Thursday, July 29, 2010

Sweet Dreams Are Made Of These (Inception Review)

In this shot, Mal and Cobb form a blueprint in the sand for their new world in Limbo. Taken from IGN Movies, click here to see more shots.

The concept of lucid dreaming – the idea that a person can be aware that he or she is dreaming, and alter the dream world around them – is an idea that has been explored again and again by countless books, television shows, and movies, and when the idea is used it is almost always done in a way that makes the whole process seem rather fantastical and dangerous. This movie is no exception, but the way the idea is presented is uniquely from the director’s point of view.

What Christopher Nolan has done with his new film Inception, which he both wrote and directed, is take that idea and use it to help build an entire world around it, a world where one can plant ideas into someone’s consciousness or steal them away, all through entering the dream world created by one’s sub consciousness. It is an incredible and fascinating idea to discuss, especially for people who are interested in psychology and how humans interpret and process dreams, but how good Inception is depends entirely on how sound the execution of the idea is on the silver screen.

The best way to look at that is to look at the story first. Our main character, Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio), is a man who has experimented with travelling deep into the different layers of his own sub consciousness. His skills led him to craft and expand on the dream world along with his wife Mal (Marion Cotillard), creating a sort of paradise for themselves to live happily, if only for a short time. Unfortunately, this whole thing ends up twisting Mal’s psyche, causing her to lose her perception of reality and the ability to tell when she is or isn’t dreaming. The loss of her sanity ultimately results in the loss of her life, and her suicide is pinned all on Cobb, who has to leave the country and his two children behind. He decides to become an extractor, a person who steals ideas from people’s minds to make a profit, to support him while waiting for the one opportunity to be able to return to his children and redeem himself for his past sins.

That opportunity presents itself in the form of a job proposed to him by a wealthy businessman named Saito (Ken Wantanabe), who is looking to dissolve a competitive company run by one of his business rivals, a Robert Fischer Jr. (Cillian Murphy). The job Saito wants Cobb to do does not involve stealing an idea, but rather planting one, a process known as “inception.” With the help of his organizer and long-time partner in crime Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a shape shifting forger named Eames (Tom Hardy), a sedative expert named Yusuf (Dileep Rao), and a promising architect known as Ariadne (Ellen Page), Cobb looks to finish the job and win the struggle with his own demons as well.

This film, if it’s even possible to simplify it, can best be described as a psychological, almost sci-fi thriller merged with the concept of the classic heist movie. Unlike most of the interpretations of dream worlds in other films, this one isn’t just some generic acid-esque trip either. Nolan’s dream world has rules, standards and devices that help to not only advance the plot, but to keep the characters alive and the story moving as well. All the elements of the plot and the atmosphere seem so organized and well put together, and what I like the most is that there are very few confusing questions that needed to be answered or loose ends to be tied up, except of course for the entirely ambiguous ending which I’m not going to spoil here (all I’ll say about that is that people are probably going to be discussing it for months, which is most likely the point). The progression of the story isn’t entirely perfect though. A lot of scenes in the beginning jump around from place to place a little too quickly, and that can make it really hard for some viewers to follow what is going on at some points of the movie. If you really pay attention, though, everything becomes pretty clear.

We get some really impressive shots in this film, of city skylines and beaches and Cold War-esque mountain bases, and in the dream sequences they are all supplemented nicely with some really good CGI. This is probably one of the few films I can think of where such an overt use of computer-generated effects didn’t invoke awkwardness or the dreaded uncanny valley, and I appreciate it very much.

The performances in this film were, for the most part, pretty top notch. DiCaprio and Levitt were great as always, Rao manages to pull off some nice comic relief without getting too goofy and disturbing the overall mood of the film, and Cotillard plays off DiCaprio really well. I thought Hardy’s character kind of overdid the whole snarky badass thing he seemed to be going for at times though, and I kind of wished Page would have given Ariadne a little more personality. Not that her character wasn’t good, but there were times when she seemed rather generic.

Overall, despite some miniscule flaws Inception is one of those movies that not only entertains you, but gets the wheels in your brain turning as well. Even if the mechanics of Nolan’s dream-oriented universe aren’t entirely clear to some, it still makes for a really fun and interesting topic to discuss, almost like a souvenir to take home with you after the experience of watching the film. I can’t think of anybody who doesn’t love that.

For a better understanding of Cobb's mission, this neat infographic outlines the plan really well. Created by 3D modeler "dehahs." To see the full picture, head over to his Deviant Art page.