Movies that portray true events or are rooted in historical fact are films I prefer and I usually make a strong effort to stray from all varieties of surrealism and fantasy. Nonetheless I chose the recent blockbuster, “Inception” as my focus of review, not knowing what I was getting myself into (It simply happened to be on one of the movie channels I am currently receiving as a promotion through my Dish Network service). Although there has been much clamoring over the past year, I had very little knowledge of this flick, only learning of the four Academy Awards that it received after I had watched the film. In fact, when it was recently referred to, I immediately confused it with the 2009 film starring Matt Damon and Morgan Freeman titled, “Invictus” which was intended to display the struggle of Nelson Mandela to unite the apartheid-plagued land of South Africa. So with the odds stacked against it (due to my stubborn prejudices) it nonetheless won me over by the time the film was finished.
The introduction, while brilliant upon review, initially confused me. After completing the movie, then backtracking to the beginning, it was much more understandable. The story centers on a man by the name of Dom Cobb (played by Leonardo DiCaprio) who works for a shadowy corporation participating in a very invasive, but trail-blazing form of espionage. Called “extraction” Cobb and his team enter their victim’s dreams to collect sought after information. Upon opening, Cobb and his right hand man, Arthur, attempt to trick their subject (already knowledgeable about the method used by corporations called “extraction”) into believing that he is not dreaming by putting him into a “dream within a dream.” Unfortunately their plan collapses, but afterward Saito (the target of the extraction, and another wealthy businessman) offers Cobb an opportunity he cannot turn down. However, instead of “Extraction,” “Inception” (planting an idea, rather than stealing them) becomes the main goal of the mission.
This sets up the main plot of the movie, however, the overall movie is not this simple (although, in most other cases, this alone would qualify as an entire storyline). Thankfully, a side plot develops throughout the movie; a story that takes place on the battlefield of romance, rather than a sinister rivalry between bureaucratic corporations. Cobb’s deceased wife continually enters the dream worlds in which the espionage occurs through Cobb’s subconscious and wreaks havoc at nearly every stage of the plot. Because much of the story takes place within dreams, Mal (Cobb’s deceased wife) is not confined to the ordinary laws that dictate the real world and seeks out Cobb’s attention through any means necessary. For instance, in the very opening scenes, she compromises Cobb’s mission by helping Saito to defend himself against Cobb’s invasion. Later, the story between Cobb and Mal is unveiled, and so is Cobb’s inner torment.
The intensity of the characters creates for an unyieldingly serious movie that at times can border on depressingly heavy, between Cobb’s failed romance and the life-or-death mission. Enter Ellen Page, a young actress who plays a character by the name of Ariadne. Ariadne is a young (but ingenious) college student whom Cobb recruits for his main mission of inception. She provides an outsider’s perspective that provides a bit of relief from the grinding dramas played out by Cobb’s. While I appreciated this role, I personally would have liked to see Ariadne developed and incorporated as a character even more than she was. That being said, when the time came for her to play her part (and a crucial part at the very end) she never failed to do so, and was therefore most likely intended as a minor character role.
The cinematography, high-profile cast and creative story-telling all contributed to the movie (as to be expected). However, what really impressed me about this film is how the director was able to take such outlandish and queer subject matter, and provide such a captivating and suspenseful movie nonetheless. I found the pace of the movie to be particularly pleasing, neither to slow nor absurdly eventful. This is no short film, clocking in at 148 minutes, but unlike many other movies of this length, “Inception” uses each minute appropriately – never leaving the impression that it is wasting the viewer’s attention. This is achieved from meaningful dialogue (something the movie does exceedingly well). At no point could I find an example of conversation between characters that failed to construct complex themes and ideas. In fact, to my glee, the intelligent discourse propelled the movie just as much (if not more) than the beautiful effects and scene changes. This style most certainly does not impress right away, but grows on the viewer through time (something I found to be rewarding). As a matter of fact, I spent a great deal of time watching, and then re-watching, many of the important scenes to further digest the movie.
Much as a story writer develops stages within a plot, the dream-weavers (of espionage) craft a complex and multi-tiered dream intended to penetrate the deepest layers of their victims subconscious and create the fertile soil necessary for planting an idea. This is accomplished, but not without a great deal of strain. Their mission encounters a wide range of unexpected occurrences, but the professionalism of the team pays off in clutch situations. First the team is assembled, they then plot the mission and lastly, it is carried out.
Setting apart this film from others is the unique idea that the protagonist of the story may also be the film’s largest antagonist. The biggest obstacle to achieving the mission is Cobb’s subconscious, represented by Mal. If I were forced to choose one thing that sets this film apart and makes it great, I would have to settle on this alone. Because of this, the story is not only an outward struggle to accomplish the team’s goal of inception, but also an inner struggle of Cobb to bring closure to his dead wife and lost children. Mal tempts Cobb continuously to forsake the real world and join her in the eternal dream world instead. Cobb’s children are always shown with their backs toward him, implying that the only way he can see their faces again is to reunite with them in the dream world. Mal and Cobb spent over fifty years in the dream world building a family until Cobb left to return to reality. Because Mal feels betrayed, she battles for the attention of Cobb, much to the dismay of his espionage team, whose attitude is firmly business first.
Ultimately, I did not expect such a captivating film from subject matter that I would normally find interesting. This is a testament to the film making itself. Actors portray emotions flawlessly and I never felt like I was not intrigued. The biggest hindrance to the experience of the viewer is keeping up intellectually, which for me was certainly and obstacle. As previously stated, watching once was not enough, and getting left behind is not hard to do. Given the unorthodox subject matter and steady pace, this isn’t so hard to believe. That being said, the film nevertheless accomplishes every goal that most any film sets out to do. It creates empathy toward the characters, it keeps the viewer entertained and it communicates deep moral and philosophical themes. Very few movies would I feel comfortable paying seven dollars to see, and I did not pay to see this one. However, if I had a clue of what I was missing at that time, I certainly would feel compelled to pay for this one.