about dreams and the subconscious as far as the story will allow the movie to go. The game's the thing in Inception, and it's nearly equal parts admirable and frustrating. The weight, ultimately, rests with the latter.

Copyright © 2010 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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