Monday, July 19, 2010


I've actually seen several movies since I last reviewed one, like Knight and Day and The A-Team, but those were just fun (some reviewers might say they weren't very good at all or just very standard).

Inception was fun, too, but I can definitely say it wasn't standard.

Without a doubt, Inception is effective storytelling. It's economical with time and plot, making the best use of screen time to not only move the story forward but help bring the audience deeper into the tale. What's the purpose of the opening few scenes? To establish how Cobb is haunted by the projection of Mal? To show nested dreams and the workings of an architect and the dream machines? To establish Saito as not merely a mark but someone who wants something in and of itself?

Arguably, the answer is all these things and more. Cobb's efforts on the bullet train is both a critical introduction to dreams and idea theft in this world, they also give Cobb new motivation--Saito's deal--and make the way for a new character to enter the story: the replacement architect Kitty Pride--er, Juno--er, Ariadne.

Make no mistake, as soon as Araiadne enters the picture, you know you're going to be given more exposition: she's a classic newcomer character who's a stand-in for the audience. She's the Everyman, and as such, she probes the questions we want answered. In this way, Ariadne is underdeveloped, and that's one criticism I have int his move. Not to say I can see how she could've been more developed, but you can notice it pretty easily. When she suggests they keep going even after Fischer's been sent to Limbo, there's a glaring question: why? What is her motivation, her reason? The answer seems to be nothing more than "why not" or "what have we got to lose," and this is...unsatisfying.

But she serves a vital purpose, all the same, asking questions of Cobb that the others won't. There's a reason the Everyman is a trope, after all.

Truly, though, the driving force of this movie is Dom Cobb and Leonardo DiCaprio's performance. His motivations are simple and easy for anyone else to relate. The guilt that haunts him is no less than terrifying. To think that, in trying to help someone we love come back to reality, we can be inadvertently responsible for driving them even further to madness...who wouldn't feel guilty? The revelation that Cobb performed an inception on Mal, that this was why he was so certain it could be done to Fischer---it puts the movie into complete focus. It's a stunning moment. And it works.

I once read that a critical thing to do in a world that doesn't work like ours is to establish, at least to yourself, the writer, what the characters can and can't do and then make sure the audience understands that, too. Doing this is important: by preestablishing the boundaries, you make failures into consequences, not chance happenings, and plot is all about action and consequence. Look at the rules of the dream: what happens when you manipulate the dream (you piss off constructs and draw more and more attention), what happens when you die (you wake up). The only weakness I'd say exists is in the idea of limbo being so quickly introduced; knowing they had a 3-level dream in place, Limbo should've been mentioned way before they were in the first level dream of Fischer's facing his weaponized constructs. So you can see what's done well and what's not (even if Cobb's prior experience in Limbo sorta makes up for it).

Inception is a strong movie, united in theme and personal motivation. There are weaknesses, but they're not dominant. You could say this movie is almost a class in how to tell a story, particularly with an ending that's just screwy enough to make you guess. We don't know the final fates of the characters. We don't need to, not for all of them. This movie is about Cobb, and once he's back with his children, nothing else really matters. Yes, even whether the top will stay spinning or fall.

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