Saturday, July 17, 2010

Inception (2010) - It Will Hurt Your Brain

On the Menu: INCEPTION (2010)

Ingredients: Leonardo DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ellen Page, Tom Hardy, Ken Watanabe, Cillian Murphy, Marion Cotillard, Michael Caine, Tom Berenger, Lukas Haas, Dileep Rao and Pete Postlethwaite. Directed by Christopher Nolan. Run time: 148 minutes. Rated: PG-13.

At First Bite: All I needed to be psyched for this film was the preview and the cast/crew list. I'm a huge Joseph Gordon-Levitt fan, and, as I noted in my WHIP IT review, I heart Ellen Page. Also, I've seen all of Christopher Nolan's films and never rated one lower than 4 stars (FOLLOWING, MEMENTO and THE DARK KNIGHT were all 5s, in my opinion).

Dom Cobb (DiCaprio) is an expert in extraction. He goes into someone's dream and steals something the dreamer is trying to keep secret/hidden. So, basically, he's a thief.

He's also a fugitive. If he can complete his final assignment, then his name will be cleared and he can go back to his family. The catch is it's not an extraction. It's inception.

His employer, Saito (Watanabe), wants him to implant an idea into a business rival's subconscious.

Cobb's partner, Arthur (Gordon-Levitt), doesn't think it can work. He believes a dreamer will always know if an idea is innately his/hers.

So, is inception possible? Cobb thinks so. They'll just have to go even deeper into the subconscious than they have before.

Cobb assembles a crack team (in addition to Arthur): an architect named Ariadne (Page), a forger (Hardy) and a chemist (Rao).

Problem is recent assignments have been sabotaged by someone who somehow knows the layouts of the dream worlds.

Will they succeed?

Tough to Swallow: I figured out the significance of the opening scene rather early, i.e., the players and location.

It's all still confusing, but the way I understood the concept of kicks (things set off to upset the dreamer's equilibrium, which causes him/her to awaken) and levels, Arthur, in Level Two, should have woken up when the van initially drove off the bridge in Level One. Right?

Two of the people sitting in my row (both two seats away from me) constantly had their phones out texting someone. Come on. Do we need to walk through a phone detector before going into a movie theater? Obviously, some people do.

Second Helping: Watched the movie again (July 20).

I took extensive notes.

**SPOILER ALERT** I don't think the entire movie is a dream. There are moments when Cobb spins his totem and it stops spinning, which means he's not in a dream. One such moment is right before he speaks to his kids on the phone.

If there's an interpretation I really like, it's that the film is a retelling of the Minotaur story in Greek mythology, where Ariadne helps Theseus find his way out of the maze after defeating the beast. Others have suggested Ariadne is Cobb's therapist, which would go along with the myth in a way. She sets up these elaborate mazes for Cobb to work his way through while fighting his beast, the guilt from Mal's death.

I have two questions that might be important to understanding the movie.
1) Was the top Mal's totem before Cobb started using it?
2) Did Saito and Cobb awaken from limbo because the sedation wore off or because Saito used the gun?

Something to Chew On: This is Nolan's first original work since FOLLOWING (1998).

INCEPTION is a film about sleeping. Nolan's 2002 film INSOMNIA is a film about staying awake.

Nolan initially pitched INCEPTION to Warner Bros. after completing INSOMNIA. The script wasn't written at the time. He had apparently started writing it while shooting MEMENTO (2000), but it ended up taking almost 10 years to finish.

One of the main characters in FOLLOWING is named Cobb, which is also the last name of DiCaprio's character. Both characters are types of burglars.

James Franco was offered the role of Arthur, but had to turn it down due to scheduling conflicts.

Evan Rachel Wood turned down the role of Ariadne. Emily Blunt, Rachel McAdams and Emma Roberts were also considered for the part.

Michael Gaston, who plays Sanford Harris on "Fringe," has a small part as an immigration officer.

Edith Piaf's "Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien" (translated No, I Regret Nothing) is one of the songs in the movie (used as kick music). Cotillard played Piaf in LA VIE EN ROSE, and won an Oscar for her performance.

Some extraction team members carry totems, which are small, private objects the individual uses to help him/her differentiate between reality and the dream world. Ariadne's object is a chess piece (pawn?). Murphy's character is named Robert Fischer, Jr. Former World Chess Champion Bobby Fischer's birth name was Robert Fischer.

In Greek mythology, Ariadne was the one who helped Theseus successfully navigate out of the Minotaur's labyrinth. The first thing Cobb asks Ariadne to do is quickly draw a maze that it would take him a minute to solve. The maze she stumps him on is circular, as is the Minotaur's. Later, she ends up creating even more elaborate mazes within dreams.

In the Quran, the story of Yusuf (also Yusef) begins with a dream and ends with its interpretation.

Cotillard's character is named Mal, which means evil (in French and Latin).

The film currently has a 9.3 user rating on (5,123 votes).

Aftertaste: The movie is all about ideas.

Speaking of ideas, kudos to Nolan for hashing out an original one. I'm tired of all these remakes (although I enjoyed A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET and look forward to DINNER FOR SCHMUCKS).

I don't necessarily understand everything that I saw on screen. Sure, you're taught the principles of extraction and the architecture of dreams along with Ariadne, but that doesn't mean it all makes sense. Some dream concepts will ring true with you though (at least, for me, they did): 1) if you die in a dream, you just wake up and 2) the sense of falling will pull you out of your slumber.

It's on the same level as THE MATRIX and DONNIE DARKO as far as mind-blowing plot goes.

But, as all-consuming as the plot is, to me, it's just a fragment of what makes this film so impressive. The visuals are simply amazing. Seriously, I am more impressed with the look of the dream worlds in this film than I was by anything in AVATAR. There's a never-ending staircase, a cityscape that folds over onto itself, zero-gravity fighting sequences and things exploding everywhere. And that's just a taste, really.

Hans Zimmer's score is sometimes haunting and sometimes beautiful, but it always works.

The acting is top-notch. Sure, the movie spends more time developing DiCaprio's character, but he's the lead. Gordon-Levitt and Page are two of my personal favorites, and they did not disappoint. Hardy is going to be the next break-out actor, in my opinion (see BRONSON). Next to DiCaprio, Cotillard gives the best performance in the movie though. I was pleasantly surprised to see Berenger, who held his own amongst all the young stars.

I plan on seeing this again within the next days, so I'll definitely be adding a Second Helping section.

I've always wondered what it would be like if you could share dreams. After watching INCEPTION, I'm not sure I'd like that.

Just thinking about it gives me a headache.



  1. In response to my question of Arthur and the kicks... Yusuf used a strong sedative, which changed the strengths of the kicks.

    The original time frame for dreams was:
    5 minutes of reality = 1 hour in the dream

    This changes to (if I understood correctly):
    5 minutes = 1 week in Level One
    5 minutes = 6 months in Level Two
    5 minutes = 10 years in Level Three

  2. notes: i'm pretty sure ariadne's totem is a bishop, not a pawn. and yes, the top spinning in the safe indicates that it was mal's totem before cobb used it.

    glad to see this review is so in-depth, tho. most of the ones i've read are too afraid of "spoiling" the plot and/or ending to go into much detail.

  3. I tried to watch more closely the 2nd time I saw the movie. It did seem too big to be a pawn, but, to me, it looked too round to be a bishop.

    So, if the top was Mal's first, then do you think it should really work for Cobb? Wouldn't that defeat the purpose of the totem?

    Thanks for the comments.