Inception demonstrates the complexity of our minds, and that dreams are the gateway to our own subconscious. The subconscious is an area of our mind that consists of things that defines us but it is an area we can’t seem to fully understand. It shapes our emotions, reactions, actions, goals, connections, thoughts and understanding. The subconscious’ influence is so strong that it not only hurts ourselves, but also the people around us. Inception captures that idea so well, that it requires us to watch it over and over again to gain a complete understanding of it. Sometimes its complexity would require us to take elements of the film one layer at a time as trying to understand it while taking everything in may be too much in one sitting. It has only been roughly around 4 years since the film’s release and its impact on its audience has already established itself. It’s cliché to say that a film is an instant classic, but that is what this film is.
The film was written by Christopher Nolan, and he has created a film that has opened our eyes to, or brought us closer in figuring out, the process of our subconscious and the dreams that are created because of it. Nolan does this in a way that serves only for the plot, it rarely ever felt like it was a lecture. The plot is quite easy to follow due to the story being goal oriented, and the film’s narrative is not as fragmented as Memento or The Prestige. The film’s intricacies are in its idea and it requires careful attention and multiple viewings in order for us to understand it and be satisfied. At first I felt, the level system felt too much like a video game and nothing interesting particularly happens especially during the third level, but as I kept revisiting the film, I started to find deeper themes and ideas to grasp onto, allowing me to see more of what these levels had to offer. Almost every single scene of this film is present to drive the film along, and rarely takes a breather from the mission. When it does take a break it’s there to bring us closer to our protagonist and his psychological issues that may hurt his teammates along the way. I found this exploration of the character to be fascinating as it brings in familiar themes of grief and guilt and having it be wrapped in an interesting concept; going deeper in a person than we are normally accustomed to. While going through this personal journey, Nolan allows us to have a second person in the protagonist’s journey, Ariadne, to represent us; trying to understand his feelings and supporting him in getting past it. There are a couple of people who might be a bit dissatisfied with the lack in connection with the film’s characters, as they can easily be seen as just pieces of a game, but if one really invests themselves to the issues of our protagonist then they may be surprised on how much character development this film actually offers. The film lacks exploration on other characters, Nolan makes up for it by giving them each a personality of their own; tailored by the film’s dialogue. The dialogue, along with their acting, creates these characters and reveals small things about them that make them so interesting and fun to watch. The film ends in a way that is similar to his previous films, notably Memento and The Prestige, where we are left with something ambiguous. Nolan didn’t want the ending to be too easy for us, but yet he never makes us feel stupid for not getting it. It feels more like he is encouraging us to think and decide for ourselves with what we are left with.
Inception would be Christopher Nolan 7th feature film and arguably one of his best. I found this film to be much stronger than his previous film, The Dark Knight, as it equally provides the thrills and excitement that The Dark Knight had to offer but giving us something more original and thought provoking. I am impressed with Nolan’s ability to handle something this complex and still manages to come out clean at the end of it, as he doesn’t make us feel inferior for not understanding it. Nolan provides a sense of balance, by giving us the wonderment and ambition found in films like 2001: A Space Odyssey, and combining it with the fundamental thrills and accessibility found commonly in mainstream cinema. Without one or the other, this film would have ended up being either shallow or incoherent. This balance also prevents this film from seeming too indulgent in its writing. Nolan has simply created something ambitious but allows it to be within reach, this is something that is also achieved recently by Alfonso Cuaron in his film “Gravity”. Nolan was also able to establish high stakes in the film’s mission; creating a tense and gripping thriller. The film moves quite fast, as I have said before, with almost all of the scenes being there for the story. I think Nolan has spent a lot of time in the editing room with many scenes ending up in the cutting room floor. I think personally, this film would have benefited from a bit more exploration in its characters and sub-plots but I think it would have dragged on a bit too long for the casual viewer and may become restless. I found it surprising that Nolan decided to tell this story straight instead of the jagged storytelling that is found in some of his previous films. It was a great decision to tell the story this way as it would have avoided any further confusion/frustration from its audience. The film features marvellous action sequences, and since its release, has left an imprint on my mind. They are sequences that are so original, the gravity fight sequence and the manipulation of the environment’s physics were notable, that it has left me in awe.
