Movie Review: Inception- Christopher Nolan’s Puzzle into the Possibilities of Dreams Successfully Intrigues the Mind but Never the Heart

Dreams have always had a place in the cinema for they deal with the limitless imagination and how they can ignite our deepest desires and horrors. Fellini mastered the subjective mind in his masterpiece 8 ½, while the exploration of the tone of a dream  changing from elated joy to nightmarish doom was expertly designed in Terry Gilliam’s masterpiece Brazil. Now the modern auteur of confusion and complexity, Christopher Nolan, takes a leap into the power of the imagination and tries to organize it into one of the most complexly layered puzzles the movies have ever seen. To mean this is an unabashed compliment is misleading because Nolan’s film Inception is about as interesting and mind boggling as a really good puzzle but is just as emotionless as one. The film is designed to perfection with a dream narrative that expertly weaves varying places of time and space, but as the film gets deeper into the power of the imagination we also end up getting more distant from the characters that we never really get to know at all. Inception is very much a large scale blockbuster full of gun fights, car chases, and special effects that manipulate direction and time and displays the sheer ambition Nolan can possess at creating this gargantuan project. Though the film as a whole feels a bit callous and causes some minor anxiety due to the prolonged length of the movie there is no doubting Christopher Nolan’s rare ability to pull off such an epically scaled film in an incredibly convincing way.

While the story of Inception lays its foundation on a never explored energy war between two companies it can sort of be forgiven due to the energy and originality it possesses in its main attraction of going into people’s minds. The protagonist Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio), an international convict, is an expert at stealing ideas and memories from the people he is randomly hired to perform such a task, which is known as extraction. But Cobb is blackmailed into the opportunity of acquiring his amnesty for his alleged crimes back in America by a wealthy energy company owner Saito (Ken Watanabe) who wants him to perform a seemingly impossible “inception.” Inception is the opposite of extraction, which is putting an idea into a subject so it flourishes and becomes their own rather than taking the idea out of their mind. With a team of varying professionals, including a college student (Ellen Page), Cobb must infiltrate the mind of a business man named Robert Fischer (Cillian Murphy) whom he must put the idea of breaking up the family business so that Saito can capture the entire market for himself. Again the monopolistic intentions of Saito are never really explored nor do they really have to be considering the thrill and visual freshness that Nolan’s Inception is able to put on the screen. Of course, as the team gets deeper into the subconscious of their subject the task gets trickier and more dangerous due to Cobb’s mental instability. Unfortunately one of the more negative aspects of the narrative is the lack of getting into any of the character’s emotions or subjectivity. While Cobb’s subjectivity is a spectacle that makes the dream world more dangerous it isn’t an aspect of the film that becomes an emotional or relatable element for the audience to get involved in. Instead the film sticks to being a highly complex puzzle, with interjections of pure action or visual spectacles, which showcases Nolan’s ingenuity as a technical filmmaker but not as a storyteller.

Exploring dreams and the imagination can make for a subject matter that is practically limitless but Nolan sets out to give himself some rules and regulations to follow through the puzzle that is Inception’s script. As we learn more about these different rules, usually coming out of nowhere to explain itself for plot convenience, it takes a moment for the explanation to easily mesh with the story as it’s still going at full force. Some people will definitely find the film a bit convoluted but that doesn’t mean Nolan doesn’t do a good job at keeping you balanced and knowing where you are exactly in which dream. The idea of a dream within a dream makes for some thrilling visual sequences, including the manipulation of gravity, the slowing down of time, and even the random placements of objects such as a train rolling on a street in Los Angeles. Nolan certainly knows how to make things exciting and when dealing with the randomness of the imagination there is no way for him to disappoint. But when more of the plot specifics are explained it seems the characters become mere pieces on this intriguing chess board with only a particular role to play rather than becoming a unique individual in the process. There is always a distance for the audience and the characters in Inception and that is really its most damaging characteristic at being a near perfect blockbuster film. This is probably due to the vast complexity in putting this Rubik’s cube of a film together in order to make sense, and the narrative’s multiple layers do come together quite nicely even if the emotion and subjectivity get left behind.

Despite the characters just being objects to help Nolan explore his ambitious cinematic puzzle the cast does a good job at keeping things interesting. Leonardo DiCaprio isn’t necessarily at his best, but his unique presence in places that are unfamiliar to us aids Nolan’s vision in a way that might not have been as successful with another lead. The crew, consisting of Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Dileep Rao, and Tom Hardy, all possess a great deal of personality that aid with some deviations into humor and a bit of egotistical struggle amongst themselves. Marion Cotillard plays the haunting presence of Cobb’s dead wife and gets increasingly dysfunctional and problematic the deeper the dreams are able to go. Having a cast who can make such fantastic scenarios believable is quintessential to the success of this ambitious film, and luckily the familiar faces and fresh ones make it a consistent and steady experience. As stated before they are all practically chess pieces created for a specific purpose for Nolan’s puzzle game and for the most part they make it interesting. What would have made it better is if we ventured into more of the character’s intentions and perhaps their own subjectivity could influence the dreams allowing imaginations clash with each other. But this would have probably made the film a great deal longer and perhaps inevitably deviate from Nolan’s intended purpose.

