FlixChatter Review: Inception

It’s been more than twelve hours since the movie ended, yet I’m still mulling it over, spewing quotes from the movie, and can’t stop thinking about it. Nolan’s films infiltrate the minds, kind of like when you just wake up from a vivid dream and still feel trapped between the dream world and reality.

Dreams feel real while we’re in them. It’s only when we wake up that we realize something was actually strange. – Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio)

I don’t know about you, but I dream often and they’re sometimes quite vivid. No matter how weird and surreal the are, one common thing they share is that my dreams always contain a mishmash of what’s real and what’s not, sometimes they even involve people/things from long ago that I thought I had forgotten, meshed together with those in my imagination. When I woke up, often abruptly, my main is in a state of confusion, but yet I wish I hadn’t been awaken. It’s discombobulating yes, frustrating at times as you can’t keep your finger on it, but dreams tend to be fascinating in a strange way. The same can be said about this movie.

The first fifteen minutes it was challenging to discern. It opens with a figure washed ashore on a beach, waves crashing onto him, and the story immediately unfolds in such an enigmatic way. Characters are vaguely defined as neither good or bad, but one thing we do know even from the trailer, DiCaprio’s Cobb is a thief. He’s not just any thief however, he isn’t after material things, but something far more priceless: an idea, someone’s deepest secret. But this time, his supposedly final job, he’s been hired by wealthy tycoon Saito (Ken Watanabe) to do the opposite of he usually does. Instead of extracting an idea, his task is to plant one into his subject’s subconscious mind, which happens to be Saito’s business rival. As if stealing from people’s dreams isn’t impossible enough, this crazy mission is bound to be ultra complicated. Well, just you wait.

The thief gets his game on

I just saw Nolan’s first feature film Following just two days prior, so the details are still quite clear in my head. It’s quite obvious that Chris Nolan is obsessed with how the mind works and psychological manipulation. His first and latest film both deal with the concept of theft and intrusion, even the lead character share the same name: Cobb. But of course Inception is not so much a sibling of Following but its distant, ultra wealthy relative in the way of scope, scale and aspiration. There have been expensive blockbusters released this year, so in terms of production, its $170 million budget is by no means groundbreaking. What separates this from the pack is its sheer ambition and up-to-there creativity. To quote TOTAL FILM in it’s Summer issue: “…Inception’s USP is all about WTF originality.” I read one tweet on Friday that pretty much summed it up my experience: “Thanks Mr. Nolan. Now we only have 11% brain power left in us…” or something along that line. Unlike most popcorn blockbusters, you can’t switch off even one tiny part of your brain going into this movie, and even then you’ll still be perplexed, bewildered and frustrated by what’s taking place on screen.

To go into details of the story would be a disservice to those who haven’t seen it, besides, words escape me in trying to find ways to describe it. Many of Nolan’s movies usually demand repeated viewings to fully grasp the story, and this one is no exception. It’s got such a complex and multi-layered dream-within-a-dream concept, with plots and twists piling up on top of each other that we’re bound to miss some key information the first time around. I wish I could rewind a couple of scenes and turn on the caption on, especially when Ken Watanabe is conversing with DiCaprio, which are some of the vital scenes in the movie. But the thrill is in trying to piece together this puzzle Nolan’s thrusts upon us (my husband quipped that Nolan must be into puzzle games and perhaps chess when he was growing up), and there are also some spellbinding visual effects to enjoy throughout. The CGI is quite seamless, which is a feat in and of itself, but the beauty is that when we’re seeing it, we don’t get stuck at the technicality of it. The special effects enhance the story instead of distract us from the movie.

If you’ve seen the trailer, you’d have seen a glimpse of the scene where the city of Paris is folding up geometrically. Well, it looks so much cooler in the movie, and we the audience, as well as DiCaprio and Ellen Page’s character marvel together seeing the people who are still walking about and cars driving normally in a gravity-defying manner. Then there is the surreal sudden appearance of a freight train in the middle of a downtown street and a hotel hallway that spins like a hamster wheel in a Matrix-like action sequence. Those are just a few visual treats that go along with the cerebral ones.

DiCaprio & Cotillard as husband & wife

It’s also exciting for me to see the influences that shape Nolan’s body of work. He said to Empire magazine that “[Inception] is absolutely my Bond movie… I grew up just loving them and they’re a huge influence on me.” No wonder, I chuckle during the sequence in the snowy mountainous region of Calgary, as it bear a striking resemblance to the ski shootout in For Your Eyes Only, among others. Interestingly enough, Nolan’s favorite Bond movie is On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (which is the least successful Bond movie with George Lazenby), as Nolan puts it, “…it’s by far the most emotional.” Similarly with Inception, amidst all the high-level concept, high-tech gadgetry and action-packed sequences, at the heart of the movie is a love story between Cobb and his wife Mal (Marion Cotillard).

