Article first published as Movie Review: Inception Does For Dreams What Jaws Did For Oceans on Blogcritics.
Christopher Nolan has been directing some of my favorite movies of the 2000s. I loved Memento, even the second time. I've been reading comics since 1991, so I was extremely glad for what he's done to the Batman franchise with Batman Begins and The Dark Knight. The Prestige was the best supernatural mystery featuring magicians I saw that year (and yes, that includes The Illusionist). I even liked Insomnia, even though he didn't write it. This year, he blew everything away with Inception.
It feels like M.C. Escher had a baby with Philip K. Dick, and this baby was raised by Danny Ocean. Part sci-fi, part magical realism, part caper, and all awesome. After seeing it twice, I feel like I get it enough where I can write about it and it won't be utter gibberish.
The first time I saw Inception it was the weekend after it opened, and the theater was packed. Normally, I hate sitting within the first 20-30 rows of a theater (I know, I'm a stickler), but I sat in the 4th row with my fiancee and we watched it anyway. The second time was just this past weekend, it was less packed, but I still wasn't able to get my optimum seat. Regardless, I thoroughly enjoyed both viewings, regardless.
I studied film in college, so I'm very much of the mindset that movies are best when they're engaging as well as thought-provoking. Nolan is able to balance a totally insane plot in a rational way. He explains certain things (some critics have said too much), but it's necessary. The viewer would have virtually no way to keep up with the story without the explanations. In reality, very little of the history of their technology is explained; they just explain how it works once you're in the dream.
I'm getting a little ahead of myself. To fully talk about the movie, especially to those who may ot have seen it, I should explain a little about what's going on. In the world of Inception, a technology exists that lets people share dreams. This leads to an illegal practice of sharing dreams to extract secret information; essentially, master thieves called extractors steal secrets right from your head. The plot follows Cobb (DiCaprio) and Arthur (Gordon-Levitt), two talented thieves, an expert Extractor and an ingenious Architect. Cobb is plagued by his past, and Arthur is just looking towards the next job. When an opportunity arises that Cobb can't pass up, he must organize a group of dreamers: An architect even better than Cobb (Ellen Page); a forger that can assume identities of others in dreams (Tom Hardy); a chemist to design the perfect sedative to create all the dream levels they need (Dileep Rao); their client (Ken Watanabe); and their unwilling subject (Cillian Murphy). Cobb's secrets come out of his subconscious with a vengeance as the team tries to pull off the perfect heist in reverse: Inception. Planting an idea in a subjects mind is more difficult than removing information, and they must face dangers and dream levels they haven't seen before to complete the job.
About 75% of this movie features visual effects and tricks that I literally have no idea how Nolan did. As per usual, he doesn't use a 2nd Unit, and does it all himself with his director of photography Wally Pfister. Featuring a deep, intense, and ambient soundtrack by Hans Zimmer, the whole team does a phenomenal job of bringing the viewer into the world of the film, and of the dream. Visually stunning, outrageous, and ground-breaking, you almost can't believe what you're seeing, but it's completely fascinating.
It's been awhile since I've seen a movie this actively thought-provoking, and that sparked such real, actual discussion. There's a lot of great actors giving fantastic performances. The visual effects aren't all clogged with 3D and too much computer generated work. There's an entire set of scenes where Joseph Gordon-Levitt fights and runs around in a hallway that's constantly shifting (and sometimes losing) gravity. The way the dreams work are all carefully thought-out and actually does make sense (in a weird, dream-like sort of way).
I highly recommend going to check out this movie. Not only is it greatly entertaining, but it's a master stroke from Christopher Nolan. It's a culmination of all that he's done so far, and pushed way beyond what we've seen him do. The theater experience is worth it, and I'll probably be buying this movie on Blu-Ray when it comes out.
Inception gets four crazy spinning hallways that should make the Wachowskis tremble in embarrassment out of five, or four crazy-manipulated dream-level mazes that feature endless staircases and other physical paradoxes out of five.