R3view: Inception

Director: Christopher Nolan (Memento, The Prestige, The Dark Knight)
Writer: Christopher Nolan
Producers: Christopher Nolan, Emma Thomas
Starring: Leonaro DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ellen Page, Tom Hardy, Ken Watanabe, Cillian Murphy, Pete Postlewaite, Tom Berenger, Marion Cotillard, Michael Caine, Lukas Haas
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Running time: 148 min


Synopsis:
Inception is Ocean’s Eleven taking place in The Matrix with a dash of 007 and a tease of 2001: A Space Odyssey. A convoluted heist film that takes place in dreams within dreams within dreams. The job is to plant an idea into a rich industrialists subconscious (so-called ‘inception’) and get out undetected. The team leader brings his own baggage into the complicated job, and there is danger of the whole operation getting stuck down the rabbit hole as the dig deeper and deeper into the layers of the mind. Made with sharp suits, big guns and practical landscapes and sets, this is the first big budget blockbuster to come along since The New World with a sense of both scale and tactility.

Read all of our reviews below…


David Brook:

After all the hype and expectations, I finally got a chance to sit down and watch Inception (on IMAX for maximum visual impact) and I’m a little conflicted. On the one hand, it’s possibly the boldest, most original blockbuster I’ve seen, but on the other it has its fair share of flaws.

Inception’s main concept of dream infiltration makes for a fascinating story with some bold, striking visuals. Although it shares similarities with a couple of films, Paprika in particular (cheers Kurt for the recommendation), this still feels like a type of blockbuster I haven’t seen before. As is expected from Nolan, the plot is intelligent and solidly constructed. Even with the layers of complexity inherent in the narrative, it still makes sense and seems hole-free even if some details can go over your head from time to time. Unfortunately this level of complexity comes at a price, bringing up my main gripe with the film. There’s so much to set up in the film and so much to explain that the first half or two-thirds are exhaustively filled with endless exposition. Generally this would be a huge problem for me and I’d penalize a film quite harshly for it, but what is being explained here is so cleverly thought through and the concept is so mind-boggling that it feels necessary. I do wish more could have been explained visually though, because it did start to give me a headache after a while and I was close to losing interest at around the hour and a half mark. The film’s final act drew me back in though and more than made up for it.

As expected from the director that brought us The Dark Knight and Memento, the film is incredibly polished and meticulously well crafted. The performances are all solid too. It looks gorgeous of course, not only in the dream sequences which we caught glimpses of in the trailers, but throughout the film the cinematography and production design is eye-candy of the highest order. The dream sequences were the main draw for me though and they didn’t disappoint. The gravity-defying hotel scenes in particular were gob-smacking. My only concern was that the trailers showed clips from almost all of the most elaborate set-pieces, leaving me wanting more from the film itself, but that’s not necessarily a problem. I found the standard shoot-out sequences (especially those in the snowy mountain) were a little bland and over-used though, stretching out the film’s finale a little too far.

Watching Inception was an experience slightly marred by the extraordinarily high expectations I and most people had for the film. Flaws such as the heavy use of exposition and some pacing issues towards the end felt crushing whilst in the theatre, but when I think back to the film it’s hard to deny that it delivered exactly what I wanted, a thought-provoking yet thrilling summer movie, the likes of which you rarely see in Hollywood.


Jandy:

As my most anticipated film of 2010, Inception had a hell of a lot to live up to in my head, and I haven’t even been paying attention to any of the marketing barrage that’s been going on the past several months. I went in almost completely blind, and I’m glad I did. Was the film quite as transcendent as I hoped it would be? Maybe not, but it was certainly an awesome ride all the way through, and there are so many things it does well that it deserves to be near the top of my 2010 Favorites list, without question.

Nolan’s strength is in his ideas and use of interesting narrative structures to communicate his ideas. In Memento he told it backwards. In Inception, he tells it as several different layers of dreams which also each involves a different scale of time passing (5 minutes in reality is an hour in a dream, etc). By the time you add in multiple layers of dreams, each with an exponentially greater time scale, you’re dealing with what could be a total nightmare of comprehensibility to the viewer, but Nolan does a great job all the way through of making this extremely complex scenario pretty easy to follow without an excessive amount of pandering.

The story is built rather predictably, and a lot of events you could see coming, because despite the multiple layers, the flow of events is still structured very classically, with plenty of foreshadowing and thematic parallels. Despite that, the setting itself and the rules of that setting are compelling enough (though obviously derivative of The Matrix and others) that it still felt fresh. And it doesn’t hurt when you have actors of the caliber of diCaprio, Cotillard, Gordon-Levitt, and Page to pull it off. It’s difficult not to want to compare Leo’s role here to his turn in Shutter Island earlier this year, because there are a lot of similarities between the two and the demons they have to face, but the fact that this truly is an ensemble makes that a little less distracting. My feelings on Cotillard are no secret – I think every movie is better for having her in it. In this case, the film around her is good as well, which hasn’t been the case for the past few of her movies I’ve seen. Gordon-Levitt establishes himself as able to carry a mainstream action film here, and I really loved seeing Page take on a fully adult role and do it well, with none of the ironic hipster cynicism that she’s often called to give.

I said Nolan’s strength is ideas, and though he doesn’t necessarily put a lot of weight and ethical/social conundrums behind them here, the creative design and execution is spot-on perfect. Nolan’s weakness, however, remains his lack of any sense of cinematic space in shooting action scenes. If he (and other filmmakers, this is a pandemic issue in Hollywood) would just step back and realize that putting the camera in the thick of the action and editing a million times a second does not actually make the audience feel more connected but actually has the opposite effect, he could be a sci-fi/action director of the highest order. The one fight scene that really worked was the shifting-gravity one – that was utterly brilliant on every level, and felt very original. But because I wasn’t really expecting comprehensible action scenes, I was content with everything else being far better than your average blockbuster film, which it was.

There are a few times the script takes it a little too direct and obvious, and a few times where it gets a little over-earnest, but there’s enough humor here and there to offset it, and most of the time the film is simply moving too fast and showing us too much awesome stuff for it to really matter. The way that they’re able to explain coherently how certain things about the dream-state work and why they do or don’t work in this particular situation while never losing momentum is something other action film writer/directors need to take to heart. I also thought the central object of the mind-heist was a little mundane, but perhaps that’s intentional – in this capitalistic world of business suits and skyscrapers, the characters have the creative power to do just about ANYTHING within the dreams (that’s the heady possibility that draws Page into it in the first place), yet the job on the surface is dry corporate infighting. But what’s required to accomplish this task is the highest order of creative design, planning, acting, fighting, and improvisation. So the process outweighed the goal in this situation, and ultimately that process was so awesome that I didn’t really care.

Ultimately, the film is not without its flaws, but it’s still pretty damn good and a ton of fun every second (it felt like half its actual running time to me) much better than most everything else this year so far, and accomplishes that thing that all blockbusters should aim for – being awesome enough that you don’t care about its flaws.


Kurt:

Because Leonardo DiCaprio is now making it a habit of playing damaged characters with all the answers and none of them (simultaneously) it is difficult not to look at Inception without it bringing to mind Shutter Island (and a touch of Revolutionary Road.) There is even twin scenes of a rattled and ill DiCaprio leaning into a sink and splashing water on his face to either steel his nerves or wake from the nightmare. Whereas Scorsese moulded his film on the noirish Val Lewton films from the 1940s with Gothic sets, character driven and macabre imagery, Christopher Nolan is building off the new millennium blockbuster of the Wachowskis, Michael Mann and Michael Bay. While he certainly adds a lot more brains to the proceedings, the film is all steel and glass and clean geometric lines. Nolan as a screenwriter is not above the classical mythology name-dropping (Ellen Page’s dream architect is so named after Ariadne, she who helped Theseus out of the Minotaur’s maze) favoured by slightly more pretentious writers along the lines of Richard Kelly, The Wachowskis or the creators of Lost. Do not get me wrong, Inception is head and shoulders above the big budget science fiction extravaganzas of the early 2000s, but seems far more interested in connecting its own dots and shooting off its big guns rather than goosing its audience with the subconscious ugliness that Marion Cotillard represents in the film. Contrast Natasha McElhone’s suicide and confused-yet-aware construct in Soderbergh’s Solaris or the hyper-conscious meltdowns of Naomi Watts or Laura Dern in the two post-millennial David Lynch films. They are all gut punching, heart-ripping moments that crawl up into your brain and lay eggs. Inception is far more concerned with watch-building and origami and telling you the trick before showing you. But dang are those pretty and complex baubles crafted here! As the directors film following the wildly successful The Dark Knight, there is no Joker to put a dangerous and ribald anarchy into the mix. To use another belaboured filmmaker analogy, comparing Nolan’s Inception to the far more down and dirty The Prestige is like comparing David Fincher’s pretty but frivolous The Curious Case of Benjamin Button to Fight Club. Maybe it says something about me that I prefer sticky and mean and darkly funny over comforting and visual and slick.

