Christopher Nolan is a hack. There, I said it. When I first saw Inception (2010) in the theater, I confess I got caught up in its intricacies and thought it was far more brilliant than what it is, actually. So good did I think it was that I invited my friend (the same that had made the infamous Zardoz decision) to see it with me, a second viewing for me and first for him. He thought it was dumb from the word go. I could not understand his position, and to this day I cannot remember exactly what he said that made the whole house of cards that is Inception come crashing down. But basically it is this: when you really think about its elements, none of it makes a lick of sense. When you start pulling on this thread and watch it through this lens as I did last night, it comes off as just a bunch of things being made up as the story goes along.
The beginning of Inception does no favors to understanding what is going on. It starts with Cobb’s (Leonardo DiCaprio) unconscious body washing up on some random beach. Guards pick him up and bring him into the presence of a very old Saito (Ken Watanabe), and they mutter a conversation to each other that is unconnected to anything you have seen happen up to that point. Then whammo, onto the next scene. It is in the same room with the two of the same people, but this time we are introduced to Cobb’s partner Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt). We catch them in the middle of a discussion having to do with Saito’s security of some kind. Then whammo, onto yet another scene where all three are asleep in a room being monitored by yet another partner, Nash (Lukas Haas). This time they are in some kind of third world city-scape with a full-blown riot slowly approaching their apartment. Then whammo, all four are on a train in Japan. Now, there is a connection between all of these scenes, except for the first and that one will not be revisited until the very end. The string that brings the other three together are dreams. In the world of Inception, it is possible for people to place themselves in the dream of another and essentially steal their thoughts. However, this is seemingly not what Cobb and his partner are doing to Saito, but instead trying to convince him of their talents. Saito is sufficiently impressed as he hires them to perform an even more difficult feat on his main business competitor, Robert Fischer (Cillian Murphy). Instead of taking something from Fischer’s mind, Saito wants Cobb to plant something, in this case the idea that his business is getting too big (mostly) and it is this process that gives the movie its name. Cobb comes up with a convoluted plan involving dreams within dreams within dreams. The only possible flaw in Cobb’s design is Cobb himself. Planted in his own subconscious is his memory of his dead wife, Mal (Marion Cotillard), and he blames himself for her suicide. The authorities certainly pegged him as the main suspect, and it had turned him to the lucrative life of mind crime in an attempt to buy his way back to his family. While delving into the REM cycles of others, his recollection of his spouse surfaces and she threatens to wreck everything out of spite (for some reason). Thus the plot becomes about not just getting Fischer to do their bidding, but also solving Cobb’s issues with his own brain. In the end, all problems are solved and Cobb is reunited with his daughter and son.
The above recap of the Inception‘s plot, particularly if you have seen it already, probably leaves much to be desired. The reason for this is that it is just so dang complicated, and needlessly so to this reviewer. Take the character of Saito. As a wealthy businessman, you can understand why he would want the kind of services that Cobb and his team provide. Yet for entirely unclear purposes, he decides to make himself a part of the mission to incept Fischer. Then, again for unspecified reasons, his injury in the first level of Fischer’s dream will plunge him into the abyss of his (or Cobb’s?) subconscious from which there is little hope of returning. Why? Because the movie says so. You see, time works differently at various levels of the mind, and when you are that deep in another’s intellect time becomes infinite. Why? Because the movie says so. I mean, every other time in these dreams when somebody dies they wake up from it. Yet because they used a special sedative for their plan, imagined death will have the opposite effect? There are other tidbits in it that, like the mental projections of other people that populate the dreams in the film, have the potential to turn on the viewer and overwhelm their enjoyment. Why are these dreams so detailed, with all these abstract people so clearly defined, as are the spaces they inhabit? Because the movie says so. Perhaps the most damaging comment comes from the film itself when the team’s disguise artist, Eames (Tom Hardy), admonishes Arthur for his diminutive choice of weaponry, saying, “Don’t be afraid to dream a little bigger, darling.” Perhaps the message should have been to think a little more about what they were presenting.
Then again, maybe giving the script for Inception a little more thought would have resulted in an even more perplexing mess. But when you come down to it, the story is really about Cobb and his own struggles with his past. There is a prayer card that I read from every day that my girlfriend gave to me called The Litany of Trust. One of the prayers in it asks Jesus for deliverance from an inordinate preoccupation with the past. If that is not Cobb’s problem, then I will promptly hang up my reviewing career and take up stamp collecting. Memories are fine and a part of God’s wonderful and mysterious design as to what makes us human. But sometimes they can be a detriment to emotional or spiritual growth. Clearly this is the case with Cobb. His inability to let go of his wife is literally derailing his goal of seeing his kids one day. What the whole side-subconscious dip with Saito has to do with him, I do not know. I guess it is there to add tension as the businessman holds the key to Cobb being able to return home. But that whole thing could have been done away with and the film would have made just as much sense.
I can see many people falling asleep while watching Inception, though DiCaprio yelling every once in a while might jar people back awake. The film is rated PG-13, and there are some intense scenes of violence in it. It is also on the long side at nearly two and a half hours. I had forgotten about that part. With all the exposition that goes on between the more thrilling parts of the movie, you might wish that you were dreaming yourself instead of watching somebody else’s fantasies. In summation, watching Inception is like the games you played as a child. Remember the pastimes you used to conjure up to wile away the days? They could be anything, you would just start playing. However, if things began to go against your wishes, suddenly new rules would be invented. Most of the time this resulted in cries of “No fair!” or “You can’t do that!” Particularly with this last sentiment, that basically sums up how I feel about this film.