A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 306 – Inception

Inception – December 31st, 2010

This was, perhaps, not the best of plans for tonight. We bought it just before Christmas and held off on watching it what with the Christmas movies we had at the time. Then our schedules just didn’t accommodate a movie this long and then we found Hogfather and wanted to watch that before today. So it just got put off, and so we thought we’d watch it on New Year’s Eve. After all, we already watched our one New Year’s specific movie (Strange Days, watched way back at the beginning of the project), so we weren’t going to have something holiday themed for tonight. And then we decided to have dinner with my parents and things took a lot longer than we planned and here we are, watching the movie at my mother’s house because if we don’t start it now, we won’t finish by midnight.

The trouble here is that we’re rushed. Of course you can’t really literally rush a movie without putting it on fast forward, but it feels rushed. We’re starting before dinner, watching while we wait for things to cook. And before the movie is over we’ll pause it to eat, because by then it will be quite late indeed. And then we’ll watch more of it later. And this isn’t a movie I want to watch in pieces. It’s convoluted enough as it is, without complicating it with pauses. Oh well. We’ll just have to cope.

I love this movie, but I have to admit I have some issues with it. Or rather, not with the movie itself but with the fuss around it. See, a movie like this, with so much going on and so many twists and turns and secrets and metaphors, with the concept of multi-level dreaming and the questions of the nature of reality and the human mind? It is the stuff people love to analyze. This is a movie that invites prodding and poking and picking apart. But, well. I don’t want to poke it too much and end up breaking it in my own head. Because when I walked out of the theater after seeing it the first time I thought it was fantastic. And I loved all the layers and levels and questions. But I don’t really want to answer everything.

The plot is science fiction corporate espionage. In a world where it is possible to share dreams with other people, to design dreams other people will have, to sneak into other people’s heads via their subconscious dream-state, Extraction is the ultimate tool for corporate espionage. Dom Cobb is one of the best in the business and he is hired not to steal a concept, but to implant one. Inception, as it’s called, is thought to be nearly impossible, as planting an idea requires making the person it’s planted in believe they came up with it themselves. So Cobb has quite a job ahead of him. He puts together a team to work with him. There’s Arthur, his right hand man who deals with the technology that allows dreams to be shared and who does background research on their target. There’s Yusuf, a chemist who puts together a sedative that will keep the team asleep through the job. There’s Eames, a forger who will insert people into the dreams. There’s Ariadne, the architect who designs the various dream levels and teaches them to the others. There’s Saito, their employer who comes along to keep an eye on things. And then there’s Cobb. Who has secrets and guilt and far more experience with the deeper levels of dreams than he’s willing to talk about. All together they’re targeting Fischer, a young man who has just inherited his father’s corporate legacy.

The trouble is that Cobb’s secrets involve his late wife and the time they spent in the deepest level of dreams – limbo – together. Mal, his wife, shows up in his dreams, finding a way to sabotage everything whenever she finds him. And while the base story is about the team trying to plant an idea in Fisher’s head for Saito, the deeper story is about Cobb and the nature of reality. The nature of his reality. His guilt about Mal and his memories and his search for a way to get home. Cobb believes that he’s managed inception before, and that’s what caused Mal’s death. It permeates everything in his mind, which means it permeates the movie. That and the question of what is real? That is the plot of the movie.

It’s all told in layers. The whole story with Cobb’s wife isn’t revealed until you’re inside one of his dreams, and you only find out more details by going deeper and deeper into his head. And the deeper you go, the less clear reality becomes. The nature of the plot with Mal and Cobb calls into question whether Cobb is really aware of what reality is, and therefore it calls into question the movie’s whole setting. Is it all even really happening? There are clues and hints all over the place, from the top that doesn’t topple to the musical cues to Cobb’s wedding band. We’re meant to wonder about it all and try to figure it out.

The problem here is that I don’t think there are definitive answers. There’s opinion and analysis, but not concrete answers. This isn’t math. It’s English. So whether there are three or four or five dream layers going on is really up to interpretation and the viewer. Whether Cobb is asleep or awake isn’t something that ever has one right answer. Will the top keep spinning after the movie goes to credits or no? We don’t know. We’re not supposed to know. We’re supposed to wonder and interpret, much in the way we wonder about and interpret our own dreams.

One of the problems I had with my undergraduate major was that I truly felt there was no way to say “No, that cannot mean what you think it means.” So much of literary analysis is a melding of the outside world with the inner mind through the window of the work being analyzed. How do you say that what’s in someone else’s head is wrong? You might not agree with it, but that’s the nature of individual thought. So if some people want to argue one way for this movie, and others want to argue the opposite? I can live with that. Personally, I’m just pleased with the movie itself.

It is a fine work of art with a load of clever layers built in, right up to a potential meta layer that is the movie as a sort of dream, being experienced by the audience. I enjoy every performance in the movie, from Leonardo DiCaprio as Cobb to the ubiquitous Michael Caine as his father-in-law. I feel I would be remiss if I did not mention the entire cast, in fact. Marion Cotillard as Mal, Ken Watanabe as Saito, Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Arthur (looking very snappy indeed, in his suit – and might I mention his awesome spinning-set action scene?), Tom Hardy as Eames, Dileep Rao as Yusuf, Ellen Page as Ariadne and Cillian Murphy as Fischer. And then there’s some smaller roles, with Tom Berenger and Pete Postlethwaite as people close to Fisher. The whole cast is excellent. And I love that. While it’s muchly a story of Cobb and Mal, the movie wouldn’t work without excellent performances from everyone else.

I don’t want to poke this movie too hard or with too sharp a stick. I love it for the strange and beautiful thing that it is. I’ve heard people questioning its logic and unraveling its layers, peeling them apart and trying to find fault with them. I’ve read bits and pieces of criticism that deconstructs the movie in a way that ignores how it was constructed in the first place. And while I do love knowing how a trick works, I also love seeing it in motion, and this movie in motion is wonderful. Stopping it to pick it apart just doesn’t work for me. It’s probably for the same reason I don’t try to analyze my dreams. They’re dreams. Maybe they mean something. Maybe not. In that case and in this, I’d rather just enjoy.

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December 31, 2010 - Posted by | daily reviews | , , ,

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