The film wrestles with a concept it explicitly states within the film, “How do you translate a business strategy into an emotion?” You see a $200M dollar venture cannot go to the ickier or weirder places without alienating the size of an audience it needs to earn its moolah back. So instead of the gonzo awesomeness of Paprika, Synecdoche New York or The Fountain we are left with something just a little too polished and linear to truly rattle those transfixed eyes in the dark. It is kind of baffling to criticize a movie for articulating its concept so elegantly to its own viewership, not to mention astounding in its construction, but the parts that should niggle at your soul and vex the brain are all in the structure and not at the heart of things. The trailer for Inception plays like that jittery subconscious video tape from Ringu, yet the film plays like The Matrix. One thing that differentiates Inceptions ‘reality’ from the red pill/blue pill (or going back further, Neuromancer’s ultimate closing bargain to the broken protagonist in William Gibson’s seminal novel – a pact to live in bliss, retroactively unaware of the artificially controlled construct that you have surrendered to) is that it postulates that reality is whatever we choose it to be. In a bull session over beers and wings (or port and brie) I am not going to convince you that God does not exist, or that liberal-libertarianism is the better way to live than the religious right, because both you and I see the world through such fundamentally different glasses that our reality is our own. As M.C. Esher clearly shows, perspective is a harsh mistress (and life is too busy or too comfortable to really face her.) It is Cobb’s greatest trick in that he very likely ‘incepts’ himself, not Cillian Murphy’s heir to boring old billionaire Kobayashi (the ever ubiquitous Pete Postlethwaite) or just happy to be a rich space-tourist, Saito (Ken Watanabe.)

Because nobody wants to build elaborate practical sets unless they can spectacularly destroy them, Inception is as much about tearing down and folding physical space as it is building up ideas. As with any effective dream, we enter in the middle of the fray and stay the duration because the movie stays in perpetual motion, like the spin-top talisman constantly used as a plot barometer. Inception is an admirable collection of practical set-pieces (go go Zero Gravity Hotel!), exposition on dream theory and M. C. Escher writ large as a science fiction heist flick. Yet for all its hubris about the idea as a virus (one explored with more casual humour and paranoia in last years micro-budgeted Pontypool) all the hard science fiction takes a back seat to the popcorn munching. Sure this may be one of the more ambitious and thrilling blockbusters to come along in years, and it rightfully expects its audience to pay attention, but since the platform has already been built with The Matrix and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, all you need is a very fancy train to pull into the station. There sure is a lot of hand-holding exposition that hamstrings its talented cast, particularly Joseph Gordon Levitt who is reduced to slick clean-up operator, Ellen Page as more of a pathfinder than an architect and Tom Hardy as dead-pan comic trickster and sniper (looking so far different from last years serial crazy Bronson that it is uncanny – here, he is essentially James Bond, darling). Michael Caine cameo-ing for less than 10 minutes of the films 2.5 hour run time walks away as more of a human being than just about anyone else caught up in the Rube Goldberg corporate ploy. I will concede the out of left field casting of Tom Berenger who is a bit of a hoot to see as pudgy and a clueless corporate player. And Marion Cotillard, is sexy and sad, but even icier than Samantha Morton in Code 46. (Tangential aside: co-incidence or not that the song to pull people out of dreamland was Édith Piaf’s iconic “Non, je ne regrette rien” where Cotillard has an Oscar on her shelf for the 2007 biopic of the diminutive french vocalist? The song is of course ironically appropriate to the films themes of guilt and manipulation and hermetically sealed happiness.)

So in the end, Inception is more interested in wow-ing you with cleverness, conforming your imagination by showing off the abundant brainy craft, all the while having your plug together the plot and guess the reality rather than searing your soul. There is not a boring minute in the whole enterprise, but it is more of a ride than a consciousness expander. See you at the Party, Richter!

John:

Christopher Nolan defines what a grown up summer blockbuster should be with Inception. So many summer movies rely on turning the intelligence down a notch with the hope that this will draw in a larger audience. It truly is a breath of fresh air to be challenged while watching buildings rotate on top of themselves. Yes, no expense was missed with the special effects which are truly stunning but unlike most blockbusters the special effects help to tell the story and draw you into the world as opposed to just being there for the wow factor. This is something that Michael Bay has no understanding of. So many times over the last few years I heard about giant f’ing robots but when you ask anyone how the story was they get a glass eyed look and say its not important cause of the the giant f’ing robots. Well, Nolan shows us with Inception that you can have the huge special effect and tell a wonderful story.

As this is a joint review I don’t really see any point in going into the story as I’m sure the others will cover it. What I want to write about it how Nolan is not afraid to go deep and complex and because he is willing to trust his audience he can tell a strong story. Not once was I ever lost during the movie and while I do feel that the ball was dropped a tiny bit on what “limbo” was Nolan was able to through complexity on top of complexity with multiple levels of dreaming all interacting with each other. I really do feel that this is the film’s strongest. Yes, the action is top notch, the special effects are something to be seen (I can’t wait to check this out in IMAX if I get the chance) and the acting is very strong.

In many ways Nolan has created a near perfect heist film with a great cast, excellent action and incredible special effects, but it is the complexities of the idea behind the heist and the world we are brought into that set it apart from other summer films. His ability to dig deep into the meat of the story yet still not lose the audience is something to be admired. While Cameron may have upped the bar when it comes to 3D and special effects Nolan has upped the bar with film making overall for mass audiences.


Jonathan:

Much like the film that I am reviewing, I expect the next few paragraphs to be disjointed, strange… and extremely thrilling. Simply put, this is an awesome movie. A masterpiece? I don’t know. Christopher Nolan doesn’t seem to care about crafting a perfect movie. Just an awesome one. And this is what I know: Nolan is an extremely talented technical filmmaker and storyteller, but his specialty is in making films that have you standing up with a fist pump and yelling “Fuck yeah!” as you high-five everyone in the vicinity.

First things first – the acting. There is no doubt in my mind that Leonardo DiCaprio is the best actor of his generation. He proven it time and time again and with each movie of his that I see I feel worse and worse about myself because I realize more and more that I will never be even slightly as cool as he is. Even with that though, the rest of the cast also stands out. Joseph Gordon-Levitt particularly has shown us all what he can do with a major role in a major studio film. Many have been saying it all along, but I think we say it officially and with more confidence than ever: Joe is the real deal. The rest of the star-studded cast shines as well (Ellen Page drops the wisecracking shtick for a more subdued character and I’ve never enjoyed her more) and the amount of enjoyability from watching all these actors at work made the flaws of the film much easier to overlook.

The story is fascinating and complex, but rather straightforward and not difficult to follow. While it can be seen as criticism and I am sure that reviewers all over the internet are blasting the film for the telling, rather than showing aspect of the movie, it serves a purpose. I mean, the characters in the film literally explain just about everything, using Ellen Page’s “n00b” character as the plot device to let us viewers know what is going on, how these heists of mind-thievery function, and all the intricate details of the story. It is a necessity due to the nature of the story, although at times it still feels a bit forced, and one can only wonder why someone that is as closed off to other people as Cobb would open up to this young girl so easily and freely.

