The film follows Dom Cobb (played by DiCaprio) who is an "extractor", someone who enters the dreams of others to obtain otherwise inaccessible information. After an extraction attempt is thwarted, Cobb finds that he has been unknowingly auditioned for a new job. Instead of an ‘extraction’ however, Cobb must find a way to plant an idea into a target’s mind, an ‘inception’. Motivated by his need to end his self-imposed exile from his home country and be reunited with his children, Cobb recruits a team of dreamscape experts that will assist him in performing a successful inception in a dreamscape populated with dangerously obtrusive memories of his late wife and defence mechanisms projected as heavily armed military or get trapped in limbo trying.
$100 million went into the marketing of this film, so it comes as no surprise that more people knew the film’s title Inception rather then what it was actually about. This is a mean feat when you think about internet leaks and the such. Nolan’s films to this point have enjoyed amazing marketing while also being shrouded in mystery; from the ‘viral’ strategies used in promoting The Dark Knight, to the way all and sundry seem to have Inception ‘incepted’ into their minds eye without really knowing how it got there in the first place.
Obviously every filmmaker’s aim is to take their one thread of consciousness and plant that into an audience members mind. In an interview with Roger Ebert in 1969, Alfred Hitchcock stated that once a script is made, it is perfect. Once shooting commences however, when one has to compromise with studios, cast and crew, one loses up to 40 per cent of their original conception and therefore, the audience receives even less of the original idea.
It is safe to say that that is not the case here. The movie is written, produced and directed by Christopher Nolan. Christopher Nolan is a director who gets better with every film; not overreaching by any means, but definitely learning and adapting as he grows. From humble beginnings with nourish turns with Memento and Insomnia, to steadily learning the ropes of a bigger budget movie in Batman Begins, Nolan has earned the right and learned the way to make an intelligent, dense and visually epic film, especially from the searing success of The Dark Knight.
This of course was a deliberate move on Nolan’s part as he had worked on the script for ten years, having been told by Warner Brothers that he did not have the requisite experience to make such a film that demanded a great budget. Nolan accepted this and started heavy research into ‘lucid’ dreaming, and started to build the architecture of a dreamscape based on very real theoretical principles while learning the ropes of bigger budgeted films, taking on the Batman series. Rather then ‘selling out’, Nolan brought his talents to an otherwise dead franchise and…well, we all know what happened with The Dark Knight don’t we?. I don’t believe other Hollywood directors would have such honest insight into their own skill, M. Night Shyamalan’s self deluded turns with Lady in the Water and The Last Airbender is a glaring example.
Inception was not by any means the slick heist film I was expecting it to be. Nolan is a fan of James Bond and this style of film has now become part of his visual palette. Again, everyone wears beautiful suits and a hell of a lot of bryl-cream, and, one may argue, there is a hint of film noir, especially when Cobb is sharing the screen with his femme fatal wife. However, the manner in which Cobb and his team ‘extract’ or ‘incept’ information is brutal and destructive: buildings explode, people get shot and all hell breaks loose should the dreamer, the one who is host to all of these cops-n-robbers, should start to wake up.
The script is extremely dense. Too much is going on at one time. Unlike The Matrix, where the audience is trained up along with the main character Neo, the audience is then allowed to follow the story once a level of required contextual and constructional knowledge is attained to appreciate the relevant rules of the narrative. Inception never lets up with its rule-book exposition and further improvised adaptation of those rules.
In a sense I would have liked to have been introduced to the film by seeing what Cobb does best, a successful, slick extraction. We are told by Cobb himself that he is the best at what he does but, within the construct of the movie, we are only privy to his failures.
On my first viewing also, I felt that the attempt to lend emotional depth to Cobb’s character adds another plot thread to an already suitably dense script; i.e. isn’t the whole point of this film the inception of an idea into an already identified target?
All of these perceived failings are, of course, deliberate. The dense script shows great respect for the audience, being an event that an audience member thinks about after the movie, chews on it, discusses it and then gets hits between the eyes with it. Such structural skills also introduces another layer to the film itself: we have seen the idea of unreliable narrator/s (Rashomon, Hero, The Usual Suspects) but now, in the tradition of Hitchcock, we have master unreliable director ( as he has done with Memento, The Prestige). Meta films / dreams come into play, and, in places, all at once.
This is a genius tightly woven script. With respect to audience member’s interpretations of the film (the internet is alive with them) I believe that the film is not ambiguous at all: Nolan so far has demonstrated that he is an extremely literal writer and director. His dreamscape is not surreal by any means: everything you need to know to come to a conclusion of his films (The Prestige, The Dark Knight) are evidenced in the film itself. Inception is dense with logic based rules that, once understood, reveal the true meaning and nature of the film.
Watch this on the big screen to fully experience the visual representation of a world constructed on tight principles (represented by dense, straightforward architecture like The Matrix, Dark City and The Dark Knight) which looks absolutely amazing; Photorealistic computer graphic cityscapes which find the laws of physics to be amazingly relative accompanied by the bombastic score of Hans Zimmer. A fantastic cinema experience.
4 skyscrapers out of 5, only because I know Nolan is going to come out with a more accomplished film every time he makes one. So far, my favorite director this side of Hitchcock (script over character forgiven for both).
For those who have seen Inception and need a rough guide as to the rules of the land, check out this expert manual courtesy of Liam.
Luke McWilliams, August 2010