It has been a wonderful year at the movies for those of us that like special effects laden- sci-fi-fantasy films. Go back to December and you've got Avatar and The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus. Later we got Percy Jackson and the Olympians, How to Train Your Dragon, Alice in Wonderland, Clash of the Titans, Iron Man 2, Shrek Forever After, Prince of Persia, Splice, Toy Story 3, Twilight Saga, The Last Airbender, Despicable Me, and opening today, Inception. There's a lot more to come as well, with Disney's Sorcerer's Apprentice, a new Harry Potter film, a new version of Gulliver's Travels, another installment of the Narnia adventures, and then this coming December, we all get to go back to the world of Tron.
It has been almost dizzying. I would have loved to see them all, the good and the bad, but money is a little bit tighter this year -- choices had to be made. I can't remember where I saw the trailer for Inception, but the idea of the story piqued my interest: in a world where ideas can be stolen by entering a person's dreams and extracting them, could the technology be extended to include the possibility of the implanting ideas into the subconscious of the unsuspecting. Getting your competitor to do what you want him to do and to believe that it was his idea could be the ultimate form of corporate espionage. And the trailer offered the possibility of enough special effects that it might not matter if the story worked or not. (You've got to remember that I voluntarily went to see 2012, a film that made the destruction of the world a boring event.) I was even willing to give Leonardo DiCaprio, definitely not one of my favorites even though he's better than Tom Cruise, a chance. So for my birthday, I let Sand take me to the movies.
The film opens with DiCaprio's character Cobb washed ashore half conscious near a pagoda like building. He is dragged inside to meet with the building's aged occupant. The occupant wonders if Cobb is there to kill him, but Cobb, still somewhat disoriented, surprises even himself by suggesting that he is there to invite the old man back to a place where they can be young men together again. The story then quickly begins to ...
Herein lies a problem. Although this is the time of year for fluffy, fun, popcorn-cramming eye candy, Inception is a clever, elaborate tale that draws the viewer into a complex maze. It demands that you pay attention, and makes you work to keep up with the story, but it rewards you for doing so by dazzling you with extraordinary visual content. This is a problem because it makes it extraordinarily difficult to summarize the story without spending lots and lots of time going over details that would ultimately give away too much of the story and spoil it for someone who wants to see it. So be patient as I give this a try.
Cobb is an extractor, someone who uses a technology originally developed for military training purposes to enter into the subconscious mind of a target and to manipulate the target's dreams so as to trick them into revealing their secrets, secrets that someone else is willing to pay for. But his mastery of the process has come at a price, and he lives as an exile, unable to return to the United States and his children, because of some past transgression (which will be revealed in due course). He is offered a job from a very powerful man who promises that if he completes his task, Cobb's name will be cleared and he can be reunited with his children. The task is simple -- reverse the process and instead of stealing ideas from the subconscious mind, implant an idea instead. The trick is that the idea must be implanted in such a way that the mark will think it is his own idea.
How is that to be accomplished? That's the story. Writer/director Christopher Nolan takes the viewer on an intricately crafted journey through the preparation and execution of this elaborate sting. Indeed, if I was to compare this film to another, it reminds me of a sci-fi version of the 1973 hit The Sting. Both films offer an insider view of the step by step crafting of a big con.
DiCaprio and the entire company of actors give solid, engaging performances, but the real star is Nolan. The story is tightly written and exquisitely paced, and the special effects are glorious, not only because they are technically stunning, but because they are so very well chosen and so very useful to the telling of the tale. There is no gratuitous blowing things up (well, okay maybe a little). In this movie, the special effects advance and enhance the story.
Nolan's last film was The Dark Knight, the wildly successful and disturbing Batman movie. Before that, it was The Prestige, another clever and surprising story. Perhaps this Nolan guy knows what he's doing.
If you're looking for a movie, I highly recommend this one. I'm even going to add this one to my DVD collection once I get a real job.
From the first time we saw a movie trailer for Inception, Bernie was enthusiastic about wanting to see it. "Intriguing idea," he said to me. "I think I'm going to have to see that one in the theater. The special effects look great!"
Leonardo Di Caprio, I thought to myself. I'm going to have to come up with some plausible idea to avoid going to see that one in the theater.
I could have searched out some hacking little kid and caught myself a nasty cold, or eaten so many fresh tomatoes I got hives, or thrown a hissy about how much yard work needs to be done instead of wasting an afternoon going to the movies (to be revolted by Di Caprio) -- but the movie was opening the day before Bernie's birthday -- I couldn't refuse him his treat. And then the weather turned HOT HOT HOT and an air-conditioned theater seemed like a good place to be anyway ...
In addition to not liking Leonardo Di Caprio, the trailer bored me a bit because it alluded to the movie being about dreaming; all my life I have been a devotee of the pleasures of dreaming, and I was certain Hollywood would do something stupid with the concept of mining dreams for information.
Even as we watched the previews for movies yet to come, I was formulating ways to cope with having to see Inception:
- I could watch it for continuity gaffes and stupid dialogue, so that I could enumerate them later
- I could nitpick the pacing and editing, so that I could sneer at it later
- I could critique the costume design, to mock it later
- And foremost, I could write a really nasty review later, which would require me to pay at least minimal attention while the movie was playing.
As the movie began, with little mysteries dragged to and fro in varying scenes, I found myself being engaged to follow the story to understand it, rather than being bludgeoned with a predictable plot. Then, watching Dom Cobb (Di Caprio) and Ariadne (Ellen Page) stride through a shared dreamscape, I forgot about coping or moping and was sucked right into the story. Ariadne takes charge in that scene, just the way a dreamer ought to do in dreams. My God, they got it right.
Christopher Nolan (Batman Begins, The Prestige, The Dark Knight -- three of my favorite movies), as director and writer, GETS IT RIGHT. Inception is a brilliant film that had me riveted to the action, delighted by the premise, and amazed at the skillful story-telling.
Also, the characterization was really, really good. The script doesn't have a lot of emphasis on the 'team's' names, but they were all distinctive personalities, which again, were not hammered into the viewer's face from the start, but were allowed to develop through the action of the movie -- the classic "show, don't tell." By the end of the movie, I felt that I knew them all, and liked them all far more than I ever thought I would at the beginning. (Even Di Caprio.)
Obviously, I have told very little about what the movie is about, or what happens. No spoilers for this movie! Here is the little I will tell. Inception as a story is about intellectual thievery at the subconscious level.
Inception as a movie is about suspense, thrill, fascination, beauty, and satisfaction. How clever Bernie is to have made sure I saw this film! How clever I will be when I pull some cash from my purse and say to him on Monday morning, "Let's go see Inception again!"