Up until 2008’s The Dark Knight, Nolan seemed to solidify himself as a one-trick pony in my book. Movies like Batman Begins (2005) and The Dark Knight gave him too much credit due to their popularity and not their merit; Batman Begins was popular because it was simply a breath of fresh air from the two-hour long toy commercial known as Batman & Robin (1997), and The Dark Knight was riding on that popularity as well as the unfortunate tragic death of Heath Ledger which also drew attention to the film. However that is all for a different article.
Inception is Nolan’s first foray into the science-fiction genre. The movie introduces us to Dominic Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his team of “extractors” comprised initially of, Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and architect, Nash (Lukas Haas). As extractors their job is to infiltrate people’s minds via the realm of dreaming and steal ideas and secrets locked away in the labyrinth of the subconscious. Cobb and Arthur are auditioned by Saito (Ken Watanabe) and subsequently offered a job to plant an idea in the mind of Robert Fischer (Cillian Murphy), heir to the corporate empire owned by his father, Maurice Fischer (Pete Postletwaithe). The name of this process? Inception. In the process of planning their heist, Cobb and Arthur enlist the help of Eames (Tom Hardy), a man that can change his appearance within the dream, Ariadne (Ellen Page), who is trained as an architect to construct their maze, and Yusuf (Dileep Rao), a chemist specializing in sedatives. As the film builds, the consequences of the heist exponentially grow and the variables intensify, culminating in a roller-coaster of a second act. The ending of the movie? Words cannot describe how perfect it was for this genre.
As a science-fiction fan myself I was pleased at how cerebral this movie was. Many concepts in physics, chemistry, philosophy, and psychology were examined in depth over the course of the film with focus on the latter two. Fans of films like The Matrix (1999) and Strange Days (1995) will find similarities in the concepts explored in this movie; connections can also be made to Videodrome (1983). Star Trek fans like me can also find similarities with the Next Generation episode The Inner Light, and the feature film, Star Trek: Generations (1994). Science-fiction for the most part is not what it once was. The 90’s seemed to be the last decade to incorporate stories that forced the audience to think, but they were eventually replaced by pew-pew action, Jar-Jar Binks, giant blue cats, and finally, Slusho (See: Star Wars Prequels, Star Trek 2009, and Avatar). Star Trek and Avatar being the worst of the three and most representative of replacing poignant stories with pointless action and socially relevant plotlines with political agendas, respectively.
The script is extremely multi-layered due to these concepts. They are carefully interwoven with one another throughout the film. Do not be mistaken however, the amount of techno-babble is kept to a suitable and necessary level. Nolan sprinkles just the right amount of action, humor, and character development within the movie to create a very nice, balanced film. The dialogue and interaction between Arthur and Eames is especially funny and gives the audience time to breathe in a movie where the mystery and action never seem to stop for very long. Due to the extreme amount of concepts and the depth that Nolan takes them, character development takes a proverbial backset for most of the film. Cobb’s interactions with Mal and Adriande are the best written in the film, with DiCaprio, Cotillard, and Page showing their range. Page especially demonstrates to the viewer that she has completely broken away from her Juno character and is developing into a fine actress; the same cannot be said for Michael Cera who still plays the Arrested Development character George-Michael to this day.
The action scenes of the film are the icing on the cake. It proves that science-fiction films can still have thorough concepts augmented by amazing action. Ranging from the opening scene to Arthur’s insane 360 degree fight in a hotel hallway, to Eames doing his James Bond impression on a snowy mountainside, the movie is consistent in the strength and creativity of their stunts and fight choreography. These scenes are in turn aggrandized by Hans Zimmer’s thunderous and emotional score. Effects like a train barreling down a city sidewalk and Arthur’s aerial, tumbling fight scene are executed extremely well, The shifting between the action and certain slow-motion camera effects (to demonstrate the differences in the passage of time in the dream world and real world) was done so well that it probably made Zack Snyder cum buckets.
Overall this was a very powerful film, and probably the first real science-fiction film we have had in a long time. Subtle and loud in the right places and for a movie about dreams it definitely did not come off overdetermined. I have a renewed respect for Nolan and I hope that he continues to grow as a filmmaker and writer – at the very least he should have learned by now to not allow his brother near Microsoft Word.