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 V.19 No.28 | July 15 - 21, 2010 

Film Review


Christopher Nolan’s newest takes viewers on a major head-trip

Inception (2010)

Directed by Christopher Nolan

Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ellen Page, Marion Cotillard, Michael Caine

“Housekeeping! Do you need any towels?”
“Housekeeping! Do you need any towels?”
Are you familiar with brain freeze? That icy, slightly painful but ultimately exhilarating sensation you get from sucking down a slushie or other tasty frozen beverage? It kinda hurts, but you kinda want more. Inception is hell of a lot like that.

Inception comes to us from the big, fat cranium of writer/director Christopher Nolan (Memento, Insomnia, Batman Begins, The Prestige, The Dark Knight). Whereas most summer blockbusters are overloaded with brawn, Inception is overstuffed with brains. Not that the film lacks action. There’s plenty of big-budget razzle-dazzle. But it’s all wrapped around a plot that’s part mind-bender, part head-trip, part “I’m gonna have to watch that again to figure out what the hell just happened.” So are audiences ready for a thinking man’s sci-fi action thriller? We’ll see.

The cast alone is enough to land asses in seats. Leonardo DiCaprio heads an impressive list as Cobb, a mysterious thief with a shadowy past. Cobb’s no common burglar, either. He specializes in breaking and entering—people’s heads, that is. In Nolan’s nonspecific, sometime-in-the-near-future world, drug technology allows us to enter the dreams of other sleeping humans. Cobb’s job is to sneak into those dreamworlds and wheedle out top-secret information for select, high-paying clients.

After a job inside the mind of an energy company executive (Ken Watanabe) goes wrong, Cobb finds himself blackmailed (more or less) into performing what is considered an impossible task. Instead of stealing information, Cobb has got to break inside the brain of a soon-to-be corporate heir (Cillian Murphy) and plant a crucial piece of information.

Cobb assembles a team of forgers, architects and chemists (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ellen Page and Michael Caine chief among them) and starts formulating a plan. It’s a complicated setup, one that requires quite a bit of explanation. Nolan wisely gives us just enough to get by and forges ahead with the crazy story.

“I had a dream I was on this great, big ocean liner and it was sinking.”
“I had a dream I was on this great, big ocean liner and it was sinking.”
Inception plays out like a crackerjack Ocean’s Eleven or Mission: Impossible-style heist thriller. Only, in addition to taking place in various exotic locals (Paris, Tokyo, the Middle East), Inception also takes place inside several people’s minds. This could have opened the floodgates for all sorts of trippy, Dreamscape / What Dreams May Come / The Lovely Bones-inspired imagery. But Nolan sets up some hard-and-fast rules. The glossy urban dreamworlds are carefully constructed by imaginative architects. Mess with the physics or the landscapes too much and people’s minds start rebelling, recognizing that this isn’t the real world. Of course, good dream architects still have a few tricks up their sleeves.

Nolan is smart enough to dispense with the hoary “dream within a dream” concept right away. Kid’s stuff! By the end, our main characters are trapped four levels deep within a dream, racing against time, unable to tell real from fake and trying to escape up the chain of dreams before it all collapses into mind-melting nothingness.

Yes, at that point in the narrative, it takes quite a bit of brainpower to keep track of what’s going on exactly. But Nolan pulls a deft sleight of hand, distracting viewers with some slam-bang chase scenes, a few explosive shoot-outs, a cliffhanger or two and a couple of real doozy SFX sequences. Gordon-Levitt’s manic fight in a hotel without gravity, for example, is a perfect example of this film’s inventive nature. Admittedly, the film gets a bit too dense toward the end of its 148-minute runtime. A James Bondian assault on a snowbound fortress of secrets near the bottom of the dream chain seems to go on for quite a long time. Of course, Nolan seems well aware of this and may even be playing a little joke on audiences with it. The overstuffed-to-bursting climax of the film technically unfolds over the five or so seconds it takes for a van full of dreaming passengers to fall off a bridge. It could be the longest slo-mo scene in movie history.

For some, the devilish complication of Inception will be too much. I haven’t even touched on half the subplots. It’s a lot to absorb in one viewing. Happily, the film invites another. And possibly another. Hell, you’ll probably just have to buy the DVD when it comes out. Wildly original, fiendishly smart and comfortingly familiar, Inception is an exhausting, exhilarating mind game dropped smack dab in the middle of the summer movie season.


From the big, fat cranium of writer-director Christopher Nolan (Memento, Insomnia, The Prestige, The Dark Knight) comes this thinking man's sci-fi action thriller. Leonardo DiCaprio leads an impressive cast as a futuristic sneakthief who gets paid to break into people's dreams and steal valuable information. The film plays out like a crackerjack Ocean's Eleven- or Mission: Impossible-style heist--only, in addition to taking place in assorted exotic locals, it also takes place in several people's heads. By the end, it gets mighty hard to keeps straight who's doing what where, but repeated viewings are encouraged. 148 minutes PG-13.

Public Comments (19)
  • It was good.  [ Sat Jul 17 2010 5:56 PM ]

    A little slow at times; most of the action and complexity were just a (necessary) distraction from its m. night moment, but it was good.

  • Echo  [ Sat Jul 17 2010 8:34 PM ]

    Add my voice to the praise, but also to commend Devin's review. Great job getting into the specifics without spoiling anything. I thought it was well-done and definitely commands a repeat viewing.

  • Pretty good stuff  [ Mon Jul 19 2010 11:34 AM ]

    I thoroughly enjoyed it. Even though it had Ellen Page (I can't stand that precocious, self absorbed little bitch; she thinks she is so clever) but the movie was good enough that I didn't mind her.

    Leonardo DiCaprio is one solid actor. He does every role well. Talented guy.

    And I could watch Marion Cotillard for days on end. She is so lovely.

    I plan on watching it again when it hits dvd.

  • Excellent  [ Mon Jul 19 2010 12:57 PM ]

    and not nearly as hard to follow as many people have suggested (of course, I have been giving myself heavy doses of David Lynch lately, so everything seems easy to follow in comparison). It was a smart movie with equally-strong elements of so many different genres; it didn't know if it was an action, sci-fi or drama flick, but that seemed to work so well for it. Christopher Nolan FTW!

  • It's "Dream as LAN Party"  [ Sun Jul 25 2010 9:44 AM ]

    You've got your dreamer (the server), network cabling (the suitcase full of squiggly wires), and the players (the clients). That snow level was straight out of Goldeneye (the N64 game).

    All the dream level shit was interesting, if totally arbitrary (e.g. why does dream recursion stop at level 3?) but whatever happened to characters and conflict? Who is Michael Caine and why is he in the movie for four lousy minutes? Oh never mind.

    Also, shameless abuse of music cues on this scale should result in some kind of fine or citation. Do you really have to hit me over the head with your stupid DUH-DUH-DUH-DUH score so I stay awake? I guess you do.

    Saw it on the humongous Century Rio XD screen. Nice seats. Center channel was drowned out by the explosions and score, though.

    Last edited [7/25/10 9:54 AM]
  • Toy Story 3: Inception  [ Mon Jul 26 2010 9:49 AM ]

    Funny ...

    Play Youtube Video

  • MIssion Impossible meets the Matrix  [ Mon Aug 30 2010 1:23 AM ]

    Imagine the Matrix on steroids with assignments that kill and you've got Inception. Plenty of loose ends, but an entertaining ride!

  • Agreed  [ Mon Aug 30 2010 11:29 AM ]

    I'm not a summer movie enthusiast, but this was a fun little joy ride. Better than the Matrix.

  • Erk. Mph. Mrklpp.  [ Mon Aug 30 2010 1:46 PM ]

    It was not better than The Matrix.

  • But it was better than the Matrix sequels  [ Mon Aug 30 2010 2:09 PM ]

    Then again, so was my root canal.

  • IMHO  [ Mon Aug 30 2010 2:17 PM ]

    The Matrix pulled a bunch of stunts that hadn't been done before. But, c'mon. "That's loco, Neo" Keanu? I'd take inception over that any day.

  • Inception is a very long  [ Mon Aug 30 2010 3:14 PM ]

    (albeit enjoyable) shaggy dog story. It's a magic trick that stretches on long after the magician has palmed your card. Granted, that's part of its showmanship and it does introduce and follow some cool sci fi concepts, but it's pacing is off and it just isn't a ground-breaking film like the Matrix.

  • I was gonna do a "hater's delight" on Inception  [ Mon Aug 30 2010 3:53 PM ]

    Maybe I still will. But I better do it soon, before everybody forgets about it.

    There's some funny criticisms out there. It's a very polarizing film. My main beef: nothing that happens matters. Fight in the hotel room? Doesn't matter. Car plummeting over the bridge? Doesn't matter. Is the whole movie a dream? Doesn't matter. Is that spinning top going to topple over? Doesn't … well, you get the idea.

  • I think the hate  [ Mon Aug 30 2010 4:37 PM ]

    has to do with the fact that this was released many years after The Matrix, and by now the themes that were groundbreaking upon its release have to be reconfigured now to avoid countless comparisons and inevitable boredom. Ask yourselves, if the release dates of these two movies were switched, would you still feel the same way about them?

    I also think Christopher Nolan is a much more talented director than the Wachowski brothers, so that may bias my opinion a tad.

  • Matrix, Memento  [ Mon Aug 30 2010 8:30 PM ]

    I thought both those films were awesome, great examples of a micro-era of late-90s/early-oughts trans-real cinema that threw the gauntlet down and demanded a re-assessment of filmic perception. (I'd stick Being John Malkovich and Existenz in there as well.) But every Christopher Nolan film post-Memento is SO pretentious and "heavy" and every post-Matrix Wachowski film is such a sad exercise in failed storytelling that those guys have peaked, as far as I'm concerned. Inception gets props for stirring things up and inciting debate. But then again, so did Speed Racer. Doesn't make either a film for the ages.

    One thing The Matrix did right, though: kung fu.

  • Inceptionauts  [ Tue Sep 14 2010 10:20 AM ]

    The great thing about using Psychonauts for an Inception mashup is that the final product doesn't stray far from the game itself (which is more enjoyable than inception in lots of ways, though both tend to break down in the platforming):

    Play Youtube Video

    Last edited [9/14/10 11:28 AM]
  • More proof  [ Tue Sep 14 2010 11:26 AM ]

    ... that music cues and fancy editing can be applied to just about any source material to make it look like an exciting Hollywood blockbuster. Your brain wants to believe there's some narrative behind it, so it connects the dots.

    Last edited [9/14/10 11:28 AM]
  • Late to the party  [ Wed Feb 16 2011 5:17 PM ]

    I was hoping for more Momento and less The Prestige.

  • Christopher Nolan = M. Night Shylaman  [ Thu Feb 17 2011 1:49 PM ]

    OK, he's not that bad. He's less inept. But his bombastic films make me feel almost as annoyed as M. Night's craptastic ones. And neither filmmaker has much to say. Each of their films (with the possible exception of Memento) exists in a solipsistic void where everything seems significant but nothing really is.

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