The film’s director of photography was Wally Pfister and this would be his 6th collaboration with the director. Pfister is a great cinematographer but I cannot say he ranks up there with the greatest of cinematographers like Roger Deakins, Jeff Cronenweth and Emmanuel Lubezki, as Pfister never seems to make an impression with his photography, unlike these other cinematographers who leave a mark with almost all of their films. But Pfister does have the ability to create that sense of intensity and thrill, which make him the greatest choice for action-oriented films. The film was able to maintain my excitement and attention throughout, and I do think a lot of it had something to do with his photography. Pfister juggles back and forth between the hand-held camera style and the static (possibly) mounted style of shooting. This allows the film’s pace to be controlled and deliver a stronger emotional response from the audience during pivotal moments in the film. Pfister, during stressful moments in the story, allows the camera to be constantly moving, following the action of the scene, going back and forth between characters during conversations. The film’s photography, along with the help of the visual effects team, has created beautiful images, particularly of buildings. Pfister understood the symbolism of towering buildings and they are featured frequently throughout the film. The use of slow-motion can easily be seen as a misfire, as it often feels cliché and lacking in context, but Pfister was able to use it here with relevance, allowing the audience to be in tune with the character’s sense of time. The intimate moments of the film, particularly between Mal and Cobb, worked quite well, with Pfister capturing the beauty and intensity in the actor’s performance. It’s brilliant of Nolan to bring the most out of his actors and relying on their ability alone to sell these types of scenes, and not having complex shots or angles in order to sell the scene.
The film’s score was composed by Hans Zimmer. I have listened to a lot of film scores from Zimmer and I have picked up on some similarities within his own filmography. There were tunes in this film that reminded me of certain scenes from his earlier work like The Thin Red Line. There is enough variety in the tracks that makes each one a tune of their own, but his trademark layering is in full display on both scores. Aside from that, Inception’s score is breathtaking; it is one of the very few films that can make me get goose bumps when its big notes hit. The score goes hand in hand with Nolan and Pfister’s imagery, giving the film the ability in bringing up emotions from its audience. A lot of the film’s score contains this thunderous low end that becomes deeper and deeper as we go further in the mission. The score seems perfect when the film follows Cobb’s personal troubles, as it allows us to feel closer with the character. When Zimmer’s score goes in full force at the end of the film, it hits me hard, making me feel sorrowful but at the same time satisfied.
The film’s acting was for the most part good with most of its praise belonging to DiCaprio and Page. Inception isn’t heavily invested in its characters, aside from its protagonist, as most of them seem to be present in service to the story. Nevertheless they were great with what they had to work with. It would have been nicer if they gave more to their characters, but this is more of an issue towards the film’s writing. The ones that impressed me from the film’s supporting cast include Tom Hardy, Cillian Murphy, Marion Cotillard and Joseph Gordon Levitt; however out of all of its supporting players, Ellen Page was the one who deserves the most praise as she was just amazing in the role as this empathetic/sympathetic woman who personally wants to help Cobb overcome his inner demons. DiCaprio in this film was brilliant as he plays this not so perfect man who is acting out of desperation to get back to his children. Out of the two films that DiCaprio was involved with during 2010, Shutter Island was the one that showcased more from the actor, as it had a much more complex character for the actor to work with. In saying this, it doesn’t change the fact that his performance here was great to watch. DiCaprio’s best scenes were found in the moments between him and Page or Cotillard, as his battle with his own issues brought out the best from the actor, showcasing genuine emotion and vulnerability.
This film is Christopher Nolan’s magnum opus as it features something almost completely original and he handles the film in a way that is approachable and digestible, not allowing the audience to feel inferior. It also features one of the best of Hans Zimmer’s work and a standout performance from DiCaprio. Inception is one of the best films in the 21st century.