“Inception”

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Christopher Nolan wrote and directed Inception after a decade-long struggle to get his story on screen. Given the box office and critical response, his struggle was well worth the effort. Inception isn’t perfect, but it’s a good example of a fresh science fiction concept turned into an entertaining film.

In Inception, humanity has a means of viewing and extracting a person’s dreams. A business tycoon hires expert dream thief Dom Cobb (Leondardo DiCaprio) to implant an idea into a rival businessman’s mind. This proves more difficult because the subject must believe that the idea is truly his or her own. Cobb recruits a team of “dreamers” and misfits for the mission. However, soon Cobb risks losing his grip on reality as he venture deeper into the dreams and memories from his past.

The concept of viewing and extracting dreams easily had the potential to become convoluted, especially when Cobb’s team visits dreams inside dreams inside dreams inside dreams (yes, four levels of dreams). Fortunately, Nolan never loses his way and never lost me. Unlike Looper, which seems to delight in being abstruse, Inception is complicated but comprehensible. Nolan deserves considerable credit as the writer and director.

With computer-generated effects, audiences have tended to assume that everything and anything is possible in movies. It’d been over a decade since a film’s special effects had truly wowed me. Yet, as I watched Inception, I found myself repeatedly wondering how Nolan pulled off key shots. For example, near the end of the movie, Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s character Arthur fights a security squad in a hotel hallway- while the hallway is spinning around. The scene – which lasts several minutes – looks like it was filmed in a zero-gravity environment. I’m sure if I looked online I could learn how Nolan accomplished that trick, but I prefer to enjoy the magic.

Which way is up?

Where’s my key…

At a few points, the physics of dreaming seemed inconsistent. When does an event in one level of  dreaming impact characters in another? For example, the aforementioned hallway was rotating because Arthur was in a dream dreaming that he was in a van tumbling off a bridge. Yet, although the other primary characters were in the same van as Arthur, their dreams did not rotate. I could generally overlook these problems because dreaming by its nature does not have to obey the laws of reality. Still, as this Youtube video shows, the movie does suffer from quite a few plot holes.

Aside from the rotating hallway and a few scenes in which a dream architect folds roads on top of each other (depicted in the movie poster), I found the dreams surprisingly boring. In theory, the film could have gone anywhere, yet the dreams always took place in utterly mundane settings. No dreams about spaceships or unicorns. As much as I enjoyed the movie, I never found it as “fun” as I’d hoped. I realize that this a personal preference and that Nolan opted to ground the film in realistic settings, but I couldn’t help but think that he missed an opportunity to – excuse the pun – dream big.

Looking back, there is reason to hope that Inception – along with District 9 – marks the beginning of a new wave of science fiction cinema that explores Big Ideas™ without sacrificing character development or memorable action. Today, Nolan is best known for his Batman trilogy, but in several decades there’s a good chance that he’ll be remembered for pushing the boundaries of big-budget science fiction in films like Inception and Interstellar.

RATING: (4 stars)

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About Dom

I study constitutional politics in Southeast Asia and I occasionally work as a consultant for rule of law projects. I enjoy science fiction and fantasy stories, both as an escape and as a way to better understand our world. One day, I hope to write a book about politics in genre literature.
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