Nolan’s insistence on using the most intense of music during scenes of casual conversation can be a bit much, but it serves to keep up the tempo of the film and it is a great score, which makes it easier to swallow. It’s also used to up the emotional impact of each scene, which despite the technical genius of the film, it lacks a hard punch during the “hit your gut” moments. We do get to know the characters, but the intimate moments between them are scarce. We get a sense that Cobb and Arthur have been doing this together for a while, yet their relationship is rather cold and undeveloped. Same goes for the interactions between nearly all of the characters.

Still, none of the criticism matters much to me. The movie itself is a blast. With the majority of the movie existing inside dreams, there were no limits to what each scene could contain and Nolan took advantage of that, crafting some rather amazing visual moments. The movie is just damn fun and had my mind so engrossed in the idea of it all, I couldn’t help but leave the theater with a tingly feeling inside. Nolan is exceptional in his ability to craft a film that can be enjoyed superficially by those just wanting to get lost in a summer blockbuster and intellectually for those who wish to delve deeper. There are those rare times when I leave a movie and all I can think about is how much I want to walk back in and watch it again. This was one of those times.

Mike Rot:

By now you have probably heard that Inception is yet another ‘game changer’ to the narrative art of cinema, that it is Memento on steroids and it solidifies Christopher Nolan’s reputation as a master storyteller. It is, and does. I joked about writing this review prior to seeing the film, giving it five stars and heaping on the hyperbole because I was so damn confident that Nolan could pull-off everything people were saying he did. I have, in fact, seen the movie, and nothing about my opinion has changed; it is a rare and wonderful experience to have unbelievably high expectations and have them met and exceeded.

Inception is, first and foremost, an original movie, one that unfolds before the audience without much of an opportunity to see the puzzle from the top. The pace is fast, but never so fast that it blurred into a flurry of narrative nonsense. Nolan cleverly weaves the rules and stakes of this universe into the momentum of the plot, avoiding extraneous exposition. More so than almost any heady sci-fi film I can think of, Nolan pushes the boundaries of cinema using its malleable form to show, not tell, what is happening: a marvel considering the immensity of what needs expressing.

Admittedly, I did feel flashes of déjà-vu during the film. The most obvious would be the unavoidable comparison to The Matrix with their shared dependence on characters uploading into a ‘hyper-reality’ while leaving themselves vulnerable to attack in the real world. There is an also unintentional comparison to be made to Scorsese’s Shutter Island, the monumental score, the use of the same principle actor and some of the character motivations are eerily similar to make one sit up and take notice. Nolan calls Inception his Bond movie, and several layers into the dream espionage the similarities are impossible to miss. Yet despite these fleeting moments of familiarity, 98% of the time I was watching Inception I felt akin to the bathtub freefall DiCaprio endures in one of the pivotal scenes, completely at the mercy of whatever turn the movie chose to take, incapable of any reaction but the immediate.

And I realize I have said nothing about what the movie is about, and that is deliberate. The less you know the better the experience. Know only that it is populated with some of the best actors working today, it is written and directed by one of the best auteur filmmakers working today, and it will blow your fucking mind. Like he did with Memento, but here with a big budget, Nolan takes a kernel of an idea and exploits it cinematically in a way that nobody had been clever enough to think of before, not Hitchcock, not Spielberg, not Kubrick. It’s not enough that it is a clever trick exceptionally executed but it is also dramatically pitch perfect, reconciling the heady philosophical aspects with the intimate character development in a way that seems like a sleight of hand straight out of The Prestige. From the first to the last shot, Inception works on multiple levels, as a marvel of storytelling, of drama, of spectacle. The criticisms laid upon The Dark Knight, how it perhaps drooped in parts, unable to hold the load of ideas it contained, can nowhere be made here; Inception is Nolan’s graceful masterpiece.


Marina:

It would be easy to chalk up Christopher Nolan’s newest mind trip as a bit derivative, borrowing from a bunch of sources but the truth is that Inception is, in many respects, a cut above the films it borrows from.

A film that has certainly been stewing for some time (word on the street is that he started writing this while working on Memento), this story of corporate espionage is a combination of smart sci-fi and taut mystery with Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) at the centre of the action and at the crux of the story. It’s his mind, his subconscious, causing the problems and try as he might to stay on track, the memory of his wife and guilt over her death pierces into every dream so you see, this isn’t only a story about stealing (or in this case, inserting) ideas but also of personal salvation.

Nolan’s film works on so many levels that it’s difficult to pick them all apart. There’s this shared dreaming, dream-within-a-dream-within-a-dream-within-a-dream business which in and of itself provides some excellent fodder for discussion not to mention quite a bit of the story’s thrust. Then you have Cobb (with the help of his new Architect played by Ellen Page in her best performance since Hard Candy) trying to save himself while keeping the plan (which is already in motion) and the people involved, alive.

Things get progressively mucky as we move from one dream space to another but Nolan, a masterful storyteller, never loses track of the story and as deep as we travel down the rabbit hole (or in this case the subconscious), there’s never any confusion as to what’s going on unlike, let’s say, Charlie Kaufman’s Synecdoche, New York. Some will argue that Nolan’s film is not as complicated or ambitious as Kaufman’s but truth is, Nolan presents a lot of ideas to process and discuss. I’ll take the film I can follow over the film that loses me 40 minutes in any day of the week.

Much of the success of Nolan’s project is in the construction; the visuals (green screen be damned!), the editing, the sound design, the score (in and of itself a minor masterpiece from Hans Zimmer even if it too borrows a little [Vangelis comes to mind]) and most importantly, the script which is fully realized with most every stone unturned and nearly every question answered. Sure, it may not take full advantage of the dream space but then Inception isn’t really about that and Nolan gets full credit for choosing not to play in that pen for longer than necessary.

Is it perfect? No but then few films are. Inception is a rare bird in that it manages to entertain while still giving the brain a bit of a workout. It engages the audience from the opening scene and doesn’t let go until the closing credits, encouraging repeat viewings to grasp all of the minute details. If Nolan has to make another two Batman movies before he’s prepared for another film like this one, I’ll happily take them.

And one more thing – JGL… he steals the show (not to mention that he’s at the center of the most memorable fight sequence in recent memory).


 
 

 
 


Consensus:
Without too many doubts, this is the best mega-budgeted blockbuster for adults to come out in some time. Handsome, complex, and mature enough so as to not insult its massive popular audience, in the current dismal summer of remakes, reboots, fanboy comic book fare and endless sequels, to have a film of this size and scope be an original screenplay is something to be delighted about! Some of the Row Three folks had issues with the slickness, the ‘mundane and rational’ depiction of the dream-state, and distinct lack of ‘heart’ in the Cotillard/DiCaprio arc (which quite possibly is both the core of the film and also a red herring) but overall, Inception is clearly the multiplex film to talk about this summer, probably this whole damn year.

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97 Comments

  1. Nice work, pity I cant read any of it until we Aussies get it on the 22nd. Do you guys normally all simultaneously release reviews or am I just noticing it?

    Reply
  2. Ray – on occasion, we do, if it is the kind of movie where we will all be seeing it immediately. If you go to our Review Archives and search for "R3view" you can go through all of the collaborative reviews we have done in the past, the last being Alice in Wonderland.

    Back to Inception though, the numbers just came in. $60 million opening weekend. Pretty solid for a 2.5 hour mind-bender that came from an original idea, not a sequel or an adaptation of something with a set fanbase. I have a feeling that this movie is going to have legs and plenty of repeat viewings also (I know that I am going again on Tuesday night, at least).

    Reply
  3. Blackmail, death threats, and false promises of free booze.

    I purposely didn't read the prequel comic before seeing the movie, because I didn't want to know anything – but I'm definitely going to read it now that I have seen it. My thoughts on it (if there are any) will come soon.

    As for legs, that's what I mean. The word of mouth will assist in keeping this film standing and going strong in theaters for quite some time.

    Reply
  4. I wonder what Andrew James thinks about the film… his recent comments make it appear as if he is not looking forward to the film.

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  5. "Blackmail, death threats, and false promises of free booze. "….

    Where's my booze. Don't make me come down and take it from you!

    Andrew is busy in a move this weekend. I believe that he is going to see about catching it tonight and he'll probably join in on the comments.

