Written by Diane Tillis
It is hard to talk about Inception without spoiling something. It is also hard to read any review and get a full feel for the film. Inception truly needs to be seen to understand why it is so amazing. On one level, it is an incredible action film that revolves around the heist scenario set in exotic locations such as France and Japan. On another level, the core purpose of the film is a complex discovery into dreams and the subconscious, and the consequences that come with manipulating the mind of another person. Inception is packed with inventive action, high drama, ideas and emotion. It is a masterpiece; whether it makes a billion dollars or not, it is a triumph for mainstream cinema. As the complexities of the film unravel themselves on the screen, Inception stands as a reminder that there is more to mainstream cinema than mindless entertainment. It forces the audience to think and question everything they are experiencing. If you give Inception the opportunity, I promise you will not be disappointed. In fact, you will want to talk more and more about the film once the credits roll to figure out what it all means. This is a sign of great cinema! Just for precaution, possible spoilers ahead!!
Dominic “Dom” Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a specialized thief, the best in the business of corporate espionage and extracting secrets from a target’s subconscious. While the target is asleep and dreaming, Cobb steals their secrets before the target realizes what is happening. It will just seem like a forgotten dream.
Extracting secrets from the subconscious is no easy task. Extractors use various tools to achieve the missions. When the extractors layer the dreams, i.e. dreams within dreams, things can get very tricky. Each extractor carries a ‘totem,’ which helps him/her to establish the difference between the dreaming world and reality. For instance, Cobb carries a black spinning top. In the dream, the top spins indefinitely. In reality, the top will spin for a while then topple over. Things can become confusing if you are not paying attention. Sometimes you are not sure if what is on screen is real or part of someone’s dream, or even a dream within someone’s dream!
The extracting team’s architect will design the labyrinth of the dream world, while the target will fill the world with his subconscious mind in the form of projections. These projections take the form of people from their real life. They can become deadly if elements within the dream change while the dream is occurring. Like while blood cells attacking a virus, the projections will attack the architect to protect the dreamer. Paradoxical architecture, such as the Penrose staircase, can complicate the labyrinths for the target’s projections and allow the team more time to discover the target’s secrets.
Inception begins as Cobb and point man Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) are on an “extraction” mission within the mind of a powerful Japanese executive Saito (Ken Watanabe). The extraction fails because Cobb’s wife Mal (Marion Cotillard) infiltrates the dream and sabotages the mission. Once the dreamers return to reality, Saito reveals that he is auditioning the team to perform the most challenging act of all, “inception.” If extracting removes secrets from a target’s mind, then inception implants an idea into a target’s mind. Saito promises Cobb if he is successful, he will help Cobb return to America and to his children. By manipulating Cobb, Mal put the blame of her suicide on him. Cobb had to flee America, leaving behind his two young children to escape prosecution. Obviously, Cobb accepts Saito’s momentous opportunity to return home.
The target is Robert Fischer Jr. (Cillian Murphy), son of Saito’s terminally ill corporate rival, Maurice Fischer (Pete Postlethwaite). The objective is to convince Fischer Jr. to break up his father’s energy empire. Cobb and Arthur begin to plan the inception and recruit experts to assist them. Eames (Tom Hardy) is a forger; he can change his appearance and forge the personality of another person. Yusuf (Dileep Rao) is a chemist who creates a specific compound that will allow the team to go deep into Fischer’s subconscious. Ariadne (Ellen Page) is an architect student who will create the dream worlds for the team to navigate. Together the team must achieve the impossible: to go three dream levels deep, to implant the inspiration for Fischer Jr. to break apart his father’s empire, and to return to reality.
Inception is an original story written over a decade by Christopher Nolan. It stands out against films of flat characters, boring plots, and expensive explosive scenes. Nolan uses intricate details to describe the concept of dreaming. From the time lapse between different levels, to the ‘kicks’ that jolt dreamers awake; dreaming takes on a whole new vocabulary in Inception. The female characters play vital roles in the film. Mal is the femme fatale character of Cobb’s subconscious. As a shade of his real wife, Mal represents Cobb’s guilt, fear, and uncertainty towards the woman he loves. The character of Ariadne is a reference to ancient Greek mythology. Ariadne was a Greek princess who assisted the hero Theseus to navigate the prison labyrinth of the Minotaur. In the film, Ariadne designs the labyrinths and helps the team navigate them. Inception manages to weave the complex concept of dreaming as part of the heist-film narrative.
