Sunday, July 18, 2010

INCEPTION: MOVIE REVIEW


Cast: Leonardo Di Caprio, Joseph Gordon Lewitt, Tom Hardy, Ellen Page, Marion Cotillard, Sir Michael Caine
Director: Christopher Nolan
Runtime: 148 min.
Verdict: As Stephanie Zacharek says, it is an awesome film. That doesn’t mean, it is a great film. Because it isn’t.
Genre: Sci-fi, Thriller, Action

        Inception is the kind of clever Hollywood film that inspires (or maybe conspires?) us to be dumb. It like those fantastic Hollywood blockbusters, like Raiders of the Lost Ark, like Star Wars, like Goldfinger, which treats an audience not like a set of individuals but as a singular entity, say cattle, who have no purpose bringing their individuality to the film. There is nothing in the film to which we can attach our personality to, our memories to, our experiences to, or our dreams to. Even the people caught up within the lies of The Matrix would have had a more individual world created for them. Movies are grand, and movies are dreams, not because they are big, or because they are a spectacle, but because we experience something personal in them. Lord of the Rings sure as hell looks stunningly spectacular, like wow, but you wouldn’t want to have it on a deserted island. Great movies do that to us, to each of us, so that when we sit and talk about it, not sharing a common memory, but discussing an individual experience.
        So, yes, I wonder if Inception, the most intricately designed movies to come in years, if not decades, a design so outrageously labyrinthine yet so remarkably clear, is a great film. It is a great vaudevillian act, and there are no questions to be asked there. Any doubts ought to be sealed and shut real tight somewhere by the very simple fact that the ending frame has every member of every audience in every part of the world unite, having the exact same thought, and wanting the exact same outcome, and wanting it most desperately. That, dear reader, is audience manipulation of the highest kind, the evidence that we are witnessing a craftsman, an illusionist the likes of which cinema has probably never witnessed. Alfred Hitchcock might have been proud, sure, but I wonder if I really give a damn. What bothers me is what have I felt and experienced that my neighbor didn’t. And if the answer to that is nothing, which it increasingly seems is the case, then does that make Inception a lesser film? Or a greater one? I ask you.
        Hey wait a minute there, one of you might stand up saying, and argue that your interpretation of Inception is different from your friend’s, or mine, and that it doesn’t make us dumb because it makes us think. And I would reply, step back dear, and just wonder what exactly we mean by interpretation here, and what are we exactly interpreting. We are just making heads or tails of the story, after maybe one viewing, because the narrative is just so overwhelming with information. In most puzzles we’re connecting the dots. In Inception, we’ve not even assembled all the dots. It is narrated most lucidly alright, appealing and engaging even the lowest of denominators, a no mean feat, but it is still is very much like listening to an audio book. You see, I have never understood the purpose of an audio book. In a book, you often re-read a beautiful sentence. Re-reading is a part of the experience, part of the little imaginary world that creates around us. In an audio book, rewinding breaks that experience, and we feel silly.
        And oh, I might’ve been guilty of using the word dumb in a rather casual manner. But believe me, I don’t use it in any derogatory sense. We are dumb in the sense that we’re dumb terminals. We are students in a class. I don’t have many fond memories of my college, or many that intellectually stimulated me, but I do regard Professor Shashank Joshi in the highest regard. He taught us Metallurgy, and that infamous Iron-Carbide diagram, and he taught it with such authority and interest, we just listened. I remember that day. I don’t make notes, and I don’t even have a notepad handy on me. Often not even a pen. And Prof. Joshi’s command on the subject discouraged any such distracting activity as taking down notes. I listened, we listened, awestruck. Often the topic of that graph is taught over several periods. He taught us in one go. One hour flat. In there, it all made absolute sense. I return in the evening, sit down and discuss, and to consolidate within our minds this most difficult and important (MImp) topic. And as it turns out, we’ve no clue whatsoever. The lecture was simple dense, or maybe, we were just too dumb. Whichever the case, I guess you get the point. And as for the iron-carbide diagram, it is merely a diagram you see, with temperatures and physical states, and nothing else to it. Absolutes might be the word we’re looking for. Given enough time to revise and revisit, I think most of us in that classroom would’ve been just about as clear in the details as Prof Joshi himself. The fact of the matter is, for all its fascination, it didn’t, even for a moment, feel like the day I first read Kabuliwaala in Bal Bharati and cried inconsolably. I still think Tagore might have been a bit cruel there.
As usual I digress. Are we really thinking during Inception? Are our analytical skills being tested, or is it a test of our attention span? Or retention prowess? Inception is about a new world, and its rules, but it speaks so fast you really are catching up all the time. Does it relax for you to assimilate? I don’t think so. It is all straightforward, actually, but the sheer volume of it is overwhelming. You know the broad strokes, and you know the direction of the flow, and you know that the journey feels fun, and you ride along. I don’t think many audience members asked each other questions, and if somebody indeed did, I am sure he must have been shushed in the most disdainful manner. Dude, I have a movie to understand here. Brb. Ttyl.