    "Tom Hardy…" no kidding, I had no idea that was the same guy till after the movie. He deserves to be a huge star.

    Reply
  6. @Film-Book dot Com – Thanks for the comic book prequel link. Hadn't seen that.

    @Jonathan – I want back the 5 seconds I spent watching that trailer.

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  7. While the film didn't really live up to my lofty expectations (honestly, how could it?), I still found it to be a fun, thrilling, and emotional ride. That 20 minute chunk of exposition is the film's major flaw. though. I preferred the way Nolan thrusted us into the world during the opening sequence. I didn't need all the rules explained to me.

    Also, Marion Cotillard is great in this. I found all of her scenes unsettling in all the right ways. And Pfister films her beautifully. I'm glad that she's becoming a "pet" of the great Hollywood directors. First Mann, then Nolan. I believe she's working with Woody Allen and Soderbergh next.

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  8. John, I know what you mean. It was obvious and it was fed to us as an audience – but really, it kind of had to, like I said in my review. It wasn't confusing to us as viewers because it was explained and the movie really wouldn't have worked unless we were in on the "rules." Otherwise, we'd be sitting there wondering WTF was going on the entire time. Thus the creation of Ellen Page's character, who is used as the plot device that lets us, the viewers, know what the hell is going on. It's not much different than how Neo was explained everything in The Matrix. It feels a little insulting because we're used to being insulted when we are fed information like that, but in this case, it was a necessary insult.

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  9. Yeah I got tired of all the explaining in pretty much most of the first two thirds of the film, but it did feel necessary. Maybe some of it could have been explained visually or a little more subtly though.

    I still enjoyed the hell out of it. I'm keen on watching it again without all the baggage behind it.

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  10. I adored the film, but it was from a cold distance. It didn't burrow, it didn't dig. It was a puzzlebox, perhaps on that first viewing the most graceful puzzlebox experience I've had, cleaner and purer than Primer or Mulholland Dr. Yet those films burrowed a bit deeper in my brain. Inception is still very much a popcorn flick. Perhaps the headiest popcorn flick ever made, but it doesn't STICK with me like Nolan's THE PRESTIGE did. The plots a machinations didn't seem to have the drive or weight. The villains and obstacles anonymous and interior.

    Yea I loved the film. 4/5 may be too hard on it. It should be 4.5 or 5 for me even, but it's not a perfect film, despite it being so shiny and graceful and SLICK.

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  11. I think this film would have absolutely blown my mind, if Nolan and company had the balls to do it like David Mamet's SPARTAN or Michael Mann's MIAMI VICE. Imagine how much crazier the film would have been without the exposition?

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  12. Furthermore, if you wish to nitpick a bit, it seems that the overly explained sedative/inner ear thing and yet they are being kicked around in a car chase shot at (amazingly none of the passengers are shot), falling off the side of the road before the bridge. And nobody wakes up. Furthermore, shouldn't the Edith Piaf song play a lot SLOOOOOOOWER in the layers of the dream where time is very much dilated. I think the filmmakers actually pulled some of the cerebral punches so as to not alienate a huge multiplex audience (this doesn't take from the fact that this is still the most ambitious blockbuster in ages, well since THE THIN RED LINE perhaps). I thought it would be very cool if the song was played like a 78 record on 33 speed in the second layer down, and a very low slow base hum in the final layer with Marion Cotillard. Alas, it is a nice touch that is not there.

    I think Inception is a case where we wanted the Sun, but we got only to the Moon. Getting to the Moon is bloody awesome, a huge achievement, and by the standards of what we saw, we only want more and better and smarter. By any rational yardstick this should be a landmark film, but we still want more, more, more! That's my case, anyway!

    But then again, that is the Magician in Nolan and this is indeed the PRESTIGE of filmmaking

    Reply
  13. A do really like the Bourne style scene in Morocco. I want to see more films set in urban areas of North Africa, since it provides an ideal environment for chases.

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  14. spoilers ahead…

    I'm sorry what extraneous exposition are you talking about? The exposition where Cobb walks the new architect through the job, which is in service of character as it is plot? The characters were not familiar with the new sedative that Cobb was dealing with and naturally needed to be told the implications of use, again well integrated exposition within the plot (if they were dealing with the same sedative they always used, sure, then it would be extraneous). The one element that seemed off was explicitly saying shooting a person wakes him up, but fine I give him that. Considering how dense this story is, layers within layers and causal links between layers, alongside a nestled character back story that is beautifully unfurled naturally within the mystery of the inception mission, I think Nolan should be awarded a medal for how fucking coherent and natural this narrative lends itself. He uses cinema in ways I have never seen before, the causal links between staggered times, the use of the elevator motif for depicting a life of memories…

    and interrupted by baby, got to go

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  15. Great reviews. It's true that Inception engages the intellect, but I feel it does so only on a puzzle/maze level. Whereas similar films like The Matrix and Primer have the puzzle element going, yet raise philosophical/ethical questions and provide some intriguing social commentary. I thought Inception fell short in this department, as well as in the humanity department. The stakes didn't feel like they had much gravity and weren't all too compelling for this reason, in my opinion.

    That being said, I liked Inception just as much as, if not more than those similar films because of the awesome craftsmanship of the movie. The JGL gravity-shifting action scenes had me giddy. The snow fortress set-piece, not so much. I wish Nolan threw in a few more scenes to flesh out JGL's and Tom Hardy's characters, not only to explain some of their motivations and willingness to risk their lives (or minds or whatever), but because they were so cool and charismatic on screen.

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  16. @Rot, " I think Nolan should be awarded a medal for how fucking coherent and natural this narrative lends itself."

    I struggle with this, because it is very monumental on how Inception is so Smooooth in terms of flow and coherence. As I said, only points removed is that nothing cut out my heart in this movie. Even puzzlers like Primer, Memento, Shutter Island, and The Dark Knight managed to engage me on an emotional level. The story of Cobb's Wife and Kids should be the crux of the film (in a way it is), but the film is so damn SHINY with its magnificent set-pieces that it detracts from the human story.

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  17. @Dan, Who wants a spin off movie with JGL and Tom Hardy kicking ass in dreamland as James Bond-esque mercenaries or something. That'd be very fun.

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  18. Inspired by Kurt’s review, my spoiler free review:

    From the moment that Spielberg scared millions of people from swimming in the ocean: the blockbuster has become Hollywood’s bread and butter. From the late 70’s to the new millennium, most of Hollywood’s theatrical releases– primarily caters to the fanboy/adolescent audience. Gone are the days, that the adult audience is the target demographic for Hollywood; nowadays– for the most part– adult theme films are confined to the independent and to the foreign film scene. The absence of adult oriented blockbusters, usually means that most of the mainstream films are either mindless entertainment and/or do not dare venturing in material that is provocative, controversial, or profound.

    Despite the dominance of low brow blockbusters… once in awhile, emerge blockbusters that blur the line between the blockbuster and the art house. Films such as Children of Men, Collateral, and Zodiac are adult, art house films with both a bigger budget and a more widespread theatrical release.

    Ever since making an impact in film festivals with Following and primarily with Memento, Christopher Nolan has been able to work in the Hollywood system, while still managing to churn out films that are aim at an adult audience. Does Inception continue Nolan’s trend of mixing the art house with the blockbuster? Well… not really. “Not really”? Is the answer yes or no?

    Inception’s major weakness is that it leans more towards the blockbuster side than the art house side. Yes, the film has an unorthodox structure and has creative, original sequences. Yet, it leans more towards the blockbuster– due to its inability to both venture and dwell on the story’s darker aspects and on being subtle when addressing its rules. In other words, Inception is too afraid of offending a large segment of the audience; the film spends too much time with exposition and with bombastic, action sequences than with dealing with the protagonist’s existential crisis and with the philosophical implications of both the technology and the moral practice surrounding dream espionage and voyeurism.

    It does not mean that film should be avoided. On the contrary, the film is a tour de force blockbuster. The acting is great, especially Tom Hardy: who overshadows the other actors. Wally Pfister continues his trend of delivering a recognizable, gorgeous cinematography. Hans Zimmer’s score is fantastic…although, the film could have a deliver a better sound design (on many occasions, it is difficult to discern the dialogue). Unlike The Dark Knight, most of the action sequences are top class; the hotel, action sequence is mind-blowing. Overall, it is a well made blockbuster– but it is not a masterpiece, and therefore, nowhere near the top of Nolan’s filmography .

