Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Movie Review: Inception

A few years ago now an ex-girlfriend bought me a windup Nightcrawler toy (Nightcrawler being the discerning gent's favourite X-Man) for my birthday. He usually lives somewhere around my disgustingly messy desk area, and in times of boredom - game loading screens, extended guitar solos, crushing moments of nihilistic self-examination – I have the habit of winding him up and setting him going. Now, thanks to Inception, I am assailed by a nagging worry that he might not stop walking across my desk.
I will explain. Inception, unlike most films that get pumped onto our cinema screens these days, is in possession of a surfeit of ideas. I would go so far as to say that in the first half hour, more fresh new concepts are flung at the audience than are present in all of the mainstream movies from this millennium combined. While this has the potential to become quite confusing, there are introduced in such a naturalistic, even fashion that the points when you are left wallowing in confusion are enjoyably stimulating rather than irritating frustration. At its heart, Inception is a heist movie. Only instead of the usual bank job, Leonardo DiCaprio's team of excellently cast specialists are tasked with inserting a counter-intuitive notion into a corporate heir's head via infiltration of multiple layers of his internal dreamscape.
Not exactly Michael Bay fodder. One of the ideas introduced fairly early on is that while roaming through another person's dreams, the infiltrator generally carries a totem – an item with personal significance that acts as an indicator of whether someone is still within a dream or reality. DiCaprio's emotionally unstable extractor Cobb carries a small spinning top that carries on spinning while in dreams, whereas his calmly capable pointman Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) carries a loaded die only he knows the weighting of. So I figure, as long as Nightcrawler winds down I'm safely ensconced in reality.
This particular idea setting up home in my brain long after I've left the cinema is by no means unique for Inception. Appropriately for a film about planting seeds in another man's brain, the plot is loaded with questions that are open to more or less endless interpretation – largely because the world in which most of the events occur (Cillian Murphy's head) is so fluid in and of itself. It doesn't so much have plot twists as plot contortions, with the internal logic always holding and never particularly springing surprises on you. Instead writer/director Chris Nolan delights in taking what he has shown you so far and turning the direction in a whole new angle you had not anticipated, without feeling the need to patronise the viewer and explain every single development to them in exacting detail. By the end, you may or may not have followed everything – but you can guarantee to have been entertained by the ride.
I would say that I am probably more inclined than most to try and find hidden significance in the smallest details of various media (I'm sure many of my friends will attest to this, following my attempts to desperately crack apart the bones of films or games in conversations), and even I was left feeling that there were elements of Inception that had entirely escaped me on first viewing. I'm sure there is some deeper significance to the naming of the characters, for instance – Fischer, Yusuf, Arthur, Ariadne, Mal – but without viewing again and boring people with my opinions for a while I doubt I'll really grasp it. Even if there isn't, I'm sure I can make something fun up.
As with most of Chris Nolan's films, the cinematography carries an understated cool and the ensemble cast is excellently put together. All of the main cast pull off their roles without forcing themselves into either a cliché or an irrelevance, with Ellen Page's rookie dream architect (forming conceptual mazes from raw imagination) and Tom Hardy's sarcastic forger (shaping his image within dreams to impersonate others) perhaps the most obvious standouts.
It's perhaps the most overused critical tool in the book, but as I was watching this I couldn't help but try and draw comparisons with other off-kilter mainstream films. The nearest I could get? Inception is like a cross between The Matrix and Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind. It makes me a lazy hack for even trying to build that image, but if that rudimentary notion doesn't get you sweaty - you're no friend of mine. The real beauty of Inception is that Nolan & Co. have developed a film that manages to fill the screen with big-budget bombast and spectacle while also loading it with subtext and plenty of room for actual thought. Between this, The Prestige and The Dark Knight, Nolan is swiftly hammering out new ground as the 21st century king of the intelligent blockbuster. And in amongst the sludge that seems to increasingly fill up the cinema release schedules, that is a breath of fresh air indeed.

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