The Prodigious ‘Inception’

Courtesy of Warner Bros.

Courtesy of Warner Bros.

Nine years. That’s how long it took director Christopher Nolan (“The Dark Knight”) to develop his latest film for the big screen. Inspired by the experience of lucid dreaming and dream incubation, “Inception” is Nolan’s most ambitious film to date, and is so far the most unique and rewarding film of the year.

Cobb (Leonardo Dicaprio) is a skilled extractor who steals ideas and secrets from people’s subconscious minds in their dream state. A man racked with guilt, he longs to return to America and his children, but cannot due to his past and profession.

After a failed heist, Cobb is approached by Saito (Ken Watanabe), who offers him the chance to see his children again, in exchange for one last job. However, the task is no mere extraction; Saito wants Cobb and his team to carry out “inception,” the extremely difficult process of planting an idea in the subconscious.

Even though Cobb and his associates carefully develop their plans for inception, nothing can prepare them for the unpredictable enemy who not only could jeopardize the whole mission, but also has a very special interest in Cobb himself.
At one point in the film, Cobb says to Ariadne (Ellen Page), “Never recreate places from your memory, always imagine new places.” Indeed, such words perfectly describe “Inception” in comparison to the long list of summer’s adaptations, reboots and remakes. What makes this film so unique is the originality behind it.

The film’s exploration of dreams is truly captivating. The fact that we wake up when we die or fall in our dreams, that we don’t remember the beginning of a dream – “Inception” fascinates the audience precisely because our experiences within our dreams are very similar to what the characters undergo in the film.

Aware of the complications that may arise due to the film’s heavy subject matter, Nolan structures his film such that the viewer understands how inception works before it takes place. With that being said, the first half of the film is a tutorial for the audience to learn about the perfect crime, while the second half is presented for the audience to sit back and watch Cobb and his team performing that crime.

Of course, the film does become rather confusing, especially during the last half hour or so. Several events that occur will cause the viewer to wish that Nolan had dedicated some more time to explain how and why such circumstances transpire.
One surprising thing about “Inception” is the absence of examining the morals and ethics of both extraction and inception. After all, Cobb explicitly states that what they do is “not strictly speaking legal.” Even more surprising is the fact that Ariadne, who is supposed to be the film’s moral compass, never questions the immorality of entering a person’s subconscious, which is quite difficult to believe.

Despite the presence of a top-notch cast, Marion Cotillard and Cillian Murphy are the only ones who make an impression. With the exception of those two and Dicaprio, the rest of the cast deliver adequate performances due to the thin development of their characters.

As Cobb, Dicaprio is somewhat subtle and only seems to meet the bare essentials for his character. Perhaps this is due to the fact that he played a very similar character in Martin Scorsese’s “Shutter Island,” so he did not want any comparisons made between Cobb and that character.

Cotillard steals her scenes due to the frightening aura she projects. Playing Cobb’s late wife Mal, she not only nails the eerie side of her character, but shines in her emotional and vulnerable scenes as well.

Murphy plays Fischer, the heir to a business empire and the team’s target. Fischer arguably has the more prominent emotional journey than Cobb, and Murphy is excellent at executing the right emotions, especially when sharing his scenes with Pete Postlethwaite, who portrays Fischer’s dying father.

As stated before, the rest of the cast suffers from thin character development that prevents them from showcasing their acting skills. How thin? The audience doesn’t even know their character’s motives for carrying out inception, save for Saito. Is it for money or glory for achieving what seems to be the impossible? It is not known.

However, they certainly make the best of what they have. Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Tom Hardy create laughs whenever they share a scene. Page serves as the guide for the viewer, but maintains the same expression on her face for most of the film. Watanabe’s accent muddles his dialogue so much that the audience understands only half of his lines, though his demeanor is confident.

“Inception” boasts outstanding technical achievements. Cinematographer Wally Pfister’s camerawork captures many stunning images, especially when coupled with slow-motion. At one point, editor Lee Smith juggles  three action sequences and meshes them extremely well. The work of the sound editors and mixers exhibits their passion for every distinct crash, explosion and gunshot.

Composer Hans Zimmer’s score fits the mood of each scene. In action scenes, the music goes through a series of allegros and crescendos. In sentimental scenes, adagios and decrescendos are prevalent.

The visual effects in “Inception” are spellbinding. A scene of a city folding upon itself and a zero -gravity hallway fight are enthralling. Indeed, the effects bring out the infinite possibilities of a dream.

“Inception” is unquestionably a film that cannot be missed. Though the film isn’t Nolan’s best work to date, its originality and scale are enough to make this a film worth experiencing.