Movie Review 14: Inception

Inception is a tough film to write about for two reasons.  First of all, it has a complicated plot with twists and turns can be difficult to conceptualize, let alone vocalize (or in this case, literalize). Second, explaining key plot elements requires spoiling parts of the story, and I don't plan to do that.

The bottom line is that Inception is a good film.  It's worth seeing on the big screen, but the effects aren't so grandiose that it requires an Imax experience.  If you miss it in the theater, don't worry; it's still worth seeing on DVD.

Critics have compared its mind-bending properties to Memento and Mulholland Dr. I haven't seen Memento so I can't comment on that.  Inception is a better film than Mulholland Dr, however.  The story, while complex, is also more compelling.

Inception follows a team of "extractors" as they pursue their schemes.  Extractors can share and and enter the dreams of other people.  They do this for the purpose of corporate espionage.  In Inception, someone hires the extractors to implant an idea in someone's subconscious through their dreams so they think it's their own idea.

The surprises and plot twist come from the nature of dreams.  The characters have to be aware of whether they are dreaming or awake, and the audience needs to keep track of the various dream states as well.

It's a great premise and the story telling is, for the most part, quite strong.

The effects in the dream worlds are impressive in their execution, but disappointing in their vision.  While it's important for the dreamer to not see things that reveal to them that they are dreaming, the fact is that people's "normal" dream worlds -- that which they accept as real at that moment and without question -- are a lot weirder and more creative that those envisioned in Inception.  The mundanaity of most of the dream worlds detracts from their credibility in the film.

The bigger flaw with the film is the use of the characters. It's hard to keep track or who is whom once the action starts flying. While a few of the main characters are easy to distinguish, others blend into one another.  They're simply not drawn in enough detail to make it easy to tell them apart and understand what they are doing in different scenes.

The other problem with the way the movie draws the characters is that I'm not sure why most of the them are there.  In many "scheme" films, a leader assembles his or her team.  Each team member has a distinct role, and we get to see each of them execute their role.  In the TV world, shows like Leverage and Mission Impossible are prime examples of this.

With Inception, that doesn't happen. Some of them appear to have roles, but those roles don't necessarily carry through the film.  Additionally, while some of them may have a clear prep role in the plan, when they move to the execution stage, I'm not sure why everyone who participates is actually participating in that execution.

The action in the dream worlds is fairly easy to follow for the most part, though I did start to lose track once we got to what resembles Hoth.  Again I think part of the reason for this is that I had already started to lose track of who was whom and what they were doing.

Despite those concerns, this is still a very good movie, and it's one well worth seeing.


Brian Kunath said...

Nice review.

I agree that some of the characters are there seemingly to fill up the screen. They may have defined roles in executing the heist, but since Nolan invented the world he could have lost them and I wouldn't have questioned their absence.

I also agree on the somewhat rational envisioning of the dream world. These are messy, goopy dreams: they're fairly well reasoned through, even sterile in a video game sort of way. However, I forgive him this because there is a lot of story and ideas to get through.

In 2000, critics compared Memento to Mullholland Drive. The only comparison I ever saw what they they were both highly conceptual "mind-blowers." But I always much preferred Memento, because there was tight logic built into it. With effort, you can make sense of it, unlike Lynch's totally nonsensical film.

aldon @ orient lodge said...

I really liked Inception. For me, the reality within a reality, especially when you get to many levels, was compelling. I've heard others compare it to Matrix. I liked Matrix a lot, but I liked Inception better. Two other films that I found it interesting to compare to is eXistenz and Walking Life.

eXistenz is a classic exploration of the game within a game motif. I suspect that it may have been an influence given the video game nature of the dreams. This may address Brian's comment as well.

From a rationalization aspect, I can see how inception dreams might be more video game like than normal dreams in that they are architected for a specific purpose, similar to how video games are architected.

That said, the messy, goopy aspect of dreams came through much better in Waking Life and I recommend that.

The whole game within a game, metaphysical exploration of life I find fascinating, and Inception, I believe, is a great addition to the genre.


Vera said...

Very very interesting, thank you so much for writing about it. I haven't seen INception yet, but will see it soon, hopefully. :)

patricia said...

I haven't seen the movie.....but the trailer certainly looks confusing...thanks for the review.

Auntie E said...

We saw it some weeks ago. I did Like it. although as you state is is a movie that had a lot of turns and twist.
I would get it on DVD just because I heard one needs to watch it a few time to capture every thing.