Jul 17, 2010
Christopher Nolan's filmmaking at once evolves and regresses with Inception, a theoretically impressive, purportedly mindbending undertaking that unfortunately remains surface-bound in its chosen philosophical considerations. Not entirely unlike the justified non-subtlety of The Dark Knight (in which every boiled-over emotion and exaggerated thematic exposition functioned as part of an often-exquisite metaphorical examination of crumbling morality), Inception approaches its dreamworld landscapes with the apparent assumption that we, the audience, will require constant SparkNotes updates to remain in the know on what's transpiring moment to moment. Inception lacks a beating heart to ground its conceptually loaded proceedings with something more than sometimes-cool noirish imagery. Nolan's technical expertise is a given, but for as viscerally enthralling as his films often are, they can just as easily slip into the realm of the impersonal affectations. By taking unnecessarily painstaking efforts to reiterate its labyrinthine sci-fi rules and psychological mumbo jumbo ad nausea, Inception nearly gorges itself to death on its own ambitions.
More than those of any other Nolan film, Inception's characters tend to function less like actual people than as ciphers for overwrought screenwriting, so while the cast entire stands as more than capable (DiCaprio seems to have walked right off the set of Shutter Island with but a few tweaks of character needed), one can't escape the saddening impression that they're little more than non-playable characters in a big screen videogame. The storytelling here wouldn't be out of place in Halo or Resident Evil, and while the resultant hand-holding is less outright condescending than it is narratively tiresome, it nevertheless exacerbates what is otherwise an intellectual and visceral slog punctuated only sporadically by bits of nifty storytelling and the occasional moment of eye-popping imagery. Trying his hand at the sci-fi existentialism genre with nearly unrivaled audacity (The Matrix, Dark City and even 2001 are recalled throughout Inception's hulking mass), Nolan's story concerns professional infiltrators who enter people's minds through their dreams so as to steal ("extraction") or plant ("inception") ideas, the latter being far more challenging. Briefly recalling Inland Empire, these dreamscapes give way to deeper levels of subconsciousness, but look for no rabbits here: accurately reflective of dreams or not, Inception is essentially about psychological manipulation via your own cranially implanted videogame.
When it comes to stealing ideas, corporate agent Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) is the best of his kind, a skill learned in part through a deep personal loss he once endured as a byproduct of such unnatural dream meanderings. The results of that tragedy now drive his efforts to plant (incept?) an anti-monopolistic motive in the head of a young business titan (Cillian Murphy), the success of which will earn his freedom to return to the life he once knew. As a character study, Inception flounders, and while its spectacle-heavy slant sometimes yields mind-blowing effects, the overwhelming effect is that of misdirected energy and lost potential. Occasionally, such as during the film's centerpiece heist sequence (a bold storytelling juggling act that revolves around a vehicle's time in freefall), Inception's many parts cohere into something both viscerally and intellectually intoxicating (the most intriguing moments concern Joseph-Gordon Levitt's attempts to induce gravity in a zero gravity environment).
Alas, the effect is enthralling in the moment but more so does it illuminate the frustratingly schematic storytelling otherwise being employed. For a film about dreams, Nolan's images play it relatively safe, avoiding surrealism like the plague and frequently neutering any accruing sense of visual wonder (an invocation of M.C. Escher's "Ascending and Descending" turns sour when the visual trick is rendered obvious for the sake of the literal-minded groundlings in the audience), while the seemingly endless scientific exposition amounts to little more than high-minded, metaphysical heavy lifting wanting for a more fitting emotional context in which to flourish. Certainly admirable for its ambition alone, Inception nevertheless only goes halfway in its aspirations of greatness, the successes routinely, tragically undercut by misguided and unnecessarily overt attempts at narrative clarity. Dead weight and needless redundancy plummets the proceedings; Nolan should've expected a bigger leap of faith from his audience.
Directed by: Christopher Nolan Screenplay by: Christopher Nolan Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ellen Page, Tom Hardy, Ken Watanabe, Dileep Rao, Cillian Murphy, Tom Berenger, Marion Cotillard, Pete Postlethwaite, Michael Caine 2010, PG-13, 148 minutes
Labels: blog reviews