Since Christopher Nolan shipped out his first trailer for Inception, where cities folded upon themselves and gravity became skewed, everyone has been waiting in anticipation for the release of what could be the biggest blockbuster of the year. Nolan was the man behind the money-printing new Batman franchise, after all, and Inception starred everyone’s favourite Brylcreem user, Leonardo DiCaprio. And with sold-out sessions during opening weekend and everyone gossiping about it wherever you turn, the movie seems to be very well received.
Dom Cobb is an extractor—someone who can break into people’s minds and steal their secrets. He is employed by one company to find out the secret inside the mind of corporate businessman Saito; Saito, however, has a different agenda for him, and wants Cobb to plant an idea in the head of a rival—otherwise known as inception—instead of taking something out. This complicated task means Cobb has to assemble a crack team to help him out (cue It-people Ellen Page and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, amongst others) and delve deeper into the world of the dream than ever before. Of course, when you’re dealing with people’s subconscious, then problems are bound to arise. Perhaps like Cobb’s dead wife Mal, who is part of the reason behind Cobb taking on this final, potentially dangerous task in the first place.
The film is a little more cerebral and less city-destroying action than the trailer makes it out to be. Cities aren’t constantly being adapted and spun around—in fact, DiCaprio’s Cobb explains early on to architect Ariadne (Page) that it’s just not done. The shifting of gravity pertains only to that hotel corridor sequence you’ve already seen in the preview, and nowhere else. There’s other action, sure—car chases, avalanche-filled snow drama, people getting all shot up in very pretty places—but it’s a more standard brand of action than the goosebump-inducing ads led you to expect. I also felt that the special effects fell a little flat—it’s not really that they were bad, but just that they were limited to a small scope. When the city folds up and around, a panoramic view of what it’s like to really be there would have been exciting, but never came through. When a dream starts to collapse—and thus, the world around it—debris flew everywhere but felt very pasted on and not like actual debris from an explosion/implosion. Okay, so a) it’s a dream, stop being picky and b) when were you last in an explosion anyway, Fiona? But that’s just how I felt; that the special effects were not good enough, and were underused.
In a movie set largely in a subconscious state, some problems I have with the movie can be can be answered with but it’s a dream, or can be reconsidered later as not a problem but maybe a hint. Because a lot of the movie is ambiguous, I can’t say for sure whether some of my discontent is a deliberate move by the filmmakers, which, after consideration, is actually a plus. As I went into the film I was willing to believe that going into the dreams of others is possible (though they never actually explain how it’s done) so I wasn’t going in cynical of everything. Still, some questions remain.
It’s possible to have a dream within a dream, and the gravity of one state of your dream affects the next—you’re airborne in one, then you lose gravity in the next. But then why not the next level of dream again, if you’re still weightless? Also: why is Cobb the only character whose subconscious has issues? Dreams can be heavily populated yet the only threat is Mal (Marion Cotillard); I feel that with seven people in the same dream at one point, there should be unloving mothers and bitter ex-lovers popping around every corner. How prevalent is the action of people deliberately getting into their dreams? Is there a pleasure industry based around it or is it mostly underground? For a two-and-a-half hour movie, less time could be spent tracking every moment of a laboured action sequence and more time spent fleshing out the real world, in order to give us the kind of emotional attachment to the characters that is needed to care about a movie.
The individuals themselves are characterless, with the only people developed in any way being Cobb himself and the subject of the inception, Robert Fischer Jr (Cillian Murphy). No one else has any background at all—no families, flat personalities, no individual flair—that is ever mentioned, leaving them as a major part of the story yet people you can’t become attached to. Ariadne appears to be there solely to pry into Cobb’s emotions and deliver forced expositions to the audience about his subconscious (though Gordon-Levitt’s Arthur has been with him longer and must know all this), probably because she is the only girl on the team and we all know that females are made up entirely of women’s intuition and the need to spy.
With the major threat in the movie being the worry that Cobb will be unable to plant the idea, which means Saito will not be able to wave his magic wand and offer Cobb the redemption and freedom he so desperately needs, it was surprising that they offered another level of tension by explaining that playing around with dreams can (and will) go wrong, thus putting the entire team in danger as well as Cobb himself twice over. Instead of causing edge-of-your-seat tension, I found it really pained watching them try and time all the dreams to come together exactly, as it dragged out far too long. The dramatic action sequence towards the end was where they could have shaved some time for character development, being that is was the part when Chris had to rush off to the bathroom, leaving for five minutes where the only thing that happened was my whispered, “more of the same.”
The problem is that Nolan took a bunch of one-dimensional characters, gave them a morally suspect job to do, put them in danger and expected you to care. The major peril is not getting killed (though getting injured is apparently still painful) but the risk of losing track of how many dreams you have been in, or whether you are in a dream at all. Frankly, by the end, when the action was at its peak, I was getting a bit bored with the overdone dramatics and instead thinking about poor Leonardo DiCaprio starring in all these movies about alternate states of being (Shutter Island, The Departed, now this) and being very confused when he wakes up in the morning.
There are more questions (why doesn’t Fischer recognise his rival Saito, why doesn’t Michael Caine get more screen time because he’s excellent and I love him) but you’ve probably understood by now that I didn’t really like the film. About halfway through I whispered my suspicions about the ending to Chris, in a surprise twist where I actually correctly spoilered the film instead of him. Basically, I’m here to accuse the blockbuster of the year of being boring, predictable, and soulless, though it was not really all that bad—after all, I stayed for the whole thing and there are much worse films out there. I’ve given it a thorough telling-off and hope that Nolan pays attention for next time. (If you’re reading this, dude, two things: 1) don’t let Christian Bale near a camera ever again, and 2) one chaste peck on the lips does not sexual tension make.)