    Inception’s problem is not whether it is good or bad; Inception’s problem is that it could have been a masterpiece. Instead of simply being on par with The Matrix, Inception had the potential of being Crime and Punishment in the dream world.

    Rating: 8 out 10

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  19. I haven't read through the reviews here, barely getting a chance to respond right now, but I am surprised if people find the love story component ineffective. Granted it works conceptually first, and then takes its time to develop into something Solaris-esque in scope… but this concept of living 30 years in limbo together and what that must be like, awoke my imagination in a way 30 pages of dialogue and character development couldn't do… they lived their lives together already with an intimacy that is impossible to imagine and then when they came back to the real world, Molly, I think quite logically, starts to see the limbo reality as the real world and the waking life as an illusion. That in itself is pretty awesome, and then the way she chooses to kill herself, again mining the cinematic in every development, made me feel more for Cobb because of what kind of guilt he held onto (and then how that guilt plays into the idea of inception is added awesome). I admit there is a lot of conceptual stuff to process in the film, but I feel it leads to sublime feelings that are on par with something wrought in drama. This movie is the equivalent of the freefall into the bathtub for me, spectacle, drama, suspense, pushing over the edge and there isn't the time to ruminate but there is immediacy, and that to me, counts for a lot. I bring this same defense back to Avatar which in its own way did the same thing for me, I value immediacy in the experience apparently more than some. The velocity of the experience makes for less cerebral one, at least as it is happening, but it also makes for a less controlled, less familiar one to, I am left, like in a dream, not remembering how I got here, falling forward to the whims of a great architect.

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  20. a dream afterall is not so ponderous, yet in the moment is powerful, you remember the immediacy of it, not the details, and it is no less of an event than some kind of legitimate dramatic work… Inception feels like that very kind of event for me… it inhabited me for 2 plus hours, tapped into sublime ideas and emotions, took my imagination for a wild ride, and than cut to black like waking out of a dream abruptly.

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  21. @Rot, "this concept of living 30 years in limbo together and what that must be like, "

    *SPOILERS*

    Fully agree on this, this sort of 'existence in dilated time' form of Time Travel is a pretty wonderful concept. That these two could live out a lifetime (strange to do so without their children, but beggers can't be choosers, I guess) and then immediately awake and continue on with 'the present' (see also Ken Watanabe's SAITO character) is excellent science ficiton indeed.

    I personally believe that all of the film, every layer was DiCaprio's character stuck in his own '1000 year' shell and occuping the passing eternity with convoluted and guilt-stricken mind games, we are only seeing a small layer of this. It of course makes all the inconsistencies and things (like passengers in car not getting shot, or not getting kicked out of the dream when the car crashes the first time!). It's a neat and seamless way of holding it all together.

    And of course underscores one of the interesting themes in the film: We believe what we want to believe, regardless of all the fine folks out there seeking to enlighten us. In fact, only in the dreamworld of Cobb's own mind would the Inception go so 'smoothly' and he end up happily ever after.

    Some say that you hear the spinning top fall as the credits started (We couldn't hear over the crowds reaction at our screening to the 'cut to black'), but in my mind the whole film takes place in another layer that we do not see and all the running around and the convoluted dreams with dreams and even perhaps the death of his wife, etc. etc. (maybe he doesn't even have kids!) is ghost dreaming of a former life. It's very much the 'total recall' ending or the proper ending of Minority Report, with Tom Cruise stuck in the waking prison. See also Vanilla Sky and both versions of Solaris.

    By the way, the love story was far more effective in SOLARIS than it is in Inception, because Solaris focused on it. It is merely another ball in play in Inception (a movie with a very full plate indeed!)

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  22. I am definitely going to be seeing this movie ASAP! Dark Night and Memento were such intriguing thrillers; they gave me high expectations for this movie. From what I've been reading, it looks like it is going to live up to my expectations. Can't wait to see what Christopher Nolan has done in this film!

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  23. I haven't seen Soderbergh's Solaris but if we are talking about Tarkovsky's, give me Inception any day of the week.

    @Kurt "And of course underscores one of the interesting themes in the film: We believe what we want to believe, regardless of all the fine folks out there seeking to enlighten us."

    I LOVE when he talks about how the inception of an idea has to be your own for it to stick… such a simple but brilliant idea when you think about it, and very much what you are talking about here. While I loved how the film ended I never really took the final scene to be another dream, strangely for me perhaps, I don't feel the need to draw out a greater mythology at work in the story… the story as it is laid out is sufficient.

    I still say there is another way of experiencing and categorizing films than by measure of their intelligible weight, that the whole concept of 'sublime' is to get at sensations that reach beyond this spectrum, but feel just as important if not more so than the fine and the beautiful. Inception is a sublime experience as was Avatar for me, I rate them highly on those terms, which I don't devalue because of a bias towards one kind of experience. Not all the experiences we value in our day to day lives are intelligible, worthy of heady discussion, but they are still intrinsically meaningful to us. That Inception works this way and is about dreams which are themselves indicative of sublime experience is all the more fitting and worth acknowledging. It is a fabulous dream, and cinema is about creating dreams, and Nolan showed me just how far that capacity can be taken.

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  24. I value Inception the same way I value Mulholland Dr, the character of the dreams are different (Inception more conceptual than mood-driven) but the effect in both is a kind of rush of the senses. I don't even feel the need to 'figure it all out', and that is SO unlike me 🙂

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  25. I agree with Rot on the exposition – I was talking with someone else today about it whose main issue was the amount of exposition, and I just didn't feel that. I thought explaining the complexity of this situation was extraordinarily well-handled. Sure, a lot of it was one character telling another how something worked, but it was almost all done within a very realistic context, often as the things were happening, and never, EVER, did it break the momentum of the film. It might've been interesting to see what the film would've looked like if they'd eschewed exposition totally, but I'm guessing it would've looked like Primer – don't get me wrong, I have mad amounts of respect for Primer, but in terms of making a film with Primer-level complexity absolutely understandable within a multiplex blockbuster context, I thought Inception did it as well or better than I've seen anywhere else.

    And that's really where I thought Inception succeeded. This is what adult blockbuster fare should be (as John and others said above). Thoughtful and complex and gorgeous and still completely fun. If Nolan would fix his fight scene shooting to reach the same level of comprehensibility that the overall narrative had, this would've been near-perfect for me. Maybe it isn't as hard in the sci-fi as I initially wanted, but clearly it isn't trying to be that, so readjusting my expectations for what it is, it succeeded at being what it is almost completely.

    Anyone who saw it in IMAX (was David the only one?), do you think it was worth it? Also, what was the aspect ratio? It was 2.35:1 for non-IMAX, but IMAX is usually square-er, right? You can see how often I go to IMAX versions of films! I'm considering hitting Inception again in IMAX next week, though.

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  26. I have no idea why, but the IMAX version I saw was 2.35:1 I thought it would be like THE DARK KNIGHT and be in the proper squarish. Judging by the the large 'dust and hair' on the print, I'm thinking it was just a blow up of a 35mm print on the bigger screen. It looked awesome, but not as spectacular as the 40 minutes of the DARK KNIGHT.

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  27. As bombastic Wagner-ian as the score was, I loved it. I guess there has been a hole since Basil Poledouris died, and nice to see Hans Zimmer step in to fill it for Inception.

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  28. Excellent reviews on this one. I felt the score was well placed despite its intensity at times and the Ocean 11 meets Matrix thought is apt. The players meshed well and the concept of the film felt fresh even though parts have all been done. A good director is critical to making it turn out as it did. Best movie ever…no…superb entertainment with it's brainy plot and clever twists? Absolutely. It's a must see for those who like the journey through the mind.