        You might rebuke me saying the dude didn’t get the movie. Of course I didn’t. At least, I cannot answer plot resolutions. I have only watched it once. I am confused. I don’t recollect much. I know I had absolute fun. I know I was with the movie for most of the part. I know I had absolutely no idea how time flew by. And this is exactly how I wanted to analyze the film. In this state. Repeated viewings shall surely help, but then, tell me dear reader, would I find anything in the film that I wouldn’t find in an eventual Wikipedia plot summary. Everything, I suspect, is certain. Absolute. Every image seems to have one purpose, and one purpose only. A singular tone. I don’t think most of my dreams make any damn sense in a logical way. Ah, but as it says, they do make sense while I am there. I am not questioning the strangeness of any of it. Unlike most dream movies, like Mulholland Dr., like Inland Empire, like Last Year At Marienbad which are not dream movies but the recollections of a dream and hence do not make any sense while they are happening, Inception feels like a dream, where we have absolute comprehension, and in that moment we feel we’re with the game. So yes, Inception, make no mistake, is a fascinating film. In its own way, it is as interesting a film as the Resnais classic. I don’t think such a film has ever been made. Or maybe it has, and it was called The Big Sleep. It is fascinating in how Mr. Nolan, a real brilliant and smart guy, and I am sure someone who seems to have a real high IQ, uses the conventional editing in cinema, where cuts picks us from one place, and drops us to somewhere else, and gives a reason to it too. Every CUT TO: here is invaluable to the plot, because if it is a CUT TO: then it is a dream. Even a damn explosion has a reason. That is the level of plot-detailing done.
        I think it might become an instant audience-classic, a movie of the people, an ambitious film the once in a decade sort of thing, like The Matrix, which I believe, doesn’t even come close in audience manipulation. There is a heist scene which is bound to become as iconic a sequence as any ever filmed. Wise studio executives should be strategizing how to make spin-offs, comic books and, if you come to think of it, a sequel to two too. Inception is like those Bourne movies, or the Ocean movies, or those Rambo movies, or even the Indiana Jones movies, where you can manufacture a stake – like those kids are kidnapped by the score in part 1, or the dad, or someone rats out in a bar – and bang, you have a reason for a sequel. I think it is time that I tell you that the plot involves a bunch of dream-cons who specialize in stealing secrets from your dreams, and who’re hired to go plant a idea in a mark. I would love that too. It is like Rififi had Tony and Jo not met tragic fates. I think Jules Dassin in Hollywood would have been making a sequel.
        But then, I am not awed. My imagination sure has a great idea, thank you very much Mr. Nolan, and the movie he planted in my head and one that is infesting my brain seems to be becoming a way cooler movie. And I have already changed a lot of it. For instance, I do not get why is there a need to spend $200 million behind all that redundant architecture in Inception’s Marienbad (wink wink, clue clue). You mean to say our imaginations build something like that? Oh I do appreciate Paris restructuring itself into a reflection of itself, but long lines of buildings and bridges and water and houses in them is all we’re capable of? Or maybe, I suspect, giving Mr. Nolan the benefit of the doubt, that the infinite wall I saw in one of my dreams might seem an odd image now, but if strenuously explained would become trivial and ordinary. So yeah, there you go, Inception conjures up some beautiful odd dream images, and then strenuously explains them.
        And so much of it is redundant, and flabby. There are antagonists within the dreams, who are nothing but the bad guys, and they are sitting ducks waiting to be shot, much like those millions of guys Arnold Schwarzenegger shot in Commando. There are no stakes, there is no thrill, and it made absolutely no sense. Guys are shot, wham bam, and I couldn’t have cared less. It was incomprehensible too. You see, in our dreams, we sure do not have visual access to all the action, but we do automatically know what’s happening. It’s mysterious in there, fantastical. I might be running and talking and I might suddenly realize I am a dog all along. That is not the case with Inception. It is exact. It is precise. It is to the point, a logical and mathematical equation. It is a real sweat and blood film, so skillfully designed, yet there is little beauty to it. Mr. Nolan, unlike most filmmakers, is someone with completely masculine aesthetics and tastes who appreciates melodrama but has absolutely no idea how to achieve it. He has so much of it already figured out. He is logical, he is calculative, and most importantly he is a guy. He is honorable, and the way he deals with his characters is such a pleasure. There are no villains in a Nolan film. You empathize with all of them, and you wouldn’t believe who made me well up in Inception. I hear the plot benefited from Mr. Caprio’s contribution. I can see it where, and I can see how it is the most bloated aspect of it. Mr. Nolan is a smart guy, probably more smart then you and me put together, and I think his brains can conjure up something amazing every time. He is a real smart filmmaker, and his native and instinctive understanding of cinema is much smarter and subtler than most of us. He has to have logic for everything, and here with the big studios, there seems to be an obligatory tone to his films’ more blockbuster like quality. The best parts of Inception come from within him, and had it been his first film, made independently, I can stick my neck on a railway track and say it would have been one of the greatest achievements ever. The real Rififi Part Deux. But not here. He strains to be a Michael Bay or a Steven Spielberg or a James Cameron and he just doesn’t have it in him. His filmmaking is not about images. He is unique, because he is about a feel. You walk out of his films, and you remember only fleeting images, but you have a strange eerie feeling inside of you. In many ways, he is the subtlest most un-flamboyant director ever, someone who doesn’t have it in him to show-off (like Kubrick did with most of 2001), and I respect that. He scarcely believes in a wide shot. Most of his images are personal, medium shots. His films seldom observe, they happen. The big buildings are not what I would remember a decade from now. It is that spinning top, or the tilted water in that glass. I can’t get them out of my head. They are eerie, unsettling. That is his aesthetic, and that is the kind of incredible genius Christopher Nolan stands for. He never used slow-mo in his life, and here he is using it extensively, because there’s just pure logic flowing through his veins. He can think real big, but I wonder if he can truly imagine. Imagine like a fool. Dream like a fool. Like me and you. Okay, just me.


Addendum: I’ve watched the film a second time, and I seem to make sense of it all a whole lot more. I find my early opinion quite solid, yet there are vast areas of the film we need to explore. Analyze it on its own terms, and not for what we want it to be. A little essay comes for you. As for the big question, I think I have already given the answer in my review. I find that the second viewing only confirms. And if you want a clue, I only give one – those old men dream somewhere, somewhere below. I suspect, I really do suspect now, that Christopher Nolan has created what several filmmakers before him, and several after, have only tried to. It is a labyrinth, and remember, within a labyrinth, you always feel that you have a way out. Always.

22 comments:

B2 said...

Sir am a huge fan of urs frm infosys days . I am Rahul Vats and if you remember we also exchanged some mails. I just request a second viewing nd a second review or may be an essay if you feel it is worth it. Somewhere i feel i want more from you on INCEPTION.

saurabh shetty said...

Bang on target brother!! It was too much data to grasp at one go.. I could not keep up with the pace of the movie.. And the fast pace is the reason why the movie has appealed to the most.. The BG score being another reason.. I could not find a single scene without the BG score.. or maybe I missed it .. or maybe it is the first scene which repeats in the end..

Just Another Film Buff said...

Fabulous review, Satish. The passage about the classroom lecture was so spot on. I really liked the film, even if I have a lot of problems with it.

It was sort of a self-referential escapist movie that talked about escapist movies themselves (and the inability there to completely shed once's real world experiences and memory). About this "dream" being more real than reality.

Mathematical? More than that. We have more equations than variables. The result is redundancy.

Compare this film with that brilliant movie Adaptation, whose structure actually makes us buy its flaws, even when we recognize them. If you reject one of the film, you have to embrace the other. I think Charlie Kaufman will not approve of Inception that much.

The plot is so dense that most of the film is reduced to talking heads, with a few shot variations (imagine that scene where Levitt and Page sit alongside like executives commenting on what's happening. Felt like a review show on the film. Awful).


I totally agree with you and Emerson on the scientific absoluteness of the plot. Everything is defined to the last detail and made sure that everything is communicated clearly to the viewer - in the second or third or the fourth viewing if not the first.

What we have here is a failure to miscommunicate.

Sadanand Renapurkar said...

though it before, still think the same..........please, dont overburden Nolan's film with unjustified expectations. The guy wanted to make a thriller and he did. There no false philosophical undercurrents to it. Nor did he try to put any. The movie is not about dream. It is a well thought thriller using dream architecture as an instrument. There's nothing surreal about it, everything has a reason. If you had a great time watching, does it matter whether it's a classic or not. Do we go to the movies for that?

man in the iron mask said...