Christopher Nolan’s Inception is really about a technical exercise in how special effects can compliment a heavily structured script. The inventiveness of the fighting sequences with twisting angles as well as the demolition of buildings representing the fragmentation of a dream all make for some great complimentary visuals to Nolan’s extremely conceptual narrative. But when a script gets too complicated, and the focus turns to the possibilities of visuals rather than character, than sometimes the point of why we follow certain characters begins to diminish. Inception isn’t necessarily original nor does it widen the experimentation of the dream world as Stanley Kubrick or even Federico Fellini did, but it certainly utilizes the conceptual challenge of the dream world into a blockbuster thrill ride much like the Wachowski brothers did with science-fiction and The Matrix. Watching Nolan’s Inception is a thrilling experience, with mind exercising twists and turns that demand the audience’s attention. However, a puzzle being a mind exercise can be an intriguing experience, but it certainly isn’t an emotional one.

Grade: B

8 Responses to “Movie Review: Inception- Christopher Nolan’s Puzzle into the Possibilities of Dreams Successfully Intrigues the Mind but Never the Heart”
  1. Rob Greco says:

    So I just got home from seeing this and was very glad to see you had a review up already.

    “With a team of varying professionals, including a college student (Ellen Page), Cobb must infiltrate the mind of a business man named Robert Fischer (Cillian Murphy) whom he must put the idea of breaking up the family business so that Saito can capture the entire market for himself.”
    Again the monopolistic intentions of Saito
    are never really explored.

    I understood this section of the story differently; I thought that Saito said he just didn’t want Fischer’s company to get the monopoly on energy. I guess that would make Saito’s company stronger, but when Saito said that even if he died, he would still uphold his end of the deal, it made me think their was more to his character then just his company gaining power.

    “While Cobb’s subjectivity is a spectacle that makes the dream world more dangerous it isn’t an aspect of the film that becomes an emotional or relatable element for the audience to get involved in.”

    –I agree. I think that their needed to have been less about Cobb’s wife and more about Cobb’s doubts, guilt, or ‘regrets’.

    All the action in this was entertaining, but what struck me was the absolutely amazingly creative narrative. Movies that spark ideas for me on a broad level, I find are the most intriguing. My love for The Matrix comes from this point. When an audience leaves a theater saying ‘wow, that could really be going on right now.. I could really be stuck in The Matrix’.. I have to give the movie much respect. With Inception, I will be pondering over the limitlessness of the mind and the possibility of how this idea could very well be reality… How life as we know it could be a dream upon a dream.. upon a dream.. Haha

    Well, that’s my two cents.. If you have any movie recommendations
    that you feel would have the same mind opening effect as this did on me I’d love to hear them.
    Keep up the great reviews.

  2. Juan Carlos says:

    ONLY A B+ ! Dude you are harder to please than the Democratic party.

  3. Marcy T says:

    I liked Inception but the idea of “is it real or not” was done to perfection in Brazil so this movie left me feeling a touch flat. I don’t care what happens to Cobb because, as you said here, the audience doesn’t get to know him well enough to really care. I left the film thinking that I couldn’t trust anything I saw and if that’s true, then what was the point? In order for it to work, for me anyway, there has to been some element of truth to the story, but we don’t know if ANY of it is true IF the spinning top doesn’t fall over. I think it’s about to when the screen goes black, but if it’s not, then what does it matter? Cobb could be in a coma for all we know and the whole idea of inception is just his imagination at work and nothing we were told was true—wife, kids, Michael Caine, etc. It would have been good to have been given some semblance of what was true.

  4. Steve L says:

    I get the idea that there wasn’t enough emotional umph to carry this movie from B+ to an A, but what I don’t understand is the complaint by you and others that this movie wasn’t creative enough. You have dream designers trying to fool the militarized subconscious of their enemies, a clever combination of people’s minds, and a suspense story that generally follows the complex dream-rules set up for it. Combine that with some incredible visually creative directing and I don’t know what everyone’s complaining about.

    • MT says:

      It’s not that it wasn’t creative enough, it’s that the creativity isn’t worthy of the ‘best film ever’ reaction it seems to be getting.

  5. Bart Mechem says:

    Creation is mostly a outstanding, stunning video for two hours, but on this setup for a sequel, the target audience, inside finish, has experienced minor and knows absolutely nothing of any certainty. Take into account it: Nothing.

  6. Scott Schaub says:

    Ok I’m sick from the praise belonging to the movie. Okay I’ve heard a ton of arguments ranging through the movie can make you presume and is visible beautiful, and has outstanding specific effects. My response for you is so what. Just due to the fact that a video is different, has astounding exceptional effects, and tends to make you ponder doesn’t

  7. Luis Morrish says:

    The Taoist text identified as the Chuang Tzu asks how we know we aren’t in the desire when we walk up from a dream. Inception leaves you asking the very same question. It tends to make you query “reality”, which can be where by the similarity using the Matrix lies. Creation subtly insinuates that existence is illusionary, or synonymous with what Indian philosophy refers to as “Maya.” So that you can bring this subject closer to house, the movie adroitly exposes the self-created, phantasmal and haunting character of emotional attachments, that is why we are reminded of Solaris when seeing Inception. Taken like a whole, these shows invite us to take into account the character of our thoughts and its desperate demand to create sense out of the insecurity and instability that defines human existence. Simply because these give rise to yearnings, hopes and expectations, existence can also be filled with pain, which can be why there is a Buddhist message below too.

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