Let’s be honest, at this point in time nothing this review says is likely to persuade or dissuade you from seeing Christopher Nolan’s blockbuster hit Inception (2010). The chances are you’ve already seen it four times and have the DVD on pre-order. Or you’ve been living under a rock for the past six months.
Taking the film’s sole screenwriting credit, with Inception Nolan weaves a stunningly conceived and immaculately realised world, wherein dreams and memories can be entered and information ‘extracted’, an innovation that has prompted a whole new level of criminal possibility. It is testament to the entire creative team that the audience immediately accepts and engages with both the concept and the world it exists in, with minimal exposition or needless context – in fact for a film of such intimidating scale, Inception feels palpably claustrophobic, such is its preoccupation with character and human drama.
The film’s structural and aesthetic brilliance is matched on almost every level by the talented cast, investing warmth and humanity into the film’s slick design. Leonardo DiCaprio, already having a good year after the release of the marginally superior Shutter Island (2010), wears his ‘just had my bus seat stolen’ perma-frown to great effect, whilst Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Tom Hardy spar wonderfully, providing the film with timely injections of much needed bathos. Marion Cotillard also impresses as Cobb’s late wife Mal – emerging at inopportune moments from his subconscious – a complex role to play as she is essentially embodying Cobb’s idealised memory, a reduction of a character. Only Ellen Page (whose character is subtly named Ariadne, for fans of Greek mythology) struggles in an underwritten role, the archetypal ‘new recruit’, to which the inner-workings of the plot and central concepts are exposited.
After a superbly disjointed opening sequence that gives the textbook the finger and runs off with convention’s wallet, Ocean’s Eleven (2001) style ‘let’s get the gang back together’ heist movie plotting grounds the first section in disappointingly recognisable territory. While adroitly executed and spattered with stunning moments, one cannot help but feel that such well-worn genre convention is beneath the director’s talents and the film’s envelope-pushing promise.
From the second the team enters the subconscious of recently bereft/newly wealthy businessman Robert Fischer (Cillian Murphy), the film explodes, falling so close to perfection that the gap isn’t even worth measuring. With most of the special effects being achieved in-camera, the set-pieces are so thrillingly visceral and impossibly beautiful in their execution that one genuinely struggles for air as the film throws retina-scorching image after image at the bewildered audience.
Shooting on standard 35mm film and super detailed 65mm, Nolan’s longtime cinematographer Wally Pfister deserves extra credit for providing each unique dreamscape with its own aesthetic tone and colour palette, his experimentation in 1000 frame-per-second photography being particularly striking and smartly incorporated as a visual means of locating the audience temporally.
While imperfect, Inception wrenchingly powerful final shot that belies accusation of Nolan as a cold director, uninterested in human emotion outside of the plot mechanics. “Do we lie to ourselves to be happy?” asks the amnesiac narrator of Nolan’s Memento (2000) – a question that Inception re-asks in its final moments. It’s almost unanswerable, which is exactly why the question, and Nolan’s Inception, are worth talking about.