Inception (2010, Christopher Nolan) Review
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ellen Page
Overblown and vacuous, Christopher Nolan’s Inception is a visual treat that could’ve easily been his magnum opus, but it ends up spending way too much time in its own set of rules that it becomes a slave to it. It essentially follows a thief (played by Leonardo DiCaprio), who steals corporate secrets in dream-sharing technology. Over the course of time, he finds out that he can return home to his family once he does the inverse task of planting an idea into the mind of a CEO. In this world, dreams, memories, and pseudo-science collide as an action set piece designed to impress with its visuals and complexity, but gets lost in swollen complication that the result is a bloated watch of exposition and rather forced drama.
I’ll start with the good—well, maybe the only great thing about this film. The visuals are spectacular. It rightfully deserves its Oscar win for it. The film is a series of “OMG” moments that has the viewer effectively wondering how it’s done with absorbing appreciation that is matched with a fantastic central score. In spite of that, this is where a personal problem emerges. I don’t think Inception does a good job of representing the dream world. Yes, looking at worlds converge with one another looks cool, but it could’ve been more imaginative with its dreams. Dreams are a series of thoughts and visions that happen within sleep, and I thought that Inception was too literal in representing its dreams. The landscape, the tone, and the characters feel absolutely the same as with reality—the stunning and twisting visuals being the only attribute that separates it from the real world. There is no mystical manifestation of the subconscious, no difference between dream levels. Dreams can resonate in the same manner as with reality only if there is something a bit off about it. Take Lynch’s films for example (like Mulholland Drive), his dreams are like reality, but there is a different tone to it. The key is off. Not everything feels right; it may either be too perfect like an euphoric fantasy or not like a sublime nightmare. Inception is not that. To add, when the film is stripped to its barest core, it is actually just a corporate espionage film masquerading as a complex facade of dream traveling.
Inception is a procedural. Nolan created a potentially intriguing world that works by its own set of rules, its own mechanics, and I admire him for that. There is a potential of exploring the ideas of dreams within dreams. It never gets past that potential, though. This film presents a world in which the characters just explain the mechanics to the viewer without doing much about its possibly interesting ideas. Once you get a really cool toy/gadget, you know one of those long manuals included in the box that you don’t really read? Inception is clearly that. It could’ve been the awesome toy, though what we got was the manual: an overly long, two-and-a-half hour explanation on Nolan’s world that never really gets anywhere. It’s easy to lose interest after an hour. Nolan could’ve given the basics within the first 15-20 minutes and worked its way through its fascinating ideas, but the entire movie is the first 15-20 minutes. If the movie wanted to be exactly like that, then it could’ve been more sophisticated rather than explaining everything to the viewer with its bloated dialogue. It could’ve used visuals as a way of explanation—portals for changing dreams, visible contraptions for mobility, or a fantastical world where fantasy bleeds into reality, but the film’s manner of “telling over showing” felt pseudo-intellectual and, after some time, uninteresting.
The film is mostly about DiCaprio’s character seeking his way to go back to his family with the job of Inception—implanting ideas in other people’s heads through dreaming. The thing is, every other character felt underdeveloped. They all felt like narrative tools that spew out dialogue only to put more exposition in this supposedly complex world. Joseph Gordon Levitt’s character felt wasted, his deadpan personality serving as a plate to merely just explain the procedurals of deception/inception. Ellen Page could’ve been more interesting, but she just felt like a door that opens to DiCaprio’s backstory with Cotillard’s character. With a film focusing mostly on the protagonist getting on his way home, his separate narrative didn’t feel all that compelling as the film is exceedingly bland. Once it gets to the action and chase scenes, I never really cared for any of it as the film didn’t do a good job of characterizing its huge cast.
Inception could’ve been great, but it falls in love too much with its ideas and ended up spelling everything out for the viewer. Once it does that, it is actually just an action espionage thriller with very hollow characters and hours of exposition, nothing much more. It certainly gets its gimmick from the “dream within a dream” sequencing, but it honestly feels smarter than it actually is. In all, this film had a great idea but ran it over the ground. It is a heist movie that has nothing more on its mind than its rules and mechanics; it’s convoluted and self-indulgent. Save for the gimmicks of technical achievement and landscapes collapsing unto itself, the film is rather insipid. I did like the ambiguity, but in the end this is just a superficial illusion of fantasy vs. reality; the rest is a visual pastiche.