Part of Leo's team: Tom Hardy & Joseph Gordon-Levitt

So, with all the anticipation that went on for almost a year, does it live up to my expectation? One short answer: YES. Albeit being quite mystified for a good portion of the movie, it was exhilarating and fun, a thrill ride for the eyes and the mind. The acting is also excellent throughout, and not just by DiCaprio alone, who’s definitely the ‘face’ of the movie. Ellen Page, Cillian Murphy, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Watanabe, Cotillard, Tom Hardy, Tom Berenger and Sir Michael Caine are wonderful in their respective roles. I particularly enjoy Hardy (who I last saw in Rocknrolla) who steal scenes every moment he’s in with his charming presence and comic relief. I would love to see more of this guy in the leading role.

Well, on that note, let me end with his line from the movie, “You mustn’t be afraid to dream a little bigger, darling,” Hardy’s character Eames said just before he pulled out a giant firearm next to a lesser-equipped Gordon-Levitt’s Arthur (you can see the exact clip here, thanks to Chele Belle’s comment). Hmmm, that’s got to be the motto Christopher Nolan lives by.

30 thoughts on “FlixChatter Review: Inception

  1. Yay! I loved it. I somehow managed to follow it, too, up until the fourth level, and then I couldn’t keep everything straight anymore. Also going to feel cool for the rest of the day, because my favorite Bond film is also “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.” Hee!

    1. Yeah, the dream after dream layer are tough to follow! I get them mixed up so often but luckily the discussion with my hubby afterwards help me discern it a bit better. I love how this movie sticks in your mind so much and you can’t help talking and thinking about it. Ha! I guess that’s Nolan’s ‘inception’ to us moviegoers, the idea he plants in our heads so we see it again… and again! 🙂

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    1. I’ll read that later during lunch. Good thing I avoid all kinds of tidbit about the movie until I see it, it was a ‘fresh’ experience for me, though it does take more than one viewing to figure things out.

      Yes, I did know about Hardy in Mad Max. I blogged about it here: http://wp.me/pxXPC-sB

  4. As you said, your dream are a mismatch of the real and surreal and this was one of my beef with Inception. This dream world was awfully bland and uncreative except for a handful of nifty visuals and stunts. Additionally, that quote is so not true lol. Don’t you sometime realize you are in a dream while asleep? Anyways, definitely a good summer blockbuster, I was only slightly disappointed it didn’t push the envelope more since Nolan is one of the very few director who is given the means to do it.

    1. Actually, I don’t know I was dreaming when I was asleep most of the time. In fact, I had a super vivid dream just the morning before I saw the movie, and it felt so real that when I woke up I felt like I had a connection with this person in the dream, which is a real person but NOT someone that I know in real life. I was rather disappointed I didn’t know how it ended!

      Didn’t push the envelope more?? I think if the movie had been any smarter my head would’ve exploded, Castor 🙂 Sometimes I think I’m not intelligent enough for Nolan’s movies, but no, he hasn’t disappointed me yet.

  5. Great review Ruth!! I can never write review that good and that long 🙂

    This movie is really something isn’t it!! I went watching for the 2nd time today…the purpose is to look at my beloved cillian murphy (because the 1st is to really enjoy the movie) …but that doesn’t stop me from awe-ing over the movie once again…in fact, the moment the movie is over I want to watch it again.

    As you already read in my review…it’s an 11 years of waiting for me 🙂 Big applause to Nolan and his Inception

    1. Thanks Nov, I had to do it quickly after the movie so it was still fresh in my mind. He..he.. just had to see it again, huh? I don’t blame you, especially with so many close-ups of Cillian’s gorgeous face and eyes 😉

      You’ve been waiting eleven YEARS for this? You mean months right? Even Nolan hadn’t thought about this movie idea for half the time!

      1. Nope…I really mean 11 years!!! The 1st movie that really awed me is The Matrix…great story with amazing effects, after that, no scifi can even come close to be put next to the matrix.

        When I saw Inception trailler, I have a good feeling it’ll be something great and might be able to be placed next to The Matrix….and I am glad I was right 🙂

        So…for 11 years, I’ve been waiting for a movie as Mind blowing and as amazing as The Matrix to show up, and Inception is the one that able to pull it off

  6. Mike B.

    GREAT review. And thanks for not giving much of anything away for us yet to view this. It sounds a little bit like “The Matrix” but rather than a Nietzsche angle this one rolls with some Freud perhaps? It’s exactly the film I’ve been looking for!!

    1. I made sure it’s spoiler-free, Mike, though this story is so complex I’m not sure it can easily be ruined. It’s not like M. Night Shyamalan’s flicks where it hinges on just one twist. Let me know what you think after you see it, ok?

      1. Mike B.

        100% for sure! The GF isn’t HOT for this one, so I’ve got to come up with an angle that will get her to go with me, either that or I go solo. Not feeling like going with a buddy, and the girls are too young for this one …

        1. Tell her Leo looks good in this one, not to mention Tom Hardy, which to me is the eye candy of the movie! 🙂 No, definitely don’t take the girls, it’s a mind riddle even for adults!

