Monday, July 19, 2010


The nature of dreaming has always been a provocative subject because it's the most personal and internal of things.  And the most universal, we all do it; the delight and horror of what occurs in our sleeping state (whether remembered or not) is one of the few constants everyone can agree upon.  It's also perhaps the one place where we're as honest as ever; sure there's fantasy in dream life, but is there lying?  As such, it's always been an invaluable filmmaking motif, especially since it's been proven that brain activity while watching a movie is similar to that of dreaming.  However, what if we lived in a world where technology was capable of entering our personal safe haven dream world, and extracting the nuggets of information inside.  Or worse yet, what if said technology to plant something that could possibly your life forever?

Christopher Nolan's fantastical latest, Inception (that little movie that I'm sure few have heard of) ponders the metaphysical theorem.  Tackling an original subject like a mathematical prodigy coupled with his ingeniously grandiose eye of spectacular epic filmmaking, Nolan achieves a film that functions as a dream.  A dream for prickly film nerds (like myself) waiting anxiously for an intelligent, engrossing big Hollywood movie to come along and challenge, provoke and awe.  Made with enormous flair, but with a delicate appreciation for detail, it's the anecdote of dull summer movie season, but also an anecdote of a the contemporary studio system.  Here's a film without 3-D or franchising intentions, a stand alone safe haven for smart, eager, passionate filmgoers willing to focus, and be lulled by something extraordinary.  Here's a filmmaker of big, lofty ambition and style, but also a bit of provocateur.

And while Inception is difficult in perhaps explanation, it's beguiling as a intellectual mindfuck, rewarding a patient moviegoer with a clear grasp of the why and how, while thrilling the eyes with a grandeur and beauty that big Hollywood likes to promise.  And the trick of it is that even with it's creative and mind-blowing structure it's rooted in it's core by old-school genre.  It's sort of a science fiction heist flick with shades of film noir, a bit of Vertigo-like mysticism, with a dash of James Bond thrown in.  It must have quite a pitch!  And while the film takes place mostly in the deep rooted parts of peoples subconscious where the setting is shifting and sometimes untrustworthy the movie achieves that great lulling, dreamlike feel, while providing a thriller for the thinking man.

The gist of the story, if that could even apply here, is a man named Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) is an extractor of dreams.  He enters other peoples dreams in order to steal their invaluable secrets.  On one such job, he enters the mind of Saido (Ken Watanabe), a wealthy businessman who gives Cobb a chance at personal redemption (he's a deeply troubled guy for reasons I don't want to elaborate on) for one last job, perhaps the heist films one given motif.  The job is inception, to put an idea in a rival company's heir named Thomas Fischer (played by Cillian Murphy) to order to topple the competion.  Cobb accepts along with his trusty crew which include the tech wizard Arthur (played by a dapper and sublime Joseph Gordon Levitt), the forger named Eames (Tom Hardy), who has the ability to mimic others in dream world, druggist Yusuf (Dileep Roa), and the newest member Ariadne (Ellen Page) who's function is to build the dream world much like a maze.  Page has a tricky part that first seems cliche and particularly thin, but turns on itself, much like everything else in the film.  For the most part, she's the audience surrogate, the link between us and this other-worldly, slightly nightmarish concept, but as the movie shifts and dreams on, her character cleverly develops a sort of unexpected responsibilty, as well as a waking conscience.  For this, it's fortunate to have an adept actress, in role as un-Juno as it gets.

As the movie continues, we learn more and more about the troubles of Dom, all of which is alligned with his wife Mal (Marion Cottilard), who shows up unexpectedly, in his subconscious as a sort of classic femme fatale type.  Her motives are unclear, at least until near the end, but it's haunting aspect of Inception that gives it most of its emotional weight, and thankfully while the part of Mal might be a tad underwhelming, it helps to have an actress that's so uniquely expressive to fill in the emotional holes.  While a lot of criticism have noted that Inception feels calculated and slightly cold, I disagree entirely, feeling moved, and briefly over-powered by the emotional authority and maturity of Nolan's work here, more so than anything he's ever done before.  It should be noted also that there's a particularly lovely scene involving Fischer, the films seeming macguffin-- the old Hitchcock description of a plot element that moves the film forward without much interest to the audience; the reason a character gets where he or she gets, whose subject is secondary and irrelevant-- proves quite the opposite in a sequence of wonderful gravity and unexpected gratification.

And that's part of the wonder of this majestic film, in that in so many ways it functions in the way we expect to, only shift and morph these said conventions in utterly creative and satisfying ways.  Aside of the mind trickery and logic defying bravura, the films effectively works as solid eye candy as well.  The imagery is eerie yet beautiful, built and imagined seamlessly to open the ideas of what a film can be and look like (2001: A Space Odyssey feels like a close influence; I'm not quite comparing Nolan to Kubrick.)  There's a sequence early on in the film where a street in Paris literally (or dreamily) folds onto itself-- it's such an eye popping exquisitely beautiful and frightening scene that opens the movie into a world without boundaries, and limited possibilites.  Yet in great noir sense, there's a also a great sense of danger inside it as well.  The addictiveness of the dreams become too much for some, like Dom, and that swells into the audience I think as well; the movie's greatest effect may be that it feels like a mind-altering substance that you may not want to shake, sublime, but fearful, like a waking nightmare.  The tech elements of art direction, cinematography and costumes all evoke a greater mood, as well as the evocative and eerily haunting score by Hans Zimmer.

Finally, I'd like to close with the greatest reason to watch (if you haven't already-- a $60 million opening ensures a great many did) Inception is that love it or hate it, it's a substancial moviegoing experience, one in which I don't believe I've ever had in a movie theater before.  And it's a fascinating film to ponder, and argue, and re-watch, as I undoubtedly will many times, in order to come closer to grasping it's mystery, and remain in that blissful mind-altering state.  And while the inevitable internet backlash perhaps has already begun, it's all good, it's all playing a part in a wonderful discussion and dissection of a film worthy of it.  And while thinking about the idea of mind extraction, it might be fascinating to enter Mr. Nolan's mind for a few short moments and plunge the depth and wonder of a spectacularly creative and intelligent filmmaker; it might just be a billion dollar idea hidden inside.  A

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