For far too many years, those pesky scientists, archeologists and doctors have hogged the limelight as heroes of major motion pictures and event movies. Perhaps thanks to a letter campaign from the faculties of the built environment and design across the world, architects are finally being given their day as the greatest action thrill-seekers of all. Who would have thought it in their wildest dreams?
Nolan has every right to feel fairly satisfied with himself these days. Having successfully reinvented the Caped Crusader for the big screen with Batman Begins, he had the audacity to not only do it again in The Dark Knight, but make an arguably bigger, bolder and better Batman than we are likely to see again on the big screen. So it was with some anticipation that audiences across the world approached Inception, the mind-bending new thriller from Nolan that most critics and audiences across the world decided was great before a second of footage had been seen. Now it is here and we can make our own minds up.
In the world of Inception, the ability to enter dreams and uncover innermost thoughts and secrets has become a highly sought-after commodity. Cobb (Leonardo Di Caprio), an expert in such invasion techniques, is approached by powerful businessman Saito (Ken Watanabe, Batman Begins) to attempt the near-impossible: Inception. That is, break into the mind of Robert Fischer Jr (Cillian Murphy, Sunshine) and implant the idea of breaking up his father’s (Pete Postlethwaite, Clash of the Titans) empire. Complicating matters is the series of defences in Fischer’s mind, and the intrusive subconscious images Cobb’s mind is producing due to the guilt he feels over the death of his wife Mal (Marion Cotillard, Public Enemies).
Nolan has frequently played with the concept of time and fractured memory, most prominently in Memento but also with The Prestige and Batman Begins to a certain extent. Here he replaces time-jumping with dream manipulation, deliberately planting the questions as to how much is real and how much is a dream from the early moments of the film. Yet all the dream babble and complex series of rules simply serve to disguise the fact that this is a very straightforward sting/heist film, where the mark/vault happens to be a human mind. Complex rules act as a series of deux ex machinas, cropping up conveniently when the plot needs an obstacle or dramatic turning point. A rule around deaths in dreams is changed midway through the film, seemingly for no other reason than to shuffle one of the characters off-screen temporarily. As mind-bending as Inception thinks it is, it nevers gives you a chance to be confused as at least 80% of the film is exposition.
There are a number of promising elements that are never followed through in the film either. The introduction of architect Ariadne (Ellen Page, Whip It) brings with it many of the images that helped promote the film: buildings being flipped on their sides, and the impossible abilities to combine unlikely elements within the dreamworld. Yet one of those ‘rules’ drops in to say hello, and she is warned off doing this for reasons far too complicated to get into here. Being the good girl that she is, we never do see this trickery again and one of the more promising prospects of the film is dropped. An excellent cast (also consisting of Michael ‘Bloody’ Caine and (500) Days of Summer‘s Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is wasted in a script where things continually happen to the cast, rather than those characters progressing the plot. Accurate to the dream word perhaps, but not the stuff of taut storytelling.
This type of mind-manipulation and dream exploration is nothing new in cinema, with the likes of Michel Gondry’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and The Science of Sleep and Wim Wender’s Until the End of the World having all tackled it from different angles in the past. While Inception is undoubtedly a tightly action-packed film, with some terrific set-pieces and some decent performances from all of the main cast, it is far less clever than it thinks it is and fails to live up to the expectations created by the director’s previous two films. Perhaps I’m just a big geek, but just bring on ‘Batman 3’ already.
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