Inception

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I finally got to see Christopher Nolan’s long-awaited Inception.

It’s actually very hard to review this film without any spoilers, but I’ll try to give a general impression of the experience. Because it is everything you would expect from a cinematic experience -dazzling visuals to start with, and an emotional ride that’s thrilling in certain aspects, and downright depressing in others.

The idea that Christopher Nolan’s mind is filled with darkness and twisted genius ideas isn’t new. I perfectly knew what to expect from him as one of the most intelligent and sensible filmmakers of our times. Hasn’t he already proven with Memento that he could challenge any film conventions in both form and substance? That with the Dark Knight he had taken movie entertainment to greater heights, treating his subject with the seriousness and depth it deserved? That the Prestige wasn’t about the ‘twist’ but the terrible ramifications of his characters’ motivations and desires? With Chris Nolan, the mind isn’t doing wonders -it’s always questioning our sense of reality, our sense of self-knowledge, all those terrible doubts constantly gnawing at us. And the worst part is, how could a filmmaker ever address things that personal really? While keeping the viewer’s sense of excitement and discovery?

Inception is a hybrid sort of film -a personal journey for one part, the impression of being in an insane dream for the other. It’s oppressive and liberating at the same time. As in all Nolan films, the elaborate structure always serves a purpose; conveniently enough, it also leaves plenty of room for action. The idea here is to let imagination roam free -taking the expression ‘in your wildest dreams’ at face value; but within the framework of a very literary concept, the mise en abyme. As such, narration is convulsed and answers are only provided at the very end, which undoubtedly creates the sense of suspense every good storyteller is looking for. By now, Nolan’s become so versatile at doing this that the subjects at the core of Inception are very easy to understand, yet enclosed within this labyrinth-like structure. It’s almost by miracle that it escapes all sense of confusion, although anyone who knows a bit about Chris Nolan knows everything has been deliberately calculated. In a few words, good old Chris is doing what he’s always done best: a tour de force.

If Nolan has a talent for dialogues and depths, he’s also aware that big action sets are required in a summer release; and since dreams have no boundaries, it’s the occasion for him to release his inner kid’s fantasies and play with some big guns. Literally. The visuals are glorious and the settings sometimes do call back to his previous films. The infamous gravity-defying fight is as impressive as it should be, and it really sticks out compared to the more conventional action scenes that we’re being offered here.

But as you can imagine, I’m more concerned with the psychological layers of this film than anything else. It definitely conveys a sense of philosophical questioning without ever speaking straightforwardly about it. Debate has already been raging as to what answers are given and what does it all mean, but my reaction to the film was that each viewer was always going to understand this film from his own viewpoint and that alone makes it all worth it. This kind of engaging, ‘active’ viewing is excellent but it can also prove to be a pitfall for viewers who want answers to their questions and will perhaps channel their frustrations into other imperfections. Because yes, this film has imperfections –although it never ceases to fascinate the viewer, it also creates a distance by withholding so much information all the time. I was actually very emotionally involved, but only at the end; and it was an overwhelming sense of sadness indeed for the main character (Dom, played by Leo DiCaprio) but also for the other characters, especially Fischer (played by an excellent Cillian Murphy). Which definitely proves that Inception is a success, but perhaps to a lesser extent than say, the Prestige or the Dark Knight. But that’s maybe asking a lot from a filmmaker that’s already so busy crafting a whole universe that feels real while poking at its characters’ morals and subconscious desires.

Such a screenplay can only be completed with very solid characters, which in turn are honoured by very good performers –Leo DiCaprio at the forefront. It’s very hard now to think of a performance in which Leo’s intensity hasn’t radiated the screen –with Revolutionary Road (a woefully underestimated performance if I ever saw one) and Shutter Island, Leo is simply one of the best working actors today and there’s no questioning this at all really. He is surrounded by an equally efficient supporting cast, including the likes of Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Ken Watanabe. Marion Cotillard is able in a very scary, scary way to make her character credible (a feat she hasn’t always achieved in her American films) and Cillian Murphy is the other outstanding performer of the cast –I was very touched by his character although he has no more screentime than his castmates.

Wally Pfister’s photography, need I say it, is dead-on accurate with the mood Chris Nolan wants to put the viewer in –by now it’s almost like these two share one single vision; and Hans Zimmer’s score is reminiscent of his work on the Batman films, or perhaps blaring even more violently (if you can believe that). Guy Hendrix Dyas, Bryan Singer’s production designer, is a welcoming addition to the Nolan crew, as design and set dressing is impeccable (but I do wonder why Nathan Crowley did not land this job). The visual effects, which Chris Nolan normally isn’t very fond of, are quite striking; but in the end, it’s the overall mastering of the movie that stays with the viewer.

Not surprisingly, Inception is the best film I’ve seen so far this year and it takes a rightful place in a genius film career. It’s very much in the continuity of Chris Nolan’s universe and that’s really a big compliment, considering the expectations that this kind of statement entails. Criticism has been made, arguing that Nolan should have taken his story further, that maybe the film was too superficial while being deliberately complicated. I don’t agree with this -I’m happy with what he’s done. I’m still as much in awe as I was of this man, almost seven years ago, when I first saw Memento and took a ride down a man’s conscience; a journey I am never tired of making, as long as Christopher Nolan will be the guide.

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