Nolan brings his A+ game yet again


Christopher Nolan (Momento, Insomnia, Batman Begins, The Dark Night) has written, directed and produced the riskiest, most intelligent and most independently-minded huge budget (US) holiday movie in as long as anyone can remember, with not only admirable but downright jaw-dropping results. Surrounded by sequels (literally, Inception, along with Knight and Day, is one of the very few big-budget studion flicks being released during the American summer that is not part of a larger brand), the incredibly original psychological thriller is being marketed almost entirely, not on it’s star Leonardo DiCaprio, but on Nolan, placing his in the stratosphere of very, very few directors whose identities are used to sell mainstream films. Unless he loses his marbles (which is possible given what his imagination is capable of!), hits the drink and drugs (not that that’s killed off many a great director) or has a flop, he is unlikely to ever come down off that pantheon, as Inception is something of an instant classic, and one that has already opened well enough in the US ($60 million opening weekend) to prove good the marketing gambit. Word of mouth will only propel this film to greater heights, because it is truly excellent in the ways original thrillers should be: it is suspenseful, keeps you guessing, has great levels of mystery, twists and turns, is scary, creepy, intense and strange. It boasts pitch-perfect performances from an astoundingly good ensemble cast: DiCaprio, Ken Watanabe, Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Brick), the brilliant and ever-more-beautiful Ellen Page (Juno), the next ‘Mad Max’, amazing British breakthrough Tom Hardy, Cillian Murphy, Tom Berenger (surprisingly good) and the unbelievably stunning Marion Cotillard (yes, I have a crush on her) who gives a completely surprising – and very satisfying –turn. Even a couple of tiny, old-geezwer roles are played by Pete Postlethwaite and Michael Caine! No doubt all these thoroughbreds were attracted to working with Nolan, who, in bringing this massive film to the screen, its many mysteries and layers of meaning, deception and complexity intact, has pulled off one of the singularly largest works of art in years (think about it: Scorcese inevitably uses other screenwriters, as do Spielberg and Peter Jackson; all three mainly use or develop scripts based on popular novels. Nolan is the sole credited screenwriter on Inception – this vastly expensive and ambitious film is very much the singular work of his imagination). Essentially a story of corporate espionage by way of filching executives’ ideas through their dreams, the film delves into much darker areas of the powers of the mind, including boldly taking on manifestations of the brain’s subconscious, repressed memories, and id and ego. It is not giving away too much to say that much of the film takes place within dreams, but its interior logic is very sound, and placing his story in a dreamscape is not a cheap ploy to let anything happen – the structure is much sounder than that, the plot too tightly bound to its own boundaries. This is a dream movie that satisfies in an enormous way. It is long and certainly complex: you’ll want to be wide awake and alert to get into Nolan’s beautifully realised dreams.

4 thoughts on “Nolan brings his A+ game yet again

    1. Saw the film last night. Deception would be a better title. The film is largely exposition as the actors explain to the audience (and themselves I suspect) what is going on. These are long scenes, albeit in beautiful sets and sometimes with spectacular cgi in abundance, and inter-cut between interminable parts of different dreams.. i.e. the longest assault on a ski lodge in cinematic history.. the longest tying up of villains and putting ’em in a lift (elevator).. the longest backward fall in a 4-wheel drive in history as we wait interminably for the ‘kick’ to bring us back to wakefulness.. a state which is starting to look dubious in the extreme. Di Caprio is great.. his intensity is a courageous attempt to hang in.. but for me the film disintegrates around him. Animal Kingdom gives us suspense. Inception holds us in a state of suspension. In fact people around me (Dendy Newtown) were taking the notion of the film too literally and had fallen asleep.. to dream I guess.

    I’m inclined to agree with Terry. Upon David & Margaret’s comparison to the philosophically deep films “Blade Runner” & “2001: A Space Odyssey”, I waited several weeks for a fellow fan of those films to return from holidays so that we might see it together. Much to my disappointment, “Inception” was too much like “Batman”.

    The formula is this:
    STEP 1, you set up the rules of the game. In this case they are
    1) Dreams are allowed within dreams — “guest” dreams within “host” ones, if you will.
    2) Time runs faster in the guest dream relative to the host dream.
    3) If you die in a dream, you wake up in real life.

    You can add a couple more rules about architects of dreams vs the person that hosts the the dream, but these rules are really rather a confused attempt to add some emotional content to the above game.

    Finally, you almost certainly break the rules of the game at some point for the sake of suspense
    “I thought you wake up when you die in the dream!?”
    “No, he’s too heavily sedated [or whatever it was] — if he dies in the dream, he’ll die in real life!”

    STEP2: you let video game action ensue. I mean, the whole narrative was so contrived by the time they reached the 3rd dream (the one with the sky lodge — amazing, though, the building was).

    There’s no depth in this; it’s just a pointless game. It’s nothing like “2001”, where one has to decide what’s going on with those slabs intervening in human evolution. Are they actually doing something? Or can one simply stimulate intelligent evolution by exposing proto-humans to straight lines and right-angles — the most elementary examples of synthesis?

    Moreover, the video-game action leaves no room for contemplation whatsoever. If “refinement” is the examination, re-examination and re-examination again of what one holds to be true, then Inception is completely unrefined, for it simply has no room for it. “Blade Runner”, on the other hand, has plenty of room for it.

    Penultimately, let me also point out that one of the most important achievements in a film is that the audience care about a collection of characters on screen. This is almost impossible when those characters are fictional, but what about when their trials are dreams? And what about when their trials are dreams in dreams? And of course, when they’re dreams in dreams in dreams? No, it’s just too far disconnected from any notion of consequence for anyone (well, OK, me) to care.

    Finally, I’ll note that Nolan has form for this kind of thing, viz. “Batman”. Eh… I recall the rules of the game involved in that one… something about all the world’s mobile phones conspiring against someone. And the usual introductory scenes (a la “Q” in James Bond films) where we meet the gadgets whose deployment will be the milestones and turning points of the next 90 minutes of video-game action.

    Altogether, quite a boring film produced from a boring formula.

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