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  29. In regard to the love story component of Inception, it didn't work for me partly because ((MINOR SPOILER)) Mal was dead for the whole movie. As great and beautiful as the actress was (I don't recall how to spell her name), she seemed like a plot device, always there to muck things up when the plot called for it. Also, it was kind of a standard movie love relationship: two beautiful people who were so damn into each other that they wanted to "grow old together." The movie never really delved into what made their love/relationship so special, and I wouldn't want that anyway. The relationship served as characterization for Cobb. Although the limbo, subconscious time concept was fantastic, when Cobb was faced with his choice at the end, I was ambivalent if he went one way or the other. It would have been a good ending either way.

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  30. @Dan

    But the movie could have worked as a regular heist film without the love story. So I disagree that the Mal character is just a plot device. Nolan wouldn't interrupt the action with all those flashbacks if he didn't care about that part of the story.

    I guess I was one of the few who latched on to the emotion of the love story. It moved me more than Soderbergh's "Solaris," but that is a movie I definitely need to re-watch at some point, as it was much to take in on a first viewing.

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  31. A few random thoughts after seeing it tonight:

    – The "walk out of the theatre" talk by the crowd was solely focused on the movie. Not a single "hey, what time is it?" and no one checking their phones. Everyone was talking about the layers upon layers, the slowed down time and the ending. A good sign for the movie…

    – I can't believe how long Nolan stretched out that final climax.

    – Haven't read the reviews yet, but I agree with the comments about the exposition fitting mostly naturally with the plot. I was fine with the length. Maybe it felt a bit stretched towards the resolution of the Mal/Cobb story, but it ended up working really well and even generated some real emotion with Cobb's final rendezvous just before the credits.

    – Love the ending. If there indeed was the sound of that spinning top falling, I'll be disappointed. Best to leave it open.

    – I really wonder what the guy next to me was dreaming while he snored through the middle part of the film. I was actually quite tired myself going into the late show, but I wasn't bored for a second. This guy obviously didn't get into the film, so I wonder how the film played out in his dreams one level down…

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  32. I have to admit that I had not even heard of this movie until this week when people started talking about it on the internet. I probably need to get out more.

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  33. On IMAX – I actually thought I made the wrong decision by watching it on IMAX. The fast cutting action is just confusing as hell on such a big screen and standard close up shots are just off-putting when they're in your face like that. It's great for some of the gravity-defying scenes though. Avatar worked brilliantly on IMAX, but this I struggled with.

    On exposition – I was a bit torn. As I said in my review I didn't feel like any of the exposition was extraneous, I just felt there was such a huge amount of it that it almost got a bit silly after a while and it started to frustrate me. It did mean that the film, as complex as it was, made perfect sense most of the time though so maybe I'm being harsh on it. It just started to grate for me towards the two-thirds mark.

    I did love the film though despite my review sounding a bit harsh – I kept juggling between 4 and 4.5 stars. I imagine a second viewing would knock it up to 4.5 or maybe even 5.

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  34. the only off-putting exposition I found was the explanation of what happens to you when you are killed in a dream… everyone in that scene would KNOW the consequences so it was in service of the audience only.

    and Bob, I had a ridiculous grandma and her grandson duo next to me… she had her arms flailing through most of the action sequences like she had never seen a talkie before, and then in the middle where they start explaining the tiering of the dream she was out cold asleep.

    To me the film was like Escher mixed with Borges, playing sublimely with time and space in a way I have never seen onscreen before.

    I agree with the action choreography, Nolan still hasn't excelled at that.

    I saw it in IMAX and I don't remember it ever taking up the whole screen, were there IMAX scenes in the film?

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  35. The movie in my brain without the exposition is more wildly entertaining and mysterious (think SPARTAN or for instance) as it is, it is a small miracle how smooth the exposition is worked into the film (it is not offensive in execution) but the hand-holding is a bit insulting to hard-core sci-fi folks who can (and are willing) to do a lot of the legwork. This is a minor gripe with the Matrix trilogy, especially a huge chunk of the first one, and a smattering of moments and situations in the second one.

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  36. I also just saw it last night. On the whole, I think it works as a great, marvelously complex, one-of-a-kind heist flick. I read a few reviews beforehand calling it "a masterpiece," "pure cinema" and so forth – and I don't think it quite gets there, nor do I think is it meant to be a purely meditative film. For that, I can watch 2001, Solaris or a Bergman. But as an action-packed heist film with the added twist of happening on separate dream levels, it was a blast. I love just how prolonged the "big heist" was in the film, and how Nolan got so many plates spinning at once, on top of the whole time difference aspect and Cobb and Ariadne having to go after Fischer. The exposition was handled beautifully – besides laying bare the rules for both characters and viewers so that the ensuing 2/3rds of the film are comprehensible, it was just so cool. I loved Cobb explaining all these factors of dream logic and Ariadne figuring it out for herself – in Paris, of all places! I could have watched another hour of that stuff.

    I think it was a little bit smug of Nolan to throw that little "twist" at the audience at the end, and I think it works best as a sort of sly joke, with the top actually toppling on the soundtrack – otherwise, what would've been the point if everything you just watched was just another dream (or set of dreams)? Massawyrm over at Ain't It Cool had a much more violent reaction to it than I did, but I think his points (and frustration) are valid: http://www.aintitcool.com/node/45790

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  37. Hmmm, I don't really agree with Massawyrm's points at all. I loved that open ending – if it makes you question everything, it just makes you hungrier to revisit the film by discussing it and all its possibilities. I think Nolan has built some really interesting ideas and constructs and allows the viewer to really play within that. There are so many paths you can take with not only the possibilites of the plot, but also how it all relates to the grander ideas of the movie. I think he greatly overstates things by saying that it gives a middle finger to the audience – I just don't see that at all.

    For me, the ending doesn't make me question the point of the movie…It makes me think even more about it. It gives a great emotional moment when the kids turn around and leaves you with something more to chaw on.

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  38. *************SPOILERS**********

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    Okay, a couple of specific questions.

    1) If the totem doesn't fall at the end, indicating that Cobb is still in a dream (and as one friend pointed out to me, the fact that his kids are in the same position and everything as they were in all of his memories seems to be another indication that he may be), then is the entire thing his dream? Or just the ending, after the heist? Would it matter?

    2) If their bodies being in the van during the fall (meaning they're in zero-G) puts the first level of the dream (the part where Arthur is doing all the stuff with the elevator) into a zero-G state, why is gravity normal on the lower dream levels?

    3) The music thing. Was that just meant to be a timer-clue, as in "when you hear the music, finish up quick because I'm about to kick you out"? At first I thought the music was part of the actual kick, but that didn't make sense.

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  39. *************SPOILERS**********

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    The open ending was not only one of the BEST parts of the film, it is (in my mind) absolutely necessary to the 'question reality' theme going on with all the Cotillard stuff. Yea, I hope I never hear the sound of that top falling over.

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  40. I this pretty much sums up where I stand on the film, the first paragraph from the AICN reviewer:

    "Let me be absolutely, 100% percent clear about something upfront: I think INCEPTION is a great film. And while I do not agree with many of my colleagues who have ascribed such words as “brilliant”, “genius” and “masterpiece” to it, I do agree that it is likely better than 95% of anything else that will come out this year and is a MUST SEE. It is an incredibly good film that I like quite a bit – the epitome of mind bending science fiction in this day and age, drawing as much from William Gibson as it does Philip K. Dick. But it is NOT a perfect film."

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  41. @Marc – Massawyrm's 1800 deconstruction of the ending is exactly the kid of thing I expected to come from INCEPTION. It's only a matter of time before we see "The Philosophy of Inception" on the store shelves and that's where I disagree with Dan – I think there are some moral/philosophical/deep thought questions at play here there's just not as obvious as they are in something like THE MATRIX.

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  42. *************SPOILERS**********

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    I still think that Option #2 is where it is at, it is certainly the reading of the film that I came away with. Namely that Cobb and his wife never got out of their 100 year limbo, parted ways in the collective dream, are still stuck in that split second, and that DiCaprio is suffering to the point that he re-envisions himself as the tortured hero who can put a crack team together and crack himself out. I do not believe he even has children, rather him and his wife are merely experimenting with early stages of the technology. How does the the fact that there is no 'reality' detract from this type of story? I do not believe it does. We dream and process films in this sort of detached-after-the-fact sort of way, why should the framework of Inception not acknowledge it.