          1. Mike B.

            Well, took the GF this weekend. I thought it was one of the best movies I’ve ever seen. I hear what the critics say, but seriously, they’d say the same thing about Citizen Kane, that it’s too slow, too complicated. Our attention span today is non-existent. For me the length of the movie was required to take you all those levels down, to have you go there too. And when you’re down there to find the wind mill toy in the deepest recess of this guy’s mind. I thought the ending was like a “Rosebud” moment. Nolan carried that object throughout the film beautifully.

            I will admit, like the movie Avatar, I’m not going to see this one again anytime soon. My brain was a little sore after. However, the theater was packed and this thing has been out for quite a while. So folks are interested in it.

            1. Hey thanks for coming back and letting me know, Mike. Glad you liked it, I think the attention span of today’s people is a joke! I mean, most of my fave classics are more than 2.5 hrs long and I don’t mind it.

              He..he.. I think a lot of people’s brains were sore also, but I guess that’s fine once in a while since most Hollywood movies these days are so brainless! It’s finally dethroned from the top box office spot this weekend but amazing that it’s still full! I saw The Other Guys which was a lot of fun, my review should be up by tomorrow.

              1. Mike B.

                Cool on “The Other Guys” review!

                I’m going to see a REALLY stinky movie with my daughters and GF this week – that new dance movie “Step Up 3D”. The GF loves that dance crap, and my tween kids do. Ugh! The things you do for love? I won’t bother you with a review of that one …

  7. Great review, Ruth, such attention to detail and you personalise it so well with your own experiences and feelings.
    I have a feeling this may just have been a little too smart for its own good, or at least for my own good, my head’s still sore 🙂
    It gets to a point where it becomes more about the complexity and the ‘cleverness’ of the film and less about the ideas and the themes the film introduces, a little more transparency would have served it better I feel.

    1. “…a little too smart for its own good” Yeah, I actually said the exact same thing on the way home from watching the movie. Sometimes I wonder if Nolan exists in his own level, for a lack of a better word, that he can’t create a movie in layman’s terms anymore. It has to be too clever for us ‘regular’ folks. I think being a little less cryptic won’t hurt the movie, I agree. At the same time, it’s nice to have our brain stretched a little (or a lot) at the cinema, kinda balance things out after seeing say, The A-Team 🙂

  8. Well written review, but I have to say, didn’t this movie seem WAY longer than it needed to be? Unlike Momento, which could hold your interest with the fast pace; this left me screaming, “wake these people up so I can go home!” I was really looking forward to it, great concept, creative, yet missed the mark for me in the end.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Colleen. Yeah, I’ve been saying in other blogs that it is a bit indulgent on Nolan’s part, especially in the second half. I didn’t have the same reaction as you though, as even with the ‘flaw’s and plot holes, it held my attention pretty well.

  9. Hey Ruth! Another very well written piece here. Saw it this weekend and was disappointed. Not sure what all the hype was about and everyone singing its praises is freaking me out a bit. You bring up some great points here, especially as it relates to the canon of Nolan’s work, but I feel he fell too much in love with his own material. I don’t know what you saw in the performances…perhaps I missed something, but Nolan doesn’t give the cast much to do at all and they relent to the special effects. Too many flaws in the story and the 2nd half took far too long to reach its climax. Not a bad movie, but certainly flawed and by no means, a Top 10 film in my opinion. I had to write my own contrasting review on Magic Lantern:

    http://magiclanternfilm.wordpress.com/2010/07/19/peter-eramo-reviews-inception-%c2%bd/

    1. Hi Peter, I’ve left a comment on your post. Sorry to hear you’re disappointed, and I can totally relate with being baffled by all the raves, I felt the same way last year re: The Hurt Locker. Well, I like this more than you obviously, but at the same time, I see your point. I had gripes about the lack of character development initially, but Nolan chose to make this more about the concept itself and how it affects the Cobbs family, which I think he achieved that. The scenes with Leo and Marion were heart-wrenching, so the emotional side is there IMO. I do agree about the length though, I think trimming it down a bit would make it more palatable.

  10. BG

    rtm, Inception reminded me of my days on LSD. I couldn’t wait for the trip to be over. The movie would have been more enjoyable if the story was less complicated. I was lost in the beginning and even found myself dozing off. Towards the end I was able to grasp some concept of the story. The scenes with Cobb and his wife were a bit disturbing and dark, but were fascinating. The street and mountain top shoot outs were cool. The last 30 minutes redeemed the movie and made me think I had missed something important during my snooze. I will rent it someday to try and figure out the complete story. Thanks for the invite – It was good to hang with you and your man.

    1. Hi BG, it was fun hanging out with you too! I was a bit worried you’d hate this and I feel bad that I invited you along 🙂 Glad you like some parts of it, there are definitely a lot of great things about the movie despite some of the flaws. We should rent and watch this together again, it’s definitely one that provoke a lot of discussions! 🙂

      Thanks for your comment!

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