A blog about general entertainment, fashion, and movies. And some random stuff too.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Movie Review: Inception

Just like most everyone else, whose review I've glanced through, I had to see Inception at least twice before I even thought about starting my review. I also thought of waiting until I see it a third time, tomorrow, but I decided to go ahead with it. My general impressions will be the same, regardless of how much more of the mystery I can uncover by further viewings.

Going into this movie, I didn't know what to expect. I knew the cast was stacked pretty deep with wonderful actors, that Nolan was directing and had written the script, and that from the looks of the trailers it was more than likely going to blow my mind. But I didn't know what the plot was really about and what kind of story it was going to try to tell. I went in with a very open mind, trusting and believing that Nolan would never let me down, and my faith was rewarded. Inception was fantastic in pretty much every way.

I always love the way Nolan casts his movies and how he enjoys reusing some people over and over, like Ken Watanabe and Michael Cain. And, I suppose, Cillian Murphy can be counted too! But I also love that he finds new talent and new ways to use it. I think the casting of Ellen Page and Joseph Gordon Levitt was so interesting and wonderful. Both are doing a role that the general public (general as in most, as I understand that both have done roles similar to these that their biggest fans have seen) are not used to seeing them in, and yet seem to fill them perfectly. I also think part of my adoration for Page's part is that I love her character's interaction with Leo's character so much. Ariadne was a character that Cobb needed, but she seemed to me to be such an unlikely character to fill that role. It was very unique and, in my opinion, sweet. Plus, what a role of a life time to play side by side with Leonardo Dicaprio? (I'm really trying hard to keep my fan-girl at bay, here.)

Which leads me to Mr. Dicaprio's performance. Of course he did a great job. I don't know that I've seen a performance where I didn't think that about him. He's just a fantastic actor all around. Leo has played characters like this many times: tortured with guilt, can't escape the past even as he's trying to, and with some sort of family tragedy that's completely shaped him. Sounds a little like Shutter Island's Teddy to me. I thought that this Inception role wasn't as good for him, as far as Oscar nominations go, as his role in Shutter Island but he still knocked it out of the park as Cobb.

No one can review this movie and not talk about the amazing visuals. creating a dream world can't be an easy thing to do, especially for a director like Nolan who doesn't use CGI ever, unless it's the very last resort. So the fact that this movie looks so dream-like, and yet uses the least amount of CGI possible is amazing. And not only that, but the way he was able to capture the true feel of dreams itself really impressed me. I've had dreams where I've tried to recreate them through writing or explaining them the next day, and yet there was no way I could. And yet Nolan was able to put an image on the screen that depicts similar moments that I've felt in my dreams with no trouble (though I'm sure, with lots of hard work)! Amazing.

What really blew my mind was the entire concept of the dream within the dream, and how what could be happening in one dream will affect the other dream. And also, how time is so different in a dream. Blew my mind, and yet it's something we already know. We dream for what seems forever, and we wake up and we've only been asleep for 15 minutes. Nolan just brought that to the screen and made it seem tangible.

It's something that I would have never in my life thought of or wondered about, until now. Now, that Nolan has made dreams into this logical reality on screen. It's so amazing and refreshing to know that in a world filled with movies based on remakes, tv shows, and regurgitated romance stories, etc... there is still a director who is writing fresh, unique scripts, with amazing depth and insight. I think one of my favorite parts for sure was the fight the Joseph Gordon Levitt has as the hotel is flipping and he actually fights this guy on the walls and ceiling! And this is happening to the dreamworld because the dreamer is in a van that's flipping. Mind. Blown. I love it.


Which brings me to the part where we have to talk about theories and interpretations. After seeing it and reading a few articles and talking to all my friends about the possibilities, I have come up with my own interpretation of this film. Many people have tried to convince me that Cobb, at the end of the movie, is actually stuck in a dream. I don't believe that. I don't think that he was trapped. I think he found his way home, in the REAL world. I'll explain why.

Now, I read this amazing article (click to check it out!), that actually argues not only that Cobb is stuck in a dream at the end, but that the ENTIRE movie is a dream from beginning to end. I don't agree with that part at all, but this article also points out a fantastic allegory of film-making that this movie may portrays. He says that this movie is about how Nolan makes movies, and each character represents a part of the movie-making process. Cobb is the director (Leo based his performance on Nolan, he said), Arthur (JGL) is the producer, Ariadne (the architect) is the screen-writer, the chemist is the techie, Tom Hardy's character is the actor, and Cillian Murphy's character (the man they are trying to convince of these dreams, or the 'movie') is the audience. It's a wonderful idea, and it fits perfectly, and I rather enjoy believing that Nolan is really telling the story of what it means to him to make movies. The article also points out that Mal (Marion Cotillard, who is frighteningly beautiful in this film) represents what Nolan as a director brings in of himself to a film. Because Mal sabotages most everything Cobb tries to accomplish, it seems Nolan views a director bringing himself into a piece as a bad thing, which the article points out as unique, and that most directors may have written Mal as what helps Cobb succeed, instead. This is an interesting look at the kind of director Nolan is/hopes to be.

From all this, the article explains that the message Nolan is trying to show in Inception is that the catharsis a person feels from a dream is just as true as the catharsis that can be felt from a movie as the catharsis that can be felt in real life. I absolutely loved this idea. If you know me at all, you know that I believe in this, especially as a fantasy nerd. A world or story doesn't have to be real to create real emotion and healing, because those emotions you feel are real. Even if you are yearning for or missing a character that doesn't exist, even if you wish you could go to a place that isn't real, even if you have some sort of real healing because you can relate to a story that never happened, all of those feelings and revelations REALLY happened. In this way, the article is saying that even if Cob IS lost in a dream world at the end, it isn't a tragedy, because the joy he feels at the end is real.

That's where I disagree with that article, obviously, because I believe he made it out. I saw this movie last night with a few of my friends, and one of them had read another article about Inception (click to see!) that talked about some other observations I hadn't thought about. One of the key things was that the top was not Cobb's totem, but it was his wedding ring. When he's in a dream world (and we watched for this last night) he's wearing it, when he's in reality, he doesn't. In fact, Cobb never even says what his totem is. It's clever editing that makes the viewer assume that the top is Cobb's totem, but he never says that the top is his totem or what object is instead. Spinning the top isn't about checking reality. Spinning the top is an action of guilt, maybe to remind himself of what he did, or the last piece of Mal he has in the physical world, but it's not his totem. (This last thought was brought to you by my husband.)

I suggest looking over this 2nd article to gain more evidence of this, because it is wonderfully put together and makes it pretty clear that this wedding-ring theory is onto something. For example, he compiled this list:
  • "On the train before Saito wakes up. No Ring.
  • All of Mombasa. No Ring.
  • Yusuf’s basement, after dropping his totem. No Ring.
  • Paris workshop . No Ring.
  • Aridane’s first experience with Dream sharing. Wedding Ring.
  • First Class cabin scene. No Ring.
  • ALL of the inception. Wedding Ring.
  • Final scene of the film. No Ring."
This was no accident that Nolan had Cobb wearing his ring in some scenes but not others. It absolutely means something, and since a totem is supposed to be something that's specific to you, that only you know that weight and feel of... what is more personal than your wedding ring? It's right to assume that this must be Cobb's. Also, this same article even has a screen cap of IMDB, where it shows that they cast 2 different sets of children to play Cobb's kids because they age 2 years, from Cobb's dream version of them to when he comes home at the end. Like the article says, why cast 2 new kids unless it's important to show that time has elapsed?

And to further disprove the idea that the ENTIRE thing is a dream, I'd have to say there is just TOO much logic for it all to have taken place inside a dreamworld. The way time is effected and played out within each dreamworld, the exactness required to make sure they all reach the kick, the way JGL's character was affected by the gravity and lack there of... etc. I just don't see how all of this LOGIC, albeit dream logic, could have been dreamt up the entire time by Cobb, while he's off doing other things. No. I really believe there was a true reality in this movie. And that at the end, Cobb finally reaches it.

Overall, I obviously loved this movie. It's another of Nolan's wonderful pieces, and in my opinion, is one of his best so far. I can't wait to continue to follow his career and see what other great works he comes up with! Oh, and please keep using Hans Zimmer. The Inception score is TOTAL WIN.


  1. Great review! Props to the wedding ring shout out, as that's also my theory as to why he's back in reality. I think the ending is a little ambiguous simply because Nolan is having a little fun with the audience, but to come up with vast elaborate conspiracy theories seems a bit silly to me as Nolan himself has said the film is straightforward and everything you need to know is all on the screen. Some people have come up with these huge elaborate conspiracy theories that the whole thing was a set-up between Miles (Michael Caine) and Ariadne (Ellen Page) to have Ariadne perform inception on Cobb to bring him back to reality under the guise of Cobb performing inception on Fischer. I highly doubt Nolan would make a film that that kind of huge backstory that wasn't in any way evident on screen, especially when, again, Nolan himself has said the film is very straightforward and everything is there for you. I love that there are many different interpretations and debate though, as that's the sign of a modern classic masterpiece. It reminds me of the debates, essays, and theories regarding Ridley Scott's sci-fi masterpiece "Blade Runner" which to this day people still debate about, specifically in regards to [SPOILER] whether or not Deckard is a replicant or a human. Nolan even said at one point that Blade Runner has been a huge inspiration and influence on him, so the comparisons are not that far-fetched.

  2. Woa that's a weird theory. Neat, but not much evidence there... some theories are just NUTS. I just saw this one where they said they saw this in the background:


    in the terminal at the airport, and he said "Is this a message from Cobb's subconscious? 'Blam' is the sound a gun makes and it's exactly what he'd need to get back to reality!" I was like.. ARE YOU DUMBASS? That's the biggest and most unwarrented stretch ever.

  3. Great Review! I will put up mine this evening hopefully. That is if I can ever get from under this mountain of Clothes I am sorting through to donate. I heart Summer cleaning.

  4. That's fascinating about the wedding ring as the totem...I didn't even really consider that. But it makes total sense. Whoaz. I'm also glad you didn't think Cobb was still dreaming...for me it was that the kids were different than in his dreams. That was a dead give-away for me.

    I also think Joseph Gordon-Levitt was probably the best casting decision for this film...but really they all played their roles perfectly. Go Nolan, haha

    I disagree with your comment on the score...I hated it. It works for the film, but at times I thought it was completely overblown and distracting...but that's just my opinion :)

  5. Interesting stuff. In talking with you earlier, I said that I saw the film as a very well-done action movie. Now I shall defend myself. (P.S. I have only seen the movie once, thus, it is entirely possible that all I am about to say is total bullshit. The proceeding ramblings are more or less the feelings I left with after the film.)

    Okay...while the different interpretations offered here are certainly insightful (didn't even notice the wedding ring, definitely didn't notice the BLAM situation, however had considered the possiblity of the whole thing being a dream), I didn't find myself tortured over whether or not he was "really" awake. I more or less considered the different possibilities for a few minutes, weighed different evidence, and then went to Starbucks and haven't thought about it since. The stakes for answering the question didn't seem high enough. If he's still dreaming...so what? What the point?

    If indeed we are meant to evaluate our relationship to reality, i.e. the fuzzy edges between that which belongs to the world and that which belongs to the mind, then the movie should have unpacked the concepts with a bit more care. However, doing so would almost assuredly have made the movie less palatable for a mainstream audience looking to spend their nine bucks and be entertained, all for the grand purpose of appeasing all the philosophy queers like me. Bad business decision.

    Had he been interested in strumming we philsoph's pain with his fingers, Mal would have had to be much more throughly investigated. The faint hint that she might have been correct in killing herself is not quite enough. She needs a stance. Perhaps some ripping off of European Phenomenology would have been appropriate (she is French after all.)

  6. Possible (real) mind games the film could have played:

    1. To what extent is reality itself mended and molded by the mind perceiving it? In other words, how similar is the physical world to that of the dream world. Where is the overlap? Where does perception fit in? Is perception truly passive as is usually assumed or is there in fact an active element to perception? What do differing perceptions have to do with reality (probably the most intriguing avenue for this film, seeing as Mal and Leo are supposed to be dreaming simultaneously when in limbo, and once back, Mal kills herself...or does she (that is Leo perception after all), to what extent does Leo's perception of Mal affect her decision to jump, the possibilities are really endless here)? Perhaps this could have been considered on the grandiose level of the world itself. It seems to me that the question could be asked whether or not there is an unpercieved world (tree fall in forest kind of thing) devoid of perception, leading to an interesting unpacking of the notion that our "natural" world is the culmination of the millions of simultaneous perceptions (and intentions) of its inhabitants.

    2: Memory. Hardly even touched by the film, but could have been interesting, as there is a sense in which all that exists of reality is the physical (and intentional) content of the absolute presesnt; all other events, opinions, beliefs, transactions, situation, etc. exist only in memory, which is itself a mechanism of the mind, and would therefore fall into this film's domain as a venue for exploring the maliability of the singular person's history, thus manifesting an expose on the history of the human race, and to what extent it is altered and changed by contemporary discussion and thought, and more importantly, if indeed the collective consciousness is a maliable thing, in what meaningful sense could we even discuss the past as a concrete entity, after we have acknowledged that it is utterly subject to change; further, since the past is (as discussed earlier) the container of nearly everything that is believed to exist or have existed, what is then left of the notion of an objective world?

    3: The film also could have delved deeply into the question "what does it mean to die?" This would have certainly made of a darker film, but all the material for doing so is there: Mal's suicide, the notion of waking up from a dream state, the inability to wake up given certain criteria, etc.

    There are many more avenues the film could have taken had its intention been to make a deeply psychological/philosophical film. But, it didn't do that (to me). Instead it kept everything relatively simply and unoffensive, and maintained the goal of creating a satifying, mainstream action movie with a creative backdrop, nifty special effects, and a nice twist. And hell, why not? I certainly don't mean to put the movie down. It was a kick ass action movie, and I very much enjoyed watching it. However, I can't say as I felt the movie was particularly deep; I thought it had the potential to be deep, but didn't go all the way. Thus, I say it was a great action movie with some philosophy mixed in. For a comparison, I would say that The Matrix and Bladerunner were essentially philosophical movies with some badass action mixed in, and thus were a bit more tantalizing for me.

  7. Elizabeth i've read your review on Easy A and now on Inception. I think it's time to finally bookmark your blog in my hall of fame :)