What to say about Inception? This film left me flummoxed and since seeing it yesterday evening I’ve had a disturbed night and day thinking about it. The hype was massive, I was expecting great things. I was worried I’d be disappointed, largely because of two reasons: it’s a heist movie and it’s a Leonardo DiCaprio movie. Both of these have deterred me for from seeing films in the past, rightly or wrongly. But with Inception (hot on the heels of Shutter Island), I thought that perhaps it was time not to categorise and dismiss Leo in the same way that I had done in the past. And now, with the soundtrack (very effectively done by Hans Zimmer) ringing in my ears, I know I was right. Inception did not disappoint, on the contrary. Just as with Avatar earlier in the year here was another film that made me reassess what a film can give me and what I can take from it.
Inception’s Cobb is lucky – he has his very own Ariadne to lead him safely through the labyrinth, just like Theseus. But Ariadne is also our guide – through her, we learn about this created world of dreams within dreams. And so the individuals descend through the levels of dreams in their quest, almost like souls in Dante’s Inferno, as each level becomes something closer to hell, where a minute or two can become decades and where, in the final level, one can exist in limbo forever.
Inception has as many layers as a good computer game, with just as many traps and snares along the way. It has intriguing little concepts – the Matrix had deja vu; Inception has ‘projections’ that populate the dream and attack if the dreamer’s consciousness becomes troubled. It also plays with that frightening feeling of the sudden fall or drop, something so disturbing it is the catchsafe – except in reality, when the confused may jump thinking it will wake them up.
At the surface level, Inception is a heist with a difference – Cobb is hired by Saito (Ken Watanabe) to place an idea in the mind of heir Robert Fischer Jr (Cillian Murphy) and so, with the promise of being able to return to the US and his daughters, Cobb takes the job and assembles a team, including The Architect, Ariadne (Ellen Page). Through her we see what this dream world is like – where there are no rules of gravity, no up, no down, and where streets can fold on top of themselves. Likewise, director Christopher Nolan creates a film in which anything can happen to sets, characters, time and story.
There are ingeneous elements to the heist – especially the use of the Boeing 747 – but for me this is the least successful level. This film is so much more than a heist. If you cared to, you could almost sum up the story of Inception in a few lines – it’s when you try and talk about what the film was really about, that you swim into more difficult waters.
The team includes members who protect the consciousness of their colleagues as they sink deeper through the layers of dreaming. One of these characters is Arthur, an extremely charismatic Joseph Gordon-Levitt. And, for me, one of the most special scenes in the film, is when, without gravity, he fights in a tumbling world before wrapping the other team members together. This scene is in the trailer but nothing prepared me for what these scenes are like when put together.
Throughout the layers, Cobb pursues and is haunted by his wife, not for nothing called Mal. Played by the always superb Marion Cotillard, Mal intriguingly comprises a force for good and bad in the film, she is everywhere and nowhere. In this dreamworld, your emotions are personified and your memories coexist and nightmares lurk. Incidentally, the fragments from Edith Piaf in the soundtrack are very evocative – of days gone by and of Marion Cotillard.
I was expecting Inception to present me with a cold world, where emotions are manipulated and turned into an elaborate videogame. But in The Dark Knight, Nolan, wonderfully assisted by Heath Ledger, turned The Joker into a complex character removed from our preconceptions. Here, Cobb may set out thinking he’s embarking on that one last job but it becomes much more than that as he confronts his demons and wakes up.
One viewing of Inception is not enough – it’s like speedreading a novel. You get a taster but you know you have to give it more time. And that I think is true of all the best films.
Pictures from IMDb.