Aha, Mr Christopher Nolan, welcome to the much-coveted number three spot. I also think it’s safe to say that this is the most recent film on my list. I’m sure we’ve always had the experience of seeing some cool new flick in the cinema (usually the Summer) and walked out of it declaring it our new favourite movie of all time and then when the DVD comes out we rush out to buy it and watch the whole thing all over again. Then we go “meh it’s alright now” and move our attention onto the next cool new flick. However this is one of those films that I don’t think I could ever get tired of watching, though admittedly I haven’t seen it that many times. Be prepared because the next paragraph will probably screw with your mind a little.
Meet Dom Cobb and Arthur Darling, two Americans living abroad for different reasons. If the film mentions why Arthur is then I wasn’t paying attention but Cobb is living out of the country because he has been falsely accused of killing his wife (long story but don’t worry, there’s a suitable half hour devoted to that plotline). Cobb is making a living using a very special technique – he and Arthur are able to break into a person’s subconscious and extract information while they are dreaming. This next job they are being assigned to is for a rich Japanese tycoon Mr Saito who wants them to perform a complex procedure called “inception” which is the reverse of what they normally do – planting an idea within someone’s mind. Saito wants them to enter the mind of Robert Fischer, the son of a rival energy conglomerate, and convince him to break up his father’s empire when he dies. In exchange for this, Saito offers to use his power to clear Cobb of the charges against him and therefore allow him to re-enter America and be with his children again. Cobb brings together a special team of experts to pull this job off successfully – an identity forger Eames, a chemist who concocts the sedative needed to keep them all under and newcomer Ariadne whose job is to design the labyrinth of the dream landscapes. In the days leading up to the job Ariadne discovers that Cobb isn’t quite over his wife’s death and his subconscious projection of her has a tendency to enter his dreams and make trouble for him.
I had a Movie Appreciation class a few months back where my lecturer started to talk about that since video games have become so detailed and intricate that a lot of films are now borrowing a lot of ideas and formulas for them. I definitely touched on some of that with Run, Lola, Run and Final Fantasy obviously but my lecturer actually mentioned this film by name. Then of course she had to blow her whole argument by pretty much revealing she’d never seen the film by saying it was more about action than any character development. If there is a film out there that has a better balance between action and character development than this one, please point it out to me. Christopher Nolan showed with the likes of Following and The Prestige that he can do great character studies and intense dramatic plots while showing with Batman Begins and The Dark Knight that he can do action so they all come together dramatically for this. And yeah I do agree with the first thing my lecturer said in that there is a lot of inspiration that came from video games, specifically with the different levels of the dreams. In a sense the dreams themselves are like the characters’ own personal video game especially with the amount of work that has to go into designing them.
It seems like almost a foregone conclusion that I’m going to mention the all-star cast this time around. I’m pretty iffy on Leonardo Di Caprio and I never knew much about him to suitably hate him like the majority of people seemed to do in the years following Titanic but he’s definitely been able to shake off that hatedom and gain respect as an actor. I enjoyed his character in this and I just remember watching Shutter Island a few weeks later and mistakenly thinking of his character in that as Cobb. It didn’t help that he had just lost his wife in that film as well. Oh and bonus points to anyone who remembered that Cobb was also the name of the protagonist in Nolan’s first film Following and it is indeed him that Cobb in this is named after. Joseph Gordon Levitt is a pretty underrated actor in my opinion but he has been getting a lot more work lately after his role in this which was pretty good as well. I think he definitely got the best action scenes because who can beat kicking ass while in zero-gravity? I nearly choked when I saw Tom Hardy since all I knew him from at that point was playing Heathcliff in a TV adaptation of Wuthering Heights I watched to sub in for studying for my English exams. You know when you put a badass Brit in a film who isn’t some form of slapstick comedy or evil genius then you have me sold.
My future wife Ellen Page returns after nearly 100 days absence and she must be the only actress to not appear between films 98 and 3 at all. And being a Greek mythology buff I got the significance of the name Ariadne straight away (it was Princess Ariadne who gave Theseus the magic thread so he could escape from the labyrinth). Her rival Oscar nominee Marion Cotillard plays Mal, Cobb’s dead wife, and is genuinely freaky whenever she’s on screen. I’m wondering if Michelle Williams took notes when filming Shutter Island because they do seem like similar characters. Cillian Murphy makes another appearance in my list playing a nice guy for a change though it does seem that Christopher Nolan enjoys putting bags over his head whenever he has him in a film. There’s also a charming little cameo from Michael Caine.
Really I enjoyed every scene in the dream universe. There’s just always something about creating dream sequences where it’s fascinating to see how filmmakers imagine them and design them. Here they went in a completely new angle by making them as realistic as possible but with some sci-fi twists added to them. The first impressive one comes where Ariadne gets introduced to the physics of everything and it results in her folding half of the Paris boulevards on top of each other and creating an entire bridge out of nowhere. I especially love the part where she produces a glass door and opens it to reveal a walkway and then just shatters the glass. The scenes in limbo are pretty expertly designed as well but I won’t go into too much detail in case I spoil one of the directions the movie goes in. Let me just say that if you aren’t keeping up with the plot then you can just sit back and admire the architecture. Until it starts destroying itself anyway.
I mentioned above that Arthur gets the best action scene in the movie and it comes from the second dream level where the entire hotel is thrown into zero-gravity because the van from the first level has just gone over a bridge. It’s a pretty cooly done scene to say the least. Then there’s the third dream level which involves a snowstorm and a whole lot of gun fighting. I think The Matrix just got completely owned in every possible way.
Now there’s a big discussion constantly going on about the ending so naturally spoiler alert and all that. To be honest, I never got anything mysterious or ambiguous about it. I don’t know maybe people don’t want to accept a neat little happy ending like that or maybe they want to see an extra twist added on but I never really thought that Cobb was still dreaming. The totem wobbling was enough for me and something Nolan has said about this scene is that people are missing the basic point – Cobb isn’t looking at the totem, he’s looking at his children’s faces finally and he is happy where he is. So really it doesn’t matter if he’s dreaming or not because he’s finally happy with where he is. Of course if you think he is still dreaming then that’s fine as well. Now I’ve had dreams about Facebook notifications but let’s see if I can have one where I get a massive surge of Twitter followers. Or just give me one of those in reality.