Christopher Nolan’s Inception is a film that requires high levels of mental engagement from its audience. It’s the summer blockbuster that might have been concocted had Freud, Dali, Esher, Lacan, Baudrillard and Jung been able to brainstorm a movie together. But this is not a committee-made picture. It’s the singular vision of one of cinema’s most visionary contemporary directors, Christopher Nolan. It’s an expansive, ambitious, unlikely triumph that started with an idea from an artist, expanded with the resources of designers, actors, technicians and a movie studio, and is now filtering into the consciousness of moviegoers worldwide. Such is the power of inception. An idea conceived.

This is not a film about emotions or characters. It’s not Toy Story 3 and will not make you cry. But that’s ok. It’ll make you think. Man will it make you think.

Unlike any film I can remember, Inception surely puts the psychological in “psychological thriller.” This is a film that is about the mind, takes place in the mind, and will stick in your mind. It’s energy comes not from explosions or cheap thrills but from the steady, deliberate way that it wraps itself around your brain, python like, a tighter and tighter coil as the film goes along.

To say Inception is a layered film is a vast understatement. It is about the idea of ideas on so many levels: 1) The plot: A group of hired professionals who plant an idea into someones subconscious via shared dreaming, with the hopes that the seed of an idea–the “inception”–will grow to a predictable, causal conclusion. 2) The form: The film’s visual style and narrative structure evoke the labyrinth-type trajectory that an idea embodies as it is born, expands, and takes unexpected turns. 3) The ideas raised: By the end of the film, the audience is left with ideas to consider. One in particular (I won’t spoil it) is foreshadowed throughout the film and encapsulated in the closing shot. It’s a familiar meta idea (The Matrix raised it 10+ years ago) but fits particularly comfortably in this film, which oddly seems more real (even in dreamscape) than most “realist” films one might encounter.

Some have complained that this film doesn’t develop its characters or make us care for them. One hardly should expect time for that in a film so frantically and economically devoted to taking us down the wormhole of consciousness, memory, and idea inception. And what does it actually mean to “care about the characters” anyway? If Inception reminds us of anything, it is that film–like our dreams–is ultimately about us. We are the ones whose minds puts flickering images together. We are the ones who connect the dots and navigate the maze. Characters in our dreams–like Leonardo DiCaprio playing  some fictitious protagonist or Joseph Gordon-Levitt doing cool gravity-defying fight scenes–are important only insofar as we see ourselves in them, or recognize some curiosity about the world through what they say and do.  In the case of Inception (and particularly by the end), what’s most interesting is how we the audience make sense of the chaos, where our minds go, and what we ultimately conclude (I think Michael Haneke’s White Ribbon is another stellar example of this).

In my case, what I concluded is that I am finally going to get around to reading Richard Weaver’s classic book Ideas Have Consequences.


12 responses to “Inception

  1. Good luck with Ideas Have Consequences. I had to read it for a class sophomore year. It was very interesting, but the chapter on music especially got under my skin.

    As far as Inception goes, I can’t wait to see it, but unfortunately I’m not in the States right now, so my options are limited. Nolan is one of the best American directors currently making films, I think he’s proven that.

  2. Great thoughts, especially on how we “care about the characters.” Coincidentally, I watched “Inception” Saturday morning and “The White Ribbon” Saturday evening. Five hours of film that require the utmost level of concentration and awareness. My brain hurt afterwards in the best kind of way.

  3. Philip Marinello

    I loved Inception as well. Not sure why some are saying they didn’t care about the characters, I found just about all of them compelling. And I didn’t cry, but I did choke up at the end (more than I did in Toy Story 3). All around great film that affirms my love for Chris Nolan’s work that much more and makes me excited about the future of science-fiction cinema (last year District 9, now this!) and look forward to Nolan’s next film.

