Friday, July 23, 2010

Film Review | Inception

Say Goodnight, Leo
by Thomas Delapa

Even before the summer started, perhaps no other major Hollywood release created more anticipation than Inception, a potential sci-fi blockbuster about a team of cerebral thieves who break into people’s dreams and steal their deepest, most lucrative secrets. With Leonardo DiCaprio on board and writer and director Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight) at the helm, this was the sort of movie that box-office dreams are made of.

Chock-full of surreal settings, mind-bending special effects and roller-coaster action, Inception definitely won’t put you to sleep. But like most dreams, you’re likely to forget about it in the morning.

You never know which way is up (or out) in this mega-budget fantasy spectacular, which might even leave Freud scratching his head. Nolan’s fractured plot conjures up dreams within dreams within dreams, giving audiences the slightly nauseous feeling of being trapped inside artist M.C. Escher’s impossible, Mobius-strip staircases. Too glib for his own good, Nolan rarely provides as much as a handrail.

Double-espresso intense, DiCaprio is Dom Cobb, a troubled dream weaver haunted by memories of his wife (Marion Cotillard). A high-tech Ulysses in exile, Cobb just wants to go home and live with his two kids. To do that, like many a Hollywood crook before him, he’ll have to pull one last job. Hired by a Japanese businessman (Ken Watanabe), Cobb and his impossible-dream team must get into the head of a wealthy heir (Cillian Murphy) and manipulate him into breaking up his father’s energy empire. To fully buy into Cobb’s madcap pseudo-scientific methods, you’ll have to more than suspend disbelief: You’ll have to expel it entirely.

The uncanny affinity between dreams and the cinema seems to be on Nolan’s mind, at least at Inception’s intriguing beginning. (How ironic that Freud’s Interpretation of Dreams appeared in 1899, only four years after France’s Lumiere brothers first screened motion pictures.) Like movies, dreams have a logic and reality all their own, create fabulous worlds and can magically whisk the dreamer from place to place and time to time. Desperate to keep his wife’s memory alive, Cobb artificially clings to his own dreams and memories of her. Yet her presence is so strong, at times sinister, she stubbornly pops up at the most inconvenient times while he’s on his illicit dream jobs.

With a slew of exotic locations from Morocco to Tokyo and the trippy special effects, this production must have been a nightmare to shoot. It also must have been Nolan’s dream to whip up a Matrix-like box-office phenomenon. Ever since Memento, his memorable 2000 breakthrough, the British director has all too readily merged into Hollywood’s fast lane, passing up novel, low-budget substance for mass-market pulp. His recent comment to Entertainment Weekly that “it’s not a film that confuses people” still has me scratching my head. In fact, that’s all Inception does, especially when he tacks on a predictable twist that’s far from rousing.

Anyone not daydreaming will notice how often the characters are forced to explain the plot, primarily because the spectacularly overblown action can’t. Cobb and his crew constantly invent and reinvent the rules for their fantastic voyages into the unconscious, tossing out so much arcane jargon (“the kick,” “limbo”) that you’ll feel like you’re in a Scientology psychology class.

So after all the resounding sound and fury that struck me like a James Bond movie on L.S.D., you may be forced to wonder, as one character does, “Whose subconscious are we going into, exactly?” If you think Nolan really has a good answer, well, dream on.


Originally published in Conducive Chronicle, 7/22/10

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