Had it been released 50 years ago instead of just five months ago, Inception might justify the ridiculously staggering amount of words written about it. It's a daunting task to tell people new things about something discussed and dissected as much as this film has been. And even as I'm standing here, how do I know that I'm really writing this? That I'm not caught up inside my own subconscious? Everybody seems to be looking at me. Why am I eating pickles? I hate pickles. This wasn't my idea! While I get that sorted out, enjoy this review.
Christopher Nolan is a step above many other directors. In Memento and the Batman series, he raised himself to a place where few people can actually tell him what to do. "Apollo 13 sequel? Sure, Chris. Go right ahead." It'd probably be a good movie, too, because he's a director involved in story "telling" as much as he is in story "showing." He maxes out both of those with Inception, but it ends up being what he doesn't tell or show us that fuels the fanbase's fervor, and pisses off anyone else who calls bullshit on that type of thing.
Don't groan when I say this "dream" cast brings their A-game. Leonardo DiCaprio plays Dominic Cobb, quite possibly the least physically active thief ever; he gets his five-finger-discounts from his targets' unconscious minds. Joseph Gordon Levitt is Arthur, Cobb's dependable point man and fact keeper. The duo are seasoned vets at stealing ideas from people's minds. After witnessing this for himself, Japanese businessman Saito (Ken Watanabe) hires them for a different kind of thought-provoking. He tasks them with implanting an idea (incepting?) into the mind of Robert Fischer, Jr. (Cillian Murphy), the son of Saito's biggest rival. An entire empire brought down by a thought so simple, executed in methods that are anything but. And it involves a bronzed Tom Berenger that looks more made-up than this plot.
Cobb pulls together a team of skill-specific dream weavers willing to accompany him into his multi-layered backwards heist. Eames (Tom Hardy) is a shapeshifting expert in counterfeiting other people's physical appearance. Yusuf (Dileep Rao) is the chemist who develops the sedative capable of creating dreams within dreams. The most important recruit is Ariadne (Ellen Page), the prodigy whose unconscious landscaping rivals Cobb's own. She will be the one to design and complicate the dream worlds so that Fischer stays unaware, because yeah, it's a process just like everything else. (Mythology fans will recognize the character name as the "Mistress of the Labyrinth," a very on-the-nose allusion.)
Beyond her involvement in the thieving process, Ariadne is also the mechanism used to penetrate the fractured paranoia that is Cobb's psyche. His subconscious is plagued by his interpretation of his wife Mal, whose questionable death left Cobb a suspect, forcing him to flee America and leave his children behind. The guilt Cobb feels for this is what fuels the "Mal"-levolent behavior inside his mind. She truly is a threat, popping up each time Cobb goes under, attempting quasi-murderous behavior against anyone on Cobb's side. While Arthur has become complacent with Cobb's refusal to architect his own dream schemes, Ariadne becomes obsessively curious, stopping at nothing to piece together Cobb's past.
All movies live or die with the amount of care that the viewer holds for the plot and characters, and this goes doubly so for Inception. We're asked to sympathize with a liar as he performs a mental crime with little real world consequences. Saito's greedy intentions to destroy the Fischer corporation are one dimensional and unexplored. Forcing a recently deceased man's son to go against his father's wishes, however moving it ends up being, isn't exactly a cause worth rooting for. We only know the good guys because they're on screen the longest. Despite my problems with the intentions and importance of the protagonists and their actions, Inception has a plethora of pleasures that smooth the rougher edges.
Rapid action set-pieces are given huge scope and depth, mostly keeping to Nolan's preference for practical, in-camera effects. Revolving hallways are actual Wes Craven-style revolving hallways, and not digital representations. Cities folding in on themselves aren't exactly that, but lines have to be drawn. There's not much time to spend worrying about that, anyway, because Nolan is constantly throwing things at the viewer with forethought abandon, using car chases, needed exposition, and repeated thematic imagery among other things. The long running time is bulky, not fluffy. A contained universe, complete with its own rulebook, has been created here. That those rules and their glaring inconsistencies create controversy worth conversation only adds to the experience. Even people who didn't enjoy the film have a mouthful to say about what they didn't like, which speaks for Inception's complicated and involving storyline.
A great story, a great cast, and an amazing visual style make Inception one of the more complete movies I've seen in the last few years. Don't think that I'm shortchanging Hans Zimmer's score here; the scenes would have been naked without it. My largest complaint about Inception is that Nolan didn't use a more interesting weapon besides guns for his characters. While his eye for action scenes is constantly evolving, it's incredibly annoying to see this many bullets fired with so little connection. We're going back to the '80s here. Beyond that, though, it's another notch on Nolan's championship moviemaking belt, even without a Batarang hanging off of it.
This also adds another notch for disappointing video releases for Nolan. Despite the quality of the features here, they're too few to make this feel like a solid set. The Blu-ray comes with a second features disc, and the third disc contains both a DVD version and a digital copy. I'm really not sure why the Blu-ray had to be split into two discs. It goes without saying that everything looks and sounds spectacular on them.
For features, the big weight here is carried by the "Extraction" mode, which splits up the feature with about a dozen behind-the-scenes inserts that give background info on time-specific elements of the filmmaking process. These are the bits that usually show up under their own menus, and can indeed be viewed independent of the feature, but they're seamlessly integrated into the film and are worth the extra hour they add. Effects and the physical aspects of shooting are the majority, but the score, writing process, and the cast are also discussed. Want to learn how these gigantic sets were conceived and built? You'll see it here.
Next up is "Dreams: Cinema of the Subconscious," an hour-long documentary hosted by Joseph Gordon-Levitt. This is the kind of thing I would watch even if I hated the film. A load of doctors, dream researchers, and the cast themselves talk about dreams both scientifically and figuratively. The dream sequences in the movie are discussed, justifying Nolan's idea (such as the Kick idea) with actual sleep studies.
The last extra worth a look is an animated motion comic for "The Cobol Job," a prequel story that incites the events of Inception. It's a decent story of mistaken identity, but without sound effects or spoken dialogue, it feels flat and unnecessary. When finished with this, take a listen to a few isolated tracks from Hans Zimmer's score, look at movie posters and production photographs, and then call it a day. Great movie, and an okay Blu-ray release. Now, I'm going to ingest the sedative of my choosing and focus my dreams on The Dark Knight Rises.