I absolutely agree Sadanand. Inception is the work of a genius, the kind of genius cinema hasn’t even come close to seeing before. You want proof? Think of the top? That totem? Why does it keep spinning, in a dream and not in reality. The answer to it displays the supreme logical powers of Chris Nolan. Time, you see, is compounded, and what is moments here, might be longer in subsequent dream states.
I am saying right, it is a great film. I know the Nolan part of it is a masterpiece. A masterpiece in the league of the greatest films ever. But somewhere, there is something emotional, brought by alien/blockbuster tendencies that somehow adulterate the deal. When someone asks me what is the resolution, I say, do I even care. Both ways wouldn’t cause in me any spiritual/emotional wonder.
It is the small stuff, the intricacies that amaze me. I have to nail it down. So yes, Inception is an awesome film. And I even think, now, it is a great thriller. I even suspect it might be the greatest blockbuster ever made. Let us see what time tells.

Amar said...

I always believed that Chris Nolan is a smart manipulator. And, here he once again proves it. I think I completely understood Inception. I have my reasons to suppport the fact that totem stops spinning at the end of the movie. I strongly support your editing comments in the review 'cause of the following scenarios: 1) Why is Michale Caine at LA airport, when we saw him in Paris last time? I couldn't find a single reason for him to be there and anticipate Leonardo; Apart from the fact that: Michael Caine is indeed in LA at that time and Leonardo called Caine from plane(as Ken Wantanabe called, to drop charges against Leonardo) to be at airport. 2) The way by which Leonardo escaped falling buildings and reaches Ken Wantanabe. I know the 'method' by which he brings Ken back to reality. But just wondering about his journey to the beach where Ken's guards catch him.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps this review straightjackets more into what the hint in your addendum:

http://clapsandboos.com/reviews/inception-who-is-it-say-it-s-not-their-reality-sir-

Vaibhav Mathur said...

Here are my 2 cents about the movie and about Nolan:


A totem should be a small personalized item that only the owner knows a specific thing about. However, throughout the movie, Cobb is spinning the top in front of everyone else in his team. And everyone is aware what Cobb's totem is. Do you think a person like Cobb, who is more experienced than anybody else in his team about the way things work in dreamworld and reality, would spin his totem in open? Maybe he deliberately did so. Maybe he wanted everyone (including audience) to believe that the spinning top was his totem.
Cobb always used his right hand for spinning the top. It is the hand on which he wears his wedding ring. As pointed out by many on internet, the ring is there every time he spins the top. However, it is not there in the very last scene. Is it possible that whenever Cobb used to spin the top, he simultaneously looked at the ring secretly? The spinning top would distract the onlooker (and the audience as well) into believing that it is the totem, while the real totem always lay on his finger. And in the very last scene, since he was not wearing a ring (indicating that he is now in real world), and since he also got his kids back, and had no intention to return to the same line of business again, he did not care at all if the spinning top stopped or not.

Nolan is a fine craftsman. In most of his previous movies such as "The Following", "Memento" and "The Prestige", he has made us think only in one direction throughout until the very end. Only in the last scene of each of these movies has he uncovered the truth. I think this time as well, he has made us believe something which was not the truth. But this time he wants us to uncover the truth ourselves, through the little clues he has left everywhere in the movie.

man in the iron mask said...

Vaibhav, I have not read any plot arguments or articles, and for that I may be ignorant.
But I am coming up with an essay, not analysing the plot, analysing the movie, its psychology, and its philosophy. Its structure.
And I just want to say your two comments are priceless. I do seek your permission to use them in my essay.
And thanks a lot.

Vaibhav Mathur said...

Inception has more to it than meets the eye. Nolan is known for various experiments he has done so far in his movies. In Memento, he experimented with a non-linear narrative, and gave it a treatment very different than other such movies like Pulp Fiction. While in Insomnia, unlike other thrillers, he focussed not on the psyche of the serial killer, but of the detective. And no need to mention that with the two Batman movies, he has redefined the way comic books are adapted. But I believe that his biggest experiment so far is Inception. Here is my reasoning -

Cobb and his team were not the only people who were able to complete the act of Inception in the movie. There was one more guy who actually was successful in this act - Christopher Nolan. He planted the idea in minds of millions of viewers, that the spinning top is Cobb's totem. At the very end, the scene cuts to the spinning top, and everybody comes out from the movie only guessing whether the top would topple or not.

