Inception: A Flickcharter’s Movie Review

Nigel Druitt

An avid Flickcharter since 2009, Nigel is a self-described fanboy whose Top 20 is dominated by the likes of Indiana Jones, Frodo Baggins and Marty McFly. Nigel is the Canadian arm of the Flickchart Blog, but try not to hold that against him. You can find him on Flickchart as johnmason.

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22 Responses

  1. topichtennis says:

    Inception over Memento, wow. I don’t think Inception is as cerebral as everyone is making it out to be. It’s just your basic run of the mill heist movie with a gimmick. First we give the main character a reason to pull off his one last job, then we assemble the team, then we set up the mark… so on and so on. But this is not a bad thing because it is a very well made heist movie. The problem lies within the gimmick.

    Dreams are limitless and full of chaos, not neat and fastidious like Nolan presents them. They are full of paradoxes, stairs folding in on themselves right down to our very subconscious. Nolan only briefly explores the possibilities of reality vs memory before he gets caught up in his action sequences, and this is where the movie fails.

    I would rather give my time to watching the original version of Solaris. It focuses on the same conflict of reality vs memory, but it forces the audience to not only think but ask themselves tough questions. I had such a strong reaction to Solaris that I locked myself in my room for over 24 hours. Inception while wanting to get out of the kiddie pool remains shallow and afraid to go after the darker issues of the human mind.

    Inception is easy and accessible for the masses, but it is smarter than your average summer blockbuster but a blockbuster nontheless. And its overall success at the box office will be good for fans and filmmakers as studios will decide to take chances on more complex noncookie cutter material.

    It’s a well crafted flick that i’ll be willing to watch again. Hell it’s scoring rather well on my flickchart. But to call this movie cerebral is well an offense to any movie that scratched below the surface of their subject matter.

  2. JRM says:

    I adored every second of INCEPTION. Every second.

    I’d like to quickly respond to @topichtennis above me. “Dreams are limitless and full of chaos, not neat and fastidious like Nolan presents them.” Are they? Or perhaps we just assume they are. When we wake up it may very well seem that way, but we don’t know for sure. From what I remember when waking up, my dreams don’t seem the way you describe them. They’re a lot more, I guess you could say, ‘realistic’. There are people who say Memento has a major plot hole: How is it that a man who suffers from extreme short-term memory loss remember he has a condition in the first place? The mind isn’t black and white. There are stories of people who could easily remember things, while completely forgetting everything else. Nolan showed us his dream world, with his rules, and I never wanted to leave.

    If you scratched below the subject matter of the film, you should have been able to see there’s a lot more to the film than your claiming.

  3. JRM says:

    Here’s a GREAT analