Where to begin talking about a film like Inception? Where to start talking about a filmmaker who is obviously at the height of his craft; who has the skill and vision to follow up the greatest superhero movie ever made with a film like this one; who, with this film, has elevated himself to a different stratosphere – one that is occupied only by the likes of Scorsese, Spielberg, Kubrick, Hitchcock among others – and who has most definitely delivered the movie of the year – a movie that will be as talked about in this decade as his equally stunning Memento was in the last. I realize that the amount of hype and praise I have bestowed on Inception with the above line will be hard for any movie to live by. But, to tell the truth, I might have actually undersold the film. This is a film that is so good on any imaginable filmmaking terms that any number of superlatives don’t do it enough justice. If, for some reason at all, you are allowed to see only one movie all year, make sure it is Inception.
Quite a few corners of the web have labelled this film as confusing. While such a label might make sense when dealing with Memento’s convoluted structures, Inception is anything but that. Christopher Nolan has such an amount of control over his script that I have no doubt that, as has been discussed in the web, it took him 10 years to nail it hands down. For people who are absorbed by Inception’s world, who are sold on the characters that populate that world and who have the patience to listen to every little piece of dialogue – every nugget of information that Nolan feeds them – Inception will not be confusing. This is because its story, when taken outside of the underlying narrative, is relatively straightforward.
Inception is Dom Cobb’s (Leonardo DiCaprio) story. He is the best at what he does which is extract information from other people’s minds. The opening sequence has him being tested by Saito (Ken Watanabe), who has a very dangerous, yet enticing, proposition for Cobb. Instead of extraction, he wants to perform inception – plant a small idea in someone else’s mind that would then manifest itself as being grown out of that person’s subconscious. The target of this operation is Robert Fischer (Cillian Murphy) who is just about to inherit the world’s largest energy corporation from his father Maurice Fischer (Pete Postelthwaite). And, if this operation is successful, Saito promises Dom, who has been on the run for a really long time, a return to his homeland of America and a chance at a reunion with his children, whom he has not had a chance to see ever since the death his wife Mal (Marion Cotillard).
However, inception is no easy feat. While extraction is possible within one or two levels in a dream, inception – to make sure that the idea planted manifests itself as part of the target’s psyche – is only possible if done at further levels into the dream. In order for this operation to be successful, Dom Cobb has to assemble an equally talented team to assist him. Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is his right-hand man who provides all the intel on the target, Ariadne (Ellen Page) is the architect who builds the mazes and worlds that populate the dream, Eames (Tom Hardy) is the master of forgery who can replicate any real world character in the dream, and Yusuf (Dileep Rao) is the chemist who is going to make sure that every one of the others is asleep for as long as it takes for the operation to be complete by providing the chemicals required.
From a purely intellectual perspective, Inception is definitely not as hard-to-follow as Memento was. This is because, as has been mentioned, the basic story is uncomplicated. But you cannot hold that against the film because, by any other measure, Inception is an achievement of mind-bending proportions. The screenplay is crisp and never goes on tangents that the viewer won’t be able to follow. Nolan has a tight leash over the proceedings and gradually builds up each individual character and the relationships between them. In addition to that, Nolan, like he has always done, displays considerable verve in inserting the traditional action sequences into the film. Of course, when he has developed worlds like this one, the action sequences can also be as mind-boggling as he wants them to be, and there are enough heart-stopping, adrenaline-pumping moments to make Inception a great film for a purely action-adventure perspective alone. But when he has assembled a cast such as this one to aid him, there is little doubt that the film will always be about the characters.
Dom Cobb is, in essence, our window into Inception, not only because this is first and foremost his film, but also because unless we are sold on his character, we will never be sold on the film itself. It is a hard task but one which Leonardo DiCaprio proves equally capable of. He has to only hint at slight troubles early on in the film and, as we proceed through the story and as more of his past is revealed, has to make sure we become attached to Dom through all his misgivings. Leonardo uses the full effect of his talent to bring every nuance of the character to the forefront. On a personal level for me, this film, along with Scorcese’s Shutter Island, has elevated him to a pantheon of great actors in my mind which was occupied only by the likes DeNiro, Nicholson, Pacino among quite a few others. It’s hard to see him not garnering an Academy nomination for either of those films and possibly an eventual statuette which has been long overdue, some might say.
He is ably supported by a cast that is about as skilled as they come. When an actor like Michael Caine agrees to a paltry supporting appearance, you can know the calibre of the rest of the cast. Outside of DiCaprio, Cillian Murphy probably has the most difficult task in the film as the target of the operation. But he is able to display all of the character’s emotions as he tries to overcome a troubled relationship with his father. Marion Cotillard’s ability has been known ever since she shot to worldwide fame with La Vie en Rose and she proves to be every bit of a match to DiCaprio. There is no misstep from any other member of the team which includes Ellen Page, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Tom Hardy and Dileep Rao.
Inception is an action-adventure film, a thriller, a science-fiction film, and a mindfuck all wrapped into one colossal package. I might argue that it can be considered as Nolan’s best film, even better than The Dark Knight or Memento; only on the basis that in the former he had a source material to play with and in the latter he was only working with his brother’s (Jonathan Nolan) short story. This film is entirely Christopher Nolan’s own; even the screenplay credits, shared in both those films, is credited only to him in this one. This is, to simply put it, his magnum opus, and it is terrifying to think that this talented filmmaker is still not even into his 40s. With a stunningly intricate screenplay, strong characterization and superlative performances, _Inception _is the must-watch movie of the year.