In both the incidents shown in the movie where an idea was successfully incepted into the subject's mind, it was the very end of the dream where actual inception happened. The foundation of the idea was laid down slowly during the course of dreams. However, not until the end was the inception completed. If I draw analogies and say that movie was like a dream, audience the subject and Nolan the architect, then he built up the idea in audience' minds that spinning top was Cobb's totem. Nowhere in the movie has Cobb admitted by himself that the top is his totem. He spins the top, but maybe the reason for this could be the one I mentioned in my previous comment. Perhaps the wedding ring was his totem. Or perhaps his children's faces (another theory on internet).
(contd...)

Vaibhav Mathur said...

(contd...)

And at the very end of the movie, he leaves the top spinning, and audience come out of the dream believing that the top is Cobb's totem. Everyone on first viewing would have ignored the presence or absence of a wedding ring on his hand, and the spinning top in the end would have strengthened the idea that it was the totem (Remember, its not easy to recall what happened in a dream except the very end). The reason why the last scene cut to the spinning top was because that was the idea he wanted to implant in our minds.

Nolan would be a proud man to have carried out this act of inception. And I personally believe that this is exactly what Nolan would have intended to do when he had finished the script for this movie. He implanted an idea in millions of viewers' minds that spinning top was the totem. He incepted an idea into critics' minds that the movie was just a well-crafted thriller - something like matrix. It is a perfect way of manipulating with a viewer's psyche.

Vaibhav Mathur said...

Hi Satish. You can use these ideas whenever, or whichever way you want. I have put these down in my blog as well here -
http://alesserknownpoet.blogspot.com/2010/07/who-completed-final-act-of-inception.html

I would also like to take this opportunity to thank you for your wonderful reviews. The personal touch that you add to each of these is what makes them special. Keep them coming.

PS: I guess, you must have got several mails in your inbox because of my previous comment. Apologies for that. Blogger behaved quite strangely when I tried to post the first time, and I thought it was due to enormous size of my comment.

man in the iron mask said...

Oh no problem at all. I saw that you reposted your comments, albeit with a few edits, and what I did was delete your previous comment and add the newest ones.

And I really appreciate it man. Movies are personal, and I guess the reviews got to be to.

Brones said...

Very good review, I saw the film for the firt time yesterday and although I enjoyed it, a second and maybe third viewing is needed to see if ti all fits together aswell as it did in my head. Not a perfect film, but I'd stick my neck out and say Nolan's best film

Sasi said...

your logic about spinning top is wrong by the way. it doesn't keep on spinning because seconds change into minutes in dream, and subsequently the top which would have fallen in some seconds would take some minutes to fall. In the dream, even the spectator( of the top)'s mind is moving fast, at the same rate, so all the events( including the toppling of the top) would take the same amount of time relative to him, as in reality. Personally, I could not understand why the top would spin forever, in dream. If that was the logic intended by the director, it is flawed. And also, the movie is not scientifically perfect. It is only that, there are too many logics in details to be understood, that awe our logical brain, and we regard it as a perfect film. But if we just ruminate about it a bit, there are numerous scientific flaws, and we can imagine a lot more in dreams, than what is shown in the film. For example, Fischer's defences could just have used a rocket launcher to blow the whole car off. Why would they have to attack only with guns?

Parth said...

Oh, Vaibahav lovely. In fact spinning top was never his totem. It was his Mal's. He doesnt mention that to Ardraine. I thought he is using it now as she is dead and wont mind really. But now reading your comments makes so much sense.

The Ancient Mariner said...

i was more or less disappointd by the very very realistic dreams! i thought dreams should not be bound by laws of physics(apart from the folding of paris and the long corridor scene ) and will be more emotional, surreal in nature...like spotless mind... also did you see a connection with Existenz?

Andrey P. said...

Great review,loved the movie and agree that detailed analysis should be made of it, very cool post and i look forward to reading more.

man in the iron mask said...

Thanks Andrey!!

Sukhjot said...

Trust a Metallurgy guy to bring the Iron-Carbide diagram in an Inception review :D. Are you still with Infosys? I remember we exchanged a few emails. Brilliant review once again.

Business Directory said...

Good movie, Full of action and thrill. One of the best Leonardo DiCaprio movie which I ever seen. You must see that movie at this weekend. Thanks for providing review of this movie and trailer.

inception leather jacket said...

Christopher Nolan keeps improving himself hes has done great work in this movie