You know you’ve enjoyed a movie when you walk outside of a theater, and your frame of mind, demeanor, attitude is completely altered compared to when you walked in.
This was best exemplified when I walked back into my apartment and was ready to fall onto the ceiling. Before walking through my hallway, I actually stopped and paused for a little bit. I wont lie — I was secretly hoping that the laws of physics would be violated, because the universe of Inception was one that I didn’t quite want to escape from just yet.
Yeah, Inception was damn good.
Neil already beat me to the punch with his thoughts regarding the movie, but bear with me. The film is fine enough that giving it slightly more coverage shouldn’t be too much of a crime. Redundancy should be forgiven here.
Any person who’s ever taken a cinema class should have had lightbulbs go off in their head all over the place throughout this film. You can marvel at the intricacy of Inception at so many levels, which is indicative of how carefully it is. From an acting/character standpoint, the cast turned in collectively impeccable performances. Joseph Gordon-Levitt was dastardly smooth and suave. While low on the mindfuckery scale, the kiss he stole from Ellen Page’s character has to rank among the best points in the film. Oh, on the topic of Ellen Page — alarmingly cute, as usual, yet with an undercurrent of tenacity and determination. And finally, Leonardo DiCaprio turns in a volatile roller-coaster performance worthy of the schizophrenic nature of dreams. From a plot-thematic view, you can dwell on Man’s inability to move from the past and his inability to differentiate fantasy from reality, among many other time-honored, resonant themes. From a cinematographic/special effects approach, you can gawk at the dream-imagery and wonder about how the fuck the effects artists did what they did.
But what ultimately stuck the most on me was the film, as a meta-commentary on the nature of film.
As Neil said (and brilliantly stole my thunder) below, Inception‘s situation of dream-layering and idea-planting mirrors the process of an audience watching a movie. In each metaphorical “layer,” the audience members naturally enter a deeper contract with the writers/directors as they become mesmerized by the work and deepen their suspense of disbelief. This, in turn, gives writers and directors greater access into the minds of the individual spectators to seed ideas, notions, concepts to fruition. And, paralleling the framework of rules presented in the movie-verse, the writing can’t expect an audience to willfully accept an idea with mere repetitive blatancy. You’re not going to win over an audience by hammering a line, such as “LOVE SAVES ALL,” down their throats over and over again. In that case, the audience will become annoyed.
And that annoyance makes the audience conscious of the fact that their collective dream is an artificial construct, encroaching upon the fragile suspense of disbelief that we call movie magic. Instead, subtlety has to take the place of preachy. Notions must become obfuscated under layers of interpretation to recruit the thinking of spectators. We don’t like doing what we’re told, ask any conservative. If a writer mentions, “The topic is dreams. I want you to think about it,” they’ll get a quick, mental middle-finger from the audience.
As I watched an idea being planted into one particular guy’s mind, Christopher Nolan devilishly planted many more into mine. I have to wonder how intentionally conscious Christopher Nolan was of this meta-commentary. Some moments, some lines were simply too…uncanny, for lack of a better word. But the bottom line, intentional, or not, Nolan got me thinking. And one other notion that Inception invoked was the fact that film stitches a series of images together to give them meaning. No where is this better demonstrated than at the climax of the film, when we see the conflicts on all simultaneous dream-planes converging before the ultimate “kick.” If somebody put together any old sequence featuring a beat-up van falling off a bridge into a river, a suavely-dressed guy suavely floating in an elevator shaft, an arctic base assault that wouldn’t look out of place in a James Bond flick, and skyscrapers topping in a post-apocalyptic world — it’d still be pretty cool, but it’d seem more like the fantasy of some person with ADHD rather than a cohesive narrative. Yet, in the hands of someone capable, these disparate images can all be miraculously unified under the banner of a grand plot, so that we don’t question how random these images are when placed next to each other. I’m a cynical man; I don’t like using the word miracle. But in this case, I am simply too astounded to avoid that word. These shots that are so unrelated on their own are somehow sensibly resolved into one progression without leaving behind the audience. Damn. (If you question my bewilderment, you probably haven’t seen the movie.)
This leads me to my next thought. As he seeks to resolve all of the conflicts taking place across the various dream-planes, Nolan manages to generate some beautiful excuses in his film to simultaneously amp up the magnitude of the climax and account for time discrepancies. Seeing concurrent, intertwining conflicts in the climax isn’t rare in cinema. Happens rather frequently, in fact. But all too often, they’re brought together in all too clunky a manner with too many inconsistencies, many of which have to do with the uneven meshing of time. The Death Star is about to fire its superlaser in five minutes, yet the battle to shut down its shields takes about twenty. Nolan solves this issue of time resolution by placing the dream-planes on different time progressions. All of these edge-of-your-seat events can thereby occur in step and accumulate in dramatic effect. The conclusion is all the more cathartic for it.
One more thing I’d like to mention. If this is a movie about dreams, it’s appropriate that the supporting character outtros are the stuff of dreams. No cheesy sendoff dialog or hugs. There’s some brief smiles of relief after the job is finished, but then everyone gets off the plane, fetches their luggage, and gets on with their own individual lives. It’s how I wish more films, especially those with ensemble casts, would do things. There’s something about brusque, no-nonsense farewells that hint at a greater universe within the film, one that is more easy to accept perhaps because it’s more reminiscent of reality.
The last film to make me question my existence was The Matrix, released back in 1999. Then, there was Inception today.
After coming out the theater, I took out my keys and stroked their jagged metal edges. I pondered the legitimacy of my sense of touch.
I leered closely at the people around me. I played around with the possibility that they were projections.
Ideas are dangerous.
I wondered whether or not the world I perceived was a dream. The stifling Baltimore humidity and the sting of my sweat did a fairly quick job convincing me that all things around me were “real.”
But still, I fleetingly wondered. And that is the ultimate compliment I can give Inception.
Bravo, everybody behind the film, bravo.