    I'm sure we will get into this type of wankery on the show. It is interesting that the AICN writer and myself are kind of on the same page, but are coming at how that makes the film interesting or a cheat from 180 degrees viewpoints.

    It's a forest for the trees situation.

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  43. I'd say I'm closest to Kurt on my view of the film. Enjoyed it immensely, but it's no masterpiece. For anyone who's seen a lot of films, the number of references to others, both classic (2001, Blade Runner) and recent (Shutter Island, if you can believe it) weakened it for me.

    The trick ending was too much like a ripoff of Blade Runner. Even the talisman thing reminded me too much of the origami figure in Blade Runner.

    The fact that Leonardo DiCaprio's character was also grieving a dead wife and contending with a parallel/dream/mental reality was just too much.

    Inception is a clever pastiche, a well-made and well-constructed heist film with a larger dash of intelligence than most of the blockbusters we get to see each summer. The hype is actually baffling. I'll grant that it's a good film, but I worry that the universal acclaim will lead to a nasty backlash.

    And, like Kurt, I preferred The Prestige, which I only saw about a month ago. The slower pace let him draw the characters in much finer detail. There was just too much plot and action to really explore the characters, even the central ones.

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  44. Also, this constant delusion totally plays out the argument that INCEPTION is a GINORMOUS budgeted version of MEMENTO. Imagine if DiCaprio's name was Leonard Shelby and that this happened to be one of Sammy Jenkis / Leonard Shelby's broken dreams as his mind continued to deteriorate..

    🙂

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  45. I also believe the diary/flashback/narration way the storytelling is handled in THE PRESTIGE is far more complex (and dare I say subtle) to tell a story. I don't completely disagree that Nolan and co. are SHOWING OFF (admittedly necessary to any good sleigh-of-hand-trick) in INCEPTION, wheras the story in The Prestige is more organically crafted and nuanced. It's certainly more nasty.

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  46. @Jandy

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    "2) If their bodies being in the van during the fall (meaning they’re in zero-G) puts the first level of the dream (the part where Arthur is doing all the stuff with the elevator) into a zero-G state, why is gravity normal on the lower dream levels?"

    I assumed it was because of the time dilation effect that far down, weightlessness was on its way and there would be a longer lapse of time between the song and the effect than what happened in the 2nd tier.

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  47. I remember when Memento was shown at TIFF I believe it was Eye Weekly gave it two stars, and I couldn't believe how someone could see that film and not love it. The tempered response here to Inception isn't that bad, we all seem to love it and its just degrees of difference from this point.

    There are some films where the inscribed rules of movie criticism cease to matter to me, something like 'character depth' just doesn't matter to me here, its the conceptual idea of limbo, I don't need a film to show me every anguish, set the framework and I can imagine, I can delve into the Borges depths of the experience, keep the pace at 11 and the immediacy takes over any note I scribble down about arcs and subtexts… I still am convinced this is a film you are meant to get slightly dizzy in, freefall, let it happen to you and then BAM, abruptly wake up like a dream with the cut to black.

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  48. @Marina–I think there are many philosophical/ethical questions inherent in the ideas and technology in Inception's universe, but at no point does Nolan ask them. I don't think that was his goal. The questions and dilemmas he does present mainly revolve around Cobb and his choices, which I found difficult to relate to or care much about because the consequences would all play out in his mind/subconscious. The ideas and concepts in Inception (e. g., the origin of an idea, the time dilation concept) were truly intriguing, but I feel they mostly remain self-contained in the universe of fiction that Nolan creates. There may be some commentary on corporate espionage, but that's reaching. I don't want to over-analyze, because people tend to read too much into movies and apply too much meaning that may or may not even there, which annoys me at times (albeit, that's part of the joy of movie analysis).

    I loved Inception and found myself intellectually challenged, but mainly on a mind-teaser/video game level. Nolan set up the self-contained rules of his fiction and let the sequences play out. Where I thought he tried to go deeper with the humanity of the ideas was in Cobb and Mal's relationship, which wasn't compelling to me. In comparison, in The Matrix and in Primer, I followed the rules of the fiction, yet my thoughts went beyond the universes of the movies and into our reality. I may have missed some of the deeper commentary in Inception, but that's what repeat viewings are for.

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  49. I'm starting to agree more and more with Mike…I'm not quite at the "it's a perfect film" stage, but I love the fact that so many things worked for me, that I don't really care about some of the possible inconsistencies and lack of character. Sure, I'd like to see more of Gordon-Levitt, Page and Hardy (not to mention Watanabe), but the swirling set of ideas and possibilities the film contains is a great deal of fun to play with.

    I'm not sure I'd go with Kurt's pick of option 2 being the "solution" to the story or agree with his thought that Cobb didn't even have kids, but I love the fact that this option seems definitely possible – along with the all the other ones the AICN reviewer mentions.

    I definitely would've liked a bit more time with Page's architect as she worked through creating her mazes and discovering how to work with paradoxes, but that's OK. I don't consider it a negative. I'm also OK with the references to other films – it's all in service to providing the playground for the concept of questioning your reality (which may depend on its context). I'm starting to think the whole film shares a lot with Antonioni's "Blow-Up".

    However, I do concur with Kurt and James on placing "The Prestige" a notch up. Man, that's a great film from any angle. Nolan sure does like stories that incorporate dualities and symmetry…

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  50. spoilers**** anyone else have 2001 deja-vu when the vault opens? which reminds me I love that there never was a safe and yet they plant both the idea and the combination in that scene.

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  51. *************SPOILERS**********

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    When it comes to the ending, I lean more towards Kurt's side; the ending is simply too Disney like to be real ( even without Michael Caine showing up). In addition, the exact same image of his children keeps turning up throughout the film (hunting him like in a nightmare). If I am not mistaken, the welcome home scene is simply a longer take on the recurring image.

    I believe that Cobbs is still stuck in the dream world, while his wife escaped when she committed suicide. The fake journey was simply done by Cobbs, in order to continue living in the dreamworld without the guilt of his predicament.

    Basically, Cobb's journey is simply a subconscious method– that allows him to make the dream reality into his own, sole reality, without feeling remorse.

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  52. *************SPOILERS**********

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    I'm with you Antho, the whole thing was 'self-inception' and elaborate 'let us keep the momentum' within Cobbs own eternal subconscious. I think Mal made out out of one layer, I'm not even sure that Cobb had kids. And you are right about the ending of Memento, I always wondered if Memento was a play on words for Momentum as much as it was the tattoos and polaroids. Nolan seems to favour momentum rather than truth. Leonard would rather keep chasing his own tail (tale?) and feel like he is accomplishing something rather than fess up that his wife was likely killed by a bad insulin injection or random act of unmotivated violence (take your pick on that one, I lean towards the former)

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  53. I can buy that The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou is Wes Anderson's 8 1/2 and I can buy that Inception is a film about filmmaking (to a degree it is much more a film about magic and the art of putting on a sleigh-of-hand trick – but then movies have always been compared to magic so fair enough) but I cannot really buy that Inception is 8 1/2. I'd like to see more emotion, a bit more insight into the human condition to make that declaration. I see where Faraci's coming from, and to be sure, that was my read on the film coming out of it on Friday night, that Cobb is administering his own inception and is trapped in whatever limbo he happens to be in. It certainly glosses over (straightens out?) the casual errors (edith piaf plays at the same tempo despite time dilation, all the char chases don't wake anyone up and nobody is ever fatally shot) and inconsistencies and the over-convoluted nature of things, the shallow characters outside of Mal and Cobb, and allows for the 'happy ending' without really being a happy ending (Ditto Total Recall – a bit more sassy of a take on the same material).

    I dug his observation of the alleyway that keeps getting narrower until coming right out at Ken Watanabe.

    Also, everyone simply jumps to wherever they need to be. Either that is simply 'movie editing' or it is the dream-logic that is explicitly stated in the film. In that case, Nolan gets to have his cake and eat it too!

