Top 10 films of our lifetime #7: Inception
18th September 2014
I've always considered the post-film discussion as much a part of the movie-going experience as the actual movie: the initial splurge of reactions, the best bits, the rubbish bits, the standout moments. Inception, with its pre-credits wobbly ambiguity, practically invites a discourse on its finer points, and those discussions are still ongoing today. I consider this to be the best blockbuster of the decade so far and one of the most rewarding works of science-fiction in modern memory. More movies need to be like Inception - Ali.
Director: Christopher Nolan / Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Tom Hardy
Writer: Christopher Nolan / Cinematography: Wally Pfister
|contemporary sci-fi actioner set within the architecture of the mind". It's hard to believe that, at the time of its release, we didn't know much more about Inception than this vague synopsis by Christopher Nolan.
Okay, so we also knew that Leo DiCaprio played a thief who enters dreams to steal information and who has been hired to instead plant an idea. We had even seen impressive trailers showing folding streets and one hell of an impressive free-falling, zero-gravity corridor fight. But this "architecture of the mind" line was the closest we got to fully appreciating how complex this film would be. And even if we had any assumptions about how deep we'd need to go down Nolan's dreamscape rabbit hole, he had news for us: Actually... we need to go deeper.
Now, of course, following Inception's massive success, the labyrinthine plot is so well-known that 'inception' has become a far-reaching term for any time a person is susceptible to influence. Heard someone whistling and now have that same earworm burrowed into your head? Inception. Saw a funny animal video on YouTube and now want to get a pug? Inception. Accidentally clicked through to an article on Mail Online and now inexplicably want to take a shower? Inception. In fact, whenever I'm hungry and want to eat earlier than planned, I mention food to my wife and she always, without fail, feels hungry too five minutes later – a ploy that we have come to call 'insnacktion'.
There was a time shortly after release when you couldn't move on the Internet for Xzibit's mugging grin or Leo's narrowed eyes. It's when you reach this level of internet meme-ing that you realise Nolan has performed an inception of his own: embedding the film deep within the public consciousness. Whether it's the plot, the themes, the memorable set-pieces or the BRAHHHHMS that have now worked their way into every action-thriller trailer, various elements of Inception have been implanted in all our minds. And it's all down to Nolan's complete realisation of the concept. As Cobb says: "Once an idea has taken hold of the brain, it's almost impossible to eradicate. An idea that is fully formed, fully understood. That sticks. Right in there somewhere".
And that's the most impressive part of the whole film – exactly how fully-formed the world of Inception is. It's not enough that Cobb and his team invade dreams; we also have the explanations and conceits that work around that very idea. Whether it's the trick of needing a 'kick' to wake up, or just the fact that a full bladder leads to rainy dream weather, Nolan has fleshed out his premise in full. And it's a good thing too, because we all love nothing better than to pick at the logic flaws of sci-fi concepts, but Nolan's lean reasoning here is completely sound, albeit fantastic.
This is best exemplified by the film's time-play. As the reverse-heist traverses across three levels of dreamscape, different members of the team operate at varying speeds as five minutes equates to one hour in each corresponding level below. It's a clever, perfectly-rational idea, explored fully within the film and it not only makes for the kind of cool, super-slow-mo shots needed for a big budget blockbuster to look visually exciting, but it also allows the film to slowly build towards a structure-defying synchronised climax.
Intelligent scripting aside though, the true not-so-secret to Inception's success is Nolan creating an opportunity to create visuals that we have never seen before by freeing himself of the boundaries of reality – this is, after all, a film in which the very context is pure, unfettered imagination. It allows for incredible spectacle, such as the exploding street crates, or cars driving across and upside down on a folded road, but it also allows for brief moments that deliberately flout the laws of physics, such as the Escher-like Penrose Stairs. In discussing the film prior to release, Nolan said: "As soon as you're talking about dreams, the potential of the human mind is infinite. And so the scale of the film has to feel infinite. It has to feel like you could go anywhere by the end of the film. And it has to work on a massive scale".
And work on a massive scale it does, not just in terms of exploring the psyche, and the depths of the human subconscious, but also with locations, spreading across distinctly different dream levels, all with their own visual key – rainy street, snowy landscape etc – to help audiences keep up with what's transpiring where and when.
Let's face it, going back to pre-release when all we had to go on were a few abstract nouns and an extraordinary viral marketing campaign, we had no idea what kind of cohesive, savant-level of story-telling was in store for us. This was at a time when we all thought we were being clever by joking that we all knew the twist ending: OBVIOUSLY DiCaprio would wake up right at the very end to discover that it was all a dream. No one counted on Nolan rising above such a tedious trope by not only establishing the 'dream-within-a-dream' scenario within the first five minutes of the film, but by basing the entire story on that very idea, to the extent that Cobb doesn't wake up to discover it's all been a dream – we are left to decide that for ourselves.
The genius in this film's final riddle is such that in comment threads, internet forums and hell, entire theses there are arguments over the various interpretations and implications of Inception's deliberately ambiguous ending. Personally? I think that the entire film actually takes place in Batman's dream. It would explain why Alfred, Bane, Ra's Al Ghul, Talia Al Ghul, the Scarecrow AND Robin all make an appearance, no? There you go – you're welcome, internet. BRAAAAAHHHHHM.
#10: The Cabin In The Woods by Matt
#9: Kiss Kiss Bang Bang by Matt
#8: Let The Right One In by Neil