The complex narrative of Inception can be overwhelming at times. The film tries to pack in as much information as possible in a short run-time. Nolan sacrifices the development of his secondary characters to enforce Cobb’s emotional turmoil and the exploration of the heist’s plans. However, even with these elements in consideration, I will argue that Inception is the best film of 2010. It has a rich narrative of original thoughts and concepts. You are at the edge of your seat from beginning to end. Inception is the type of film you have to pay attention to every single detail or else the epilogue will leave you questioning the entire film; was it real or all a dream?
The video aspect ratio is 2.40:1. Throughout Inception, scenes are blended with real-life captured moments and computer-generated images. Nolan prefers to create everything you see on the screen in real life. This desire is contrary to the majority of A-Hollywood directors. With this in mind, Nolan does utilize computers to enhance certain real-life scenes for Inception. There are only a few scenes that the computer effects are noticeable, such as when Ariadne is learning how to create the worlds within a dream. Ariadne folds a French city on top of itself to learn how gravity can be manipulated. The detail of this scene is so surreal, from the people waking the streets to the architecture, the only way you know it is computer generated is because the coloring is just a shade too gray. For the rest of Inception, the difficult task is trying to figure out which scenes are designed on a computer screen and which ones are designed on a set in some exotic location.
What does this say for the video quality? Well, everything! Since this film takes place in someone’s dream, you would expect the scenery to be in bright fluorescent colors with wobbly shapes dancing around the dreamers. Nolan predicts that dreams are just reflections of images and memories from our lives. Thus, it is important for the dream worlds to be just as real as the dreamer’s reality. Nolan creates a subdued color panel that would encompass both the dreams and reality, in the process confusing the audience further as to which scenes are real and which are a dream! The colors are not overtly bright; they have a softer tone which makes them seem more real to the eye. Throughout the film, the black levels are constantly controlled. You can easily distinguish between the many shades of gray in clothing, props, and set design. Thus, the contrast between the darker and lighter shades is pristine. This is especially noticeable when the team goes to a dream level that takes place on the Canadian mountains, with a landscape covered in snow. The only colors are shades of black and white. If the black levels and contrast of the film were not defined, this entire sequence would look like a black and white blob!
The one negative remark to this DVD version of Inception is related to the presence of compression artifacts. With a film heavy in computer-generated effects and detailed set designs, compression artifacts can rear their ugly head. In the case of Inception, any time there is a straight edge in the background, you will notice the compression artifact. The edges appear as jagged lines. It can become distracting and affects the video quality.
The audio is available in Dolby Digital 5.1 in English, French, and Spanish with subtitles for the main feature. Inception is a heavy dialog film, maybe too heavy for certain film-goers who prefer mindless entertainment. Since the film is dialog-heavy, it is very important that the dialog is easily distinguished against the soundtrack and background sounds, or else the audience will miss large portions of the dialog. Never fear, the audio mixing is fine. You can distinguish the dialog from other sounds and understand every sentence. The soundtrack, by Hans Zimmer, will be stuck in your head, especially the “BRRAMM” sound effect from the trailer!
For the DVD release of Inception, I have to say I am disappointed with the special features on the disc. There are four segments on the DVD that barely add up to twelve minutes of film. The Inception of Inception describes how Christopher Nolan came up with the concepts for the film. The Japanese Castle: the Dream is Collapsing describes the architecture of the Japanese castle and the creation of the water sequence that destroys the castle. Constructing Paradoxical Architecture depicts how the design team creates paradoxical architecture in real life and how to film it. The Freight Train reveals the secrets underneath the freight train in the city.
Inception weaves a complex story with intriguing characters and awe-inspiring worlds. Christopher Nolan continues to prove why he is becoming one of film’s rising stars for directing and story writing. Most people recognize him as the creator of the latest Batman films, but I strongly urge you to check out his other films. He continues to push the boundaries in his storytelling that captures audiences across the globe. Inception is now one of my favorite films. I recommend it to anyone who is looking for a film that will sweep you off your feet, or a film that will remind you why you love films so much. Inception has changed my reality. I hope you give it the chance to change yours.