    I also agree that there doesn't need to be rational stakes for a movie to be good (although this can certainly help) if the movie goes to interesting places in the brain, that is as good as anything else and doesn't have to be 'real' or the action be 'method acting' or the casting/shooting be verite style. I also believe that the movie should make you do most of the leg-work, and I find inception doesn't realy want that. It wants to tell, tell, tell, (and then point out that everything it has been telling you has been lies), but even this is easy to read on a single viewing. The film is too blunt or reminiscent of other dream movies. Compare this to Mulholland Dr. and it's not 1/10 as visceral or cerebral (or emotional!)

    Still, to re-iterate, I love this film. Just not a perfect film and for sure it is NOT 8 1/2, even if that was the intent (or not!)

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  54. I've only seen Dileep Rao in two things: Inception and Drag Me To Hell. Both films done by directors who have made MEGA-BUDGETED (and cut above) comic book flicks. Weird.

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  55. You and Antho are making a good case for your solution Kurt, but what I really like about the film is that it doesn't HAVE to be that solution. I don't think there is one particular correct solution to the entire story – considering the number of mazes, paradoxes, different people's dreams and possibilities, you can create a whole series of reasonably consistent versions.

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  56. For the most part, I agree with Bob – there is absolutely plenty of room for multiple interpretations of this movie, and I do like that.

    Actually, my immediate suspicion in the it-was-all-a-dream category is, in retrospect, pretty out-there: walking out of the theatre, I was imagining that Cobb was essentially a mark just like Fischer, having been led through a similarly elaborate yet actually artificial scenario to reach a truth. Fischer realizes he needs to step from his father's shadow; Cobb achieves reconciliation and, one can only assume, piece of mind. I dunno – that's just one possibility that crossed my mind.

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  57. *************SPOILERS**********

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    There is room for different interpretations of what that last scene means to the rest of the film, but there can't really be any doubt that it's still a dream because of the fact that the kids haven't aged and perfectly mimic his dreamlike vision of them. This kind of makes the last 'will it fall or won't it' shot a bit of a waste of time don't you think? Or do people disagree?

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    I don't think they ever say how long he has been away, do they David? I guess at those ages the kids would change significantly even over a year? It does seem weird that they jump to the plane abruptly from the limbo scene with old Wantanabe, and that is kind of like a dream where you don't have any context for being there (were they jolted awake?). I prefer to think of it as a happy ending, not a dream, but yeah the kids not aging is strange.

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  59. Absolutely, it's going to take a bunch of great films to knock those out. I kind of want to bump my Inception star rating up to 4.5 the more I think about it actually, but I won't. That's cheating 🙂

    I'm off to watch Toy Story 3 tonight – it's finally out over here. I'm hoping that's going to be high up in my list and I'm assuming that'll be another no-brainer for the Row Three consensus.

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    I'm starting to lean on the side that Cobb never returns from limbo. Two things in particular I noticed the second time around lead me to think this:

    1) when he's on the phone with his kids near the beginning of the film, his daughter in particular sounds much older than the little girl we see at the end.

    2) the scene where he and Moll are across from each other on the window ledge of the hotels-if you look behind them, the hotel rooms look like near perfect reflections of each other.

    What I can't seem to wrap my mind around is whether the entire thing was a dream (not convinced of that yet) or if he was just unable to get back from limbo (it's true the last part of the film when he "wakes up" on the plane does seem more dreamlike than even some of the dreams).

    As for whether this will make my top 10, definitely. Not sure SHUTTER ISLAND will (I simply didn't care for it that much for it).

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  61. *************SPOILERS**********

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    Matt Brown on twitter: For those concerned about the "flaw" of the childrens' ages in INCEPTION, be aware they are played by 2 sets of actors at 2 different ages.

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    Yes, but the ages of the kids of two different ages refer to the 'kids seen by dicaprio (who finally show their faces at the end) and also the kids at the 'top of the elevator' with Cotillard and Dicaprio at the beach. The kids were younger at the beach (one was a toddler).

    Thus both sets of kids are within the dream structure, and the second casting is not referring to 'whomever talked on the phone' as being any different that the kids that wander around in DiCaprios subconscious!

    Thus, the 2 sets of kids argument from the credits is bogus, because whomever did the acting for the other end of the phone conversation as the kids, there are two sets of kids as credited which SHOW on screen.

    There goes that theory.

    It's all a dream anyway! 😉

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    I don't get it, the voice on the phone would have to be in the dream too if you are thinking everything is…

    I thought Matt was referring to the scene where he decides to join the company and doesn't say goodbye to his kids… those kids and the kids at the end are different ages, no?

    have to rewatch I suppose.

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  64. The kids Cobb fantasizes about and the kids he greets at the end are the same kids. But yea, they are all in Cobb's dream anyways, including the kids he talks to on the phone.

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    Plus regardless of age/actor difference in the two scenes where you actually see them (I thought they looked like the same actors though), they are wearing the same clothes and sat in exactly the same positions as when they're in all the previous visions.

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    he would have to put them in the same position to create ambiguity, its not so improbable that they would be playing in the backyard both times… and you never see their faces throughout the film so how can you know its the same actors?

    It seems to me only showing their backs was a deliberate way for Nolan to have it both ways, you don't see physical change in their faces. Does he ever say how long he has been gone, it could have been just a year.

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  67. Ha, I just did bookmark that A.O. Scott article on the RowThree Delicious page and Tweet it out. 🙂 I really like A.O. Scott. Even when I disagree with him I enjoy his writing and when he looks at stuff like this, he tends to be among the more sane, level-headed critics out tere.

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    I don't know if anyone else has picked up on your comment as I have not had the time to read them all. In one of your reviews you mentioned that the characters don't seem to interact an awful lot and that they seem cold towards one another. I think this has been done deliberately so as to bring up another theory to the film itself. The main theory that everyone picked up on for obvious reasons was that at the end he could have been dreaming, or he might in fact have made it out. I went to watch Inception for a second time last night, and I picked up on something else. Right from the start of the film you see alot of "mazes" (for the chase scene there was a birds-eye view where you could clearly see a maze of buildings), and Cobb appears to get stuck in a narrowing alley only to break free at the last moment. Then there is the fact that Saito appears at just the right time to pick him up and help him escape. These events lead me to believe that Cobb has been dreaming right from the start, perhaps Inception was performed on him?? Back to the point of the interaction of the characters. Instead of them being real people, could they not just be projections from Cobb's mind? Maybe even projections of different parts of his subconscious? For example, Ariadne could be seen as Cobb's conscience.

    Another place in the film where the "dream state" could have began was when he tested Yusuf's compounds, and awoke suddenly. He went to test his totem but you never see him use it properly as he drops it!

    I would like to believe that Cobb made it out and found his kids, but nothing felt right in the end. The skipping from the plane, to the terminal, to the house made me think of a dream straight away. No explanation of how they got to each. The way Cobb's children were out in the garden was so similar to the memory he had of them that it was impossible to ignore.

    I've heard people saying it was left open so that Christopher Nolan can pen a sequel haha! I just think it's been left open so that you can form your own conclusions, a very clever film, and one of the best I've seen in a long time.

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    So I too just rewatched Inception and I am leaning towards what Chris B here and others have been saying. The daughter on the phone is significantly older, thats a biggie, and the kids looks exactly the same in the end. Also when Ariadne is making models for the mazes, one of them looks a lot like Limbo. I think the dream begins at Yusulf's, like Chris says, his totem is tried but falls.

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    so in that scenario you kind of have it both ways, there really was an Inception mission, and the group was assembled, but the last half is Cobb dreaming how it will play out, and coming to terms with his guilt issues… its possible Ariadne had set this up to occur, to fix the Mol problem BEFORE they actually proceeded with their mission. The story from then on does feel like a therapy session.

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  71. It was only a matter of time:

    <object width="560" height="340"><param name="movie" value="http://www.youtube.com/v/hw72EyG2z7s&hl=en_US&fs=1?rel=0"></param><param name="allowFullScreen" value="true"></param><param name="allowscriptaccess" value="always"></param><embed src="http://www.youtube.com/v/hw72EyG2z7s&hl=en_US&fs=1?rel=0&quot; type="application/x-shockwave-flash" allowscriptaccess="always" allowfullscreen="true" width="560" height="340"></embed></object>

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