AMC Theaters were offering dollar popcorn and sodas today, so it was the perfect time to catch a flick. I haven't had as much free time as I'd hoped this summer between acting as production manager for a local community theatre production of The Sound of Music and teaching a class at the nearby community college. There were a ton of movies playing in town that I would love to see, but my sis and I decided on Inception, figuring of all the movies playing in town, it would be the one we'd be the most disappointed not to have seen in theaters. So after a healthy breakfast of scrambled eggs with spinach and portabella mushrooms, we headed out.
I have always really admired Christopher Nolan's work. Memento is one of the best films of this century, and The Dark Knight proved that blockbuster doesn't have to be synonymous with lobotomy. Even Insomnia, which is probably the weakest of his post-Memento work, is pretty great, an overlooked gem. I went into Inception, then, with some pretty lofty expectations.
Nolan was a bit close-mouthed about this film and I purposely avoided reading many of the reviews (they just give away too much!), so I wasn't entirely sure what to expect outside of some killer visuals and probably a mind-freak of a story. That's precisely what I got. Nolan creates what is essentially a caper film set in the dreamscape. Leonardo DiCaprio (who seriously grows more appealing with each film) plays Cobb, a man who is able to invade people's dreams to extract information buried in their subconscious. He is hired by Saito, an Asian businessman (Ken Watanabe) to try to accomplish the opposite -- to invade someone's dream to plant an idea there. Cobb and his team (including Ellen Page and Joseph Gordon-Levitt) have to find a way to plant the idea in such a way that the "victim" (Cillian Murphy) believes that the idea originated with him. Thus begins an elaborate labyrinth of dreamscapes created by the team to accomplish their mission, a mission jeopardized by Cobb's own dream demons, specifically his wife (Marion Cotillard) who seems to be a dream saboteur.
Inception is both simple and incredibly complex. There were large chunks of time during the film where I felt like I had a permanent "WTF" look on my face as I tried to sort through the twists and turns the film kept throwing at me. When the film was over, my sis and I both looked at each other with the same bewildered expression, albeit one tempered by the exhilaration of being challenged and entertained at the same time. As we left, the people in front of us were discussing the film and trying to sort through the complexities. When was the last time you left a big Hollywood film and witnessed that?
Inception delivers on many levels -- it is smart and creative and vastly entertaining. The visuals, at times, take your breath away. Nolan is the filmmaker M. Night Shyamalan wants to be -- smart, surprising, and entertaining all wrapped up into one. I appreciate that Nolan never panders to his audience; instead, he seems to expect his audience to rise to his challenge. In a summer crammed full of sequels, Nolan's originality is a breath of fresh air.
Not that Inception is a perfect film. As much as I liked it, it shared some of the same qualities that often frustrate me a bit with his work. Nolan's films often seem to suffer from a certain emotional sterility. While there may be heartbreaking things happening onscreen (Guy Pierce trying to solve his wife's murder, Bruce Wayne witnessing the murder of his parents, Batman being forced to choose between his beloved Rachel or the noble Harvey Dent), there is a detachment at play there that often keeps me from getting truly emotionally invested in what's going on. Sometimes, the actors are able to rise above the restraints Nolan has in place. (I'm thinking in particular of Maggie Gyllenhaal's final moments onscreen in The Dark Knight.) Here, there are times when DiCaprio and crew seem to be going through the motions rather than the emotions; I felt like I was being kept at arm's length rather than being truly invited into their world.
The movie clocks in at 2 hours and 28 minutes, but it honestly could have used about five minutes more just to give the audience a tiny bit more exposition. I feel pretty safe in saying that the concept of dream banditry is pretty foreign to just about every single person sitting in the theatre, and yet the film begins mid-action with absolutely no context to help the audience adjust to this new world. Yes, that's part of the high expectations Nolan places on his audience, but it can also be a bit alienating to spend the first hour or so of a film trying to figure out just the basics of the world that's being presented. Is this dream robbery common knowledge in this universe? How does one get into such a line of work? Repeated viewings might help unlock some of the riddles lurking beneath the surface of the film, but that's expecting an awful lot of people to keep coming back to the theater again and again just to grasp what should be basic plot elements. It's not bad to create a film that benefits from repeat viewings, but it shouldn't demand such a commitment of time and money from the audience that just wants to understand what the hell is going on.
On the whole, though, Inception is a good film and definitely a film that should be enjoyed on the big screen. Eat a lot of fruits and veggies before you go to increase your brain power, though, because you will definitely be giving the ol' noggin a workout for those 2-1/2 hours. After a summer filled with vampires, airbenders, predators, and Adam Sandler, doesn't your brain deserve a little something more in its entertainment? Just follow it up with a walk down the hall to see Toy Story 3 if your heart needs a little something more engaging after the brain's gotten its feast.