Writer and director Christopher Nolan pulls together an all-star cast for Inception, a mind-altering thriller. The film stars Leonard DiCaprio as Cobb, the leader of a team of thieves who understand the inner workings of dreams. Given the puzzling nature of the film, it’s best just to say that the plot involves Cobb and his men implanting an idea into the mind of a businessman’s rival in exchange for freedom to see his children.
The rules of dreams in Inception are staggeringly complicated. There is talk about kicks and drops that early on fall of deaf ears but in practice become very cool. The visuals are outstanding. Seeing a Paris street fold over itself is about as realistic as one could expect. The signature scene may be a zero gravity fight in a hotel that would make astronauts jealous.
It’s almost painful how little the actors in Inception have to do. Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Arthur gets to have the most fun handed to him since he partakes in the aforementioned gravity defying sequence. Other than that I can’t describe his character. The same goes for Ellen Page’s Ariadne who logically has no business being in this film. Her casting is something of an exercise in testing the audience. Is it acceptable to have Velma from Scooby-Doo accompany the Oceans’ Eleven crew? These are talents in search of characters. If anything their casting will have you disappointed that they don’t make heel turns and betray Cobb over some cash, as that in the least would make Arthur and Ariadne dynamic.
Although Inception offers up heaps of originality, I have to say that it was better the first time I saw it—when it was called The Matrix. The two are very different plot wise and the obvious analogy is in visual effects, but for me it has to do with how the elements of the Matrix or dreams come to be revealed. In The Matrix much of the early end of the movie is jarring. Neo, the protagonist, is then led into believing that the world he knows is a lie. This approach attacks two problems with one stone; it aligns the audience with Neo, and it gives the characters in the know a reason to explain their world. The Neo of Inception is Ariadne. Unfortunately her involvement with the movie is trite, especially when you consider that Cobb’s team starts the film with an architect. She is far from being the lead and her only contribution is as a figure to ask questions on behalf of the audience. The result is a bombardment of confusion. Characters are trying to pull off a heist, but they constantly have to explain what’s happening to Ariadne (the audience). A good heist film shouldn’t rely on spoken word to communicate actions.
Much can be said about the ending; it’s obviously left open for interpretation. An earlier Nolan film by the title of Memento had an ending that didn’t quite resolve every inquiry, but it was done in a way tasteful enough that the audience knew what happened during the movie. In Inception the audience is left with too many questions but has to make an assumption about what happened just after the film cuts to black. Maybe this is a new way to avoid criticism—if you can’t write a good ending, just end the movie and let the audience do your work for you. That’s why they call this approach cheap.
Inception is a smart man’s movie repackaged for the commoner. The concept and craftsmanship of filming techniques are strong enough to award it favorably, but a cheapening ending and confusing approach toward exposition dim the lights. ***