What do you get when you mix up a typical Bond film, The Matrix and Ocean’s 11? Christopher Nolan’s Inception, that’s what you get! After the success of The Dark Knight, Nolan could have directed anything he wanted. And he did! He brought us Inception. You know, that film about dreams within dreams within dreams? Its typical blockbuster fare mixed with high concept ideas. There are big explosions, gun battles, fights that defy gravity…and ideas about the nature and perception of reality. I loved it the first time I saw it. But every time I rewatch it I enjoy it a little less…
Let’s get my main gripe out of the way. Yes, it’s a common criticism, but Inception’s idea of dreams isn’t what we experience when we go to sleep. Dreams drive inception. The main character, played well enough by Leonardo Di Caprio, is ‘Dom Cobb.’ He’s an ‘Extractor’ a man who specializes in ‘subconscious security’. The military have developed a device that allows for shared dreaming. It is possible to enter someone’s dreams and steal their deepest secrets. Now none of this makes any sense. Enter my dreams at night, and you do not get access to my pin number. The dreams shown in Inception are essentially identical to reality. And you cannot tell the difference, or so we are told.
Yet we can usually tell the difference. Dreams are incoherent things, yet during most dreams we do not take issue with them for being dreams. The rational and logical parts of our consciousness are powered down. You would never have an easy to follow conversation like Cobb and company have in Inception. Just think about it! Have you ever talked about the nature of reality in your dreams? Take the scene between Cobb and Adriane (the dream architect) where they are in Paris discussing how to create dream worlds. Have you ever had a dream where you’ve been able to follow a complicated conversation? I haven’t.
“Well, dreams, they feel real while we’re in them right?”
Nolan seems to think that (and why we should agree with him here?) that the brain is a fancy computer, and that dreams are just the ‘software’ that we can all share using the machine. He should have gone for the virtual reality option. But that’s been done by David Cronenberg, in Existenz and The Matrix. Aren’t we too familiar with dreams? We know they are not like they are in Inception. But we are being asked, simultaneously, to set aside our own experience of dreams, and at the same time asked to use this experience of dreams to understand the plot. How can we believe the statements made about the time differences between different dream levels? We are asked to accept a lot on faith alone here.
Now, I’ve read/seen theories that explain Inception is about film making. I’m actually watching one right now! Are films dreams played on the silver screen? Is Inception comparing dreams to films? Of course, there are similarities between films and dreams. You are plunged into the middle of things, without a beginning (just like Cobb says about dreams to Ariadne). One scene leads to another, without showing us what happened in between the scenes. I understand that point of view. But Inception still provides a jarring watch by asking us to believe what the characters are saying about dreams. It’s why there is such a great amount of exposition in the film.
That’s my other problem with the film. Exposition almost slows the film down to an unbearable pace. I understand the necessity of the everlasting dialogue to explain Nolan’s interpretation of dreams, and extraction/inception, but it’s rarely done in an entertaining fashion. When it sounds like exposition, there’s something wrong with the script. When the third act kicks in, the exposition is tempered, and the film reaches a high level of excitement. But it takes a long time to get there. You can feel the two and a half hours crawl by at times.
“You mustn’t be afraid to dream a little bigger, darling”
However, it does sound as if I hate Inception. I don’t. I appreciate Nolan’s desire to aim high with his cinematic aspirations. Like I mentioned, the third act mixes typical blockbuster excitement with an expectation that the audience will concentrate which dream level the characters are on. It mixes a great little fight scene that defies gravity, a homage to the opening of Her Majesty’s Secret Service, and twists and turns. There’s enough to satisfy both the casual cinema goer and those who want their intelligence challenged.
Special mention must also go to Leonardo DiCaprio. In my humble opinion, this is his greatest role. Forget The Revenant. That was more about real reactions (to cold and eating raw liver, for example) than real acting. Here, he convincingly portrays a man haunted by his past, but driven by his desire to be reunited with his children. Yes, he’s occasionally dragged down by the exposition filled script. But he acts more with his eyes and gestures rather than his spoken words. He makes you care about his story (rather than the actual plot, which is rather dull when you think about it). He’s a lost soul who’s trying to find reality.
As I mentioned above, I loved Inception the first time I saw it at the cinema. But it was the first film I watched after having a major operation, and my first taste of ice cream/sugar I’d had since before the operation. I was on a sugar high! Several rewatches have made me re-evaluate Inception. I mentioned Existenz, which raises similar questions about the nature of reality to Inception, but manages a level of creativity that Inception fails to reach. We’ve also had The Matrix as a more popular example of a film that raises similar questions to Inception. Those are two films that I’d recommend above Inception.
There’s a hefty amount of exposition to wade through. Christopher Nolan’s interpretation of dreams is unlike anything you or I have experienced. It’s more suited to virtual reality than it is to the dream world. I wish I had conversations about the nature of reality in my dreams. Instead, my dream last night involved Pennywise the Dancing Clown smashing up my Xbox 360, while I looked on eating an ice cream. But as a statement for blockbusters to “dream a little bigger,” we should applaud Nolan for trying. And the third act is undoubtedly thrilling. Shame that you have to endure reams of dull dialogue to get to that stage
VERDICT: 6/10. Inception is ambitious, intermittently entertaining, but flawed film. Nolan should be applauded for aiming high, but his interpretation of dreams and entertaining exposition is very different from mine.
What do you think about Inception (2010)? Leave your thoughts/opinions below!