Released: 16th July 2010
Directed by: Christopher Nolan
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, Ellen Paige
Christopher Nolan’s film Inception was released into a crowded summer marketplace in 2010. The hype had been building up steadily around the film, with an initial viral internet campaign followed by the usual marketing saturation as the release date approached. Nolan had become a saviour for Warner Bros. as he had revived the Batman franchise to astonishing profitable effect. He had agreed to do a third Batman film and his reward for this was to be given the freedom to make an ‘original’ film, which in Hollywood big budget terms really meant a film that was not a sequel or a remake. Inception was that film. It had a reported budget of $180 million and was seen as a huge gamble on the studio’s part. It was a worthwhile risk with worldwide receipts of $825 million (Box Office Mojo, 2011) and nominated for eight Oscars (including Best Picture), winning four.
The film stars Leonardo DiCaprio as Cobb, a professional consultant who extracts information from dreams. At the beginning of the film he is trying to extract information from a Japanese industrialist named Saito (Ken Watanabi). This leads Saito to ask Cobb to try the ultimate in dream work, the planting of an idea in a rival business man’s dream, Robert Fischer Junior (Cillian Murphy). This idea would enable Fischer to break up his dying father’s company and leave Saito’s company with unrivalled market share. There follows the classic men on a mission film assemblage of the team of dream hackers. This includes Ariadne (Ellen Paige), Eames (Tom Hardy) and Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt). The plan is to drug Fischer on a 10-hour plane flight and create a triple-decker dream, a dream-within-a-dream-within-a-dream – which, Narnia-like, will last 10 years in
Fischer’s dreaming mind. This is complicated by the fact that Cobb’s subconscious keeps bringing in Cobb’s deceased wife Mal (Marion Cotillard) at the most inopportune moments. Mal has died in mysterious circumstances which stops Cobb travelling home to the US to see his kids.
This set up prompts most of the questions that the rest of the movie hopes to fulfil. Questions do arise, such as do they pull of the inception of the title? Does Cobb get home to his kids? Will Mal turn up and destroy their plans? And most important just how good is the film overall?
As to whether the film is good, the answer is both yes and no. The film is unquestionably beautiful to look at, with some dazzling visuals. This is especially true of the folding and bending of the city of Paris as Cobb and Ariadne stroll through it in a dream. Though no matter how impressive this is, one of the best scenes in the film precedes this, with Cobb and Ariadne sitting at a Paris cafe table. Cobb asks Ariadne why we only remember the middle of a dream. He then asks her to identify how they reached this cafe. She thinks about this and realises with mounting panic that she is in a dream of Cobb’s making. This could be seen as a comment on cinema itself and the audience’s easy acceptance of arriving in the middle of a scene. This is very interesting indeed.
The cast of Inception all acquit themselves well although some of the parts feel underwritten such as Ken Watanabi’s Saito who mainly reacts to everything around him. DiCaprio is very good in the lead role and is growing into an actor of some renown. This part is almost a spiritual cousin to his role as Teddy Daniels in Shutter Island, with similar ground covered in the context of the destruction of the family and the trouble in recognising reality. But the real star of the film is Marion Cotillard. Her performance is both heartbreaking and terrifying without once veering into over the top territory. Indeed the film does drag slightly whenever she is off screen.
There has been much talk of the complexity of this movie and how you may need to see it more than once to fully understand it. This is really no more than a marketing ploy as the supporting characters to Cobb stop at each stage and carefully explain what is about to happen. This obviously helps people who are slightly confused by the narrative but ultimately it slows the film down and therein lies the one real flaw with this film. When it eventually gets to the denouement of the film, the final dream, all narrative exposition has essentially been abandoned for a James Bond style action sequence involving snowmobiles, naff white military clothing and a classic Bond villain mountainside headquarters. Indeed the three dreams are so clearly colour coded it would seem very unlikely anyone would find themselves lost in the narrative at all.
The character of Cobb is also a very interesting one as while he is ostensibly the hero of the film it could also be argued that he is the main villain. Cobb is the one who planted an idea into his wife’s head initially which ultimately decides her fate. He also has no qualms about manipulating Fischer into breaking up his dead father’s company. There is also the question of the dangers he deliberately puts his team into all so he can go home to his children. It is a very clever idea to do this with the main protagonist although it may have been done a little too subtly to register with a casual audience. If this is picked up on, it adds a very interesting layer to what on the surface is a classic Hollywood blockbuster.
Overall Inception is a curious film. It could be called a complex film for the blockbuster audience but in reality its narrative is not particularly complex. And yet there is the feeling that Nolan is attempting something big and important here, asking questions about reality and perception and asking audiences to reflect on their own interpretations of these characters and their actions. It is this questioning that helps to raise Inception from a standard summer tent pole film into something a little more interesting, and in a time of increasingly mediocre big budget Hollywood films it is something to be thankful for.