  4. I wanted to love this film so very badly Brett, but found it merely mediocre despite the technical virtuosity and some admittedly striking set-pieces. Sigh. The film requires the utmost viewer attention and, as you put it, “high levels of mental engagement”, not because of any inherent thematic complexity or genuine intricacy of plot, ideas, or symbolic, subconscious associations as a genuine masterpiece would (a la great surrealist art or an Alan Renais film) , but because there is SO MUCH exposition and explanation of its own narrative conceit and the logic of its own universe! The relentless pacing and expert delivery by the actors managed to obscure the heavy-handed nature of the proceedings and the essential hollowness of the plot, but a closer examination of the entire film reveals hardly anything profound- the central story involving Cobb’s dead wife is conventional and typically melodramatic, and the purpose for the heist that is at the heart of the movie- i.e. the elimination of a cooperate rival- is utterly mundane and thematically unrelated to anything else going on. Also fatal is the obligatory shoot-out action scenes, which were particularly uninvolving and arbitrary in the third-level arctic scenes. As for the much-talked-about lack of characterization, I can’t help but join the camp of the naysayers- it’s problematic for a film that devotes so much time to dealing with the mind to have so little interest in adding depth and human dimensions to the characters. Other than a brief (and completely random and unanticipated) kissing scene between Arthur and Ariadne, there is nothing human about these characters. They are strictly mouthpieces for expositions and for advancing the functionality of the story. We care about them only insofar as they are “good guys”, not because they are particularly interesting or likable (how can they be? We hardly know anything about them).

    Nolan has made some terrific films (Dark Knight remains a recent favorite) but more than any other films he’s done in the past, INCEPTION reveals his glaring shortcomings as a storyteller. He’s clever, technically proficient, and adapt at creating puzzles and lean narratives, but he’s no visionary. His dealing with human interests has always been strictly functional and rudimentary, lacking in mystery and poetry. Behind the manufactured intricacy of his work, the pieces of his puzzles don’t amount to anything consequential or truly soul-stirring. This was true of films like “Memento” and “the Prestige”, and it’s especially true with this film.

    (I’m going to be posting my own review on the Windrider Forum site soon. Stay tuned for more negativity! Haha.)

    • Good thoughts Eugene, and well-articulated. I still think it’s a pretty wonderful film–not a masterpiece, but still a huge, visionary (yes I did use that word!) achievement. I think for me, a film doesn’t necessarily have to “amount to anything consequential or truly soul-stirring” to be considered an unqualified triumph. This is a film with truly original ideas, arresting visuals, and mind-blowing narrative complexity. And it’s a film that average moviegoers who never discuss movies are STILL talking about. That has to count for something.

  5. I’m so excited to see what you think of Weaver! My friend and I are slogging through IHC as a capstone for thoughtful conservatism. It’s particularly good in its arguments against positivism and materialism, generally.

  6. I agree Brett- a film doesn’t have to be soul-stirring or aesthetically consequential to be considered a triumph. In hindsight, I think I was reacting more to the critical/audience furor than to the film that Nolan actually made. I was able to appreciate its virtues more the second time (I give everything a second chance! Except for maybe “the Last Airbender”) I still don’t think it’s a masterpiece, and it’s still somewhat disappointing to me that the puzzles which have inspired so much debate are self-contained when they could have led to further illuminations about matters beyond the film itself. But to be fair, it is a very strong film on its own term and, for a Hollywood action thriller, it is practically a miracle.

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  8. All that mentioned, it can be in fact refreshing to check out a film not depending on a comic book, not determined by an aged television present, and not a remake that in no way needed being manufactured inside earliest position. This really is it, folks, the a single blockbuster this summer time that are going to be worth the cash you set down for it.

  9. So, I watched this movie, and it had a negative effect on my spirit. DO NOT WATCH THIS MOVIE. It infiltrates your mind. They say one of the lies that Satan has fabricated is to convince man he never existed. It is full of everything that is against the story of the Cross and redemption. When I got out of the movie, I literally didn’t feel real. My friends the next day prayed over me saying my light has turned to gray. So, all and all, I would say it’s a movie that still is stuck in my memory. Still have a weird desire to see it again.. totally my flesh. But for sure my favorite part was: “Other than a brief (and completely random and unanticipated) kissing scene between Arthur and Ariadne, there is nothing human about these characters.” Too cute. Okay, well. LORD, please expose the DECEPTION IN INCEPTION.

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  11. Pingback: Inception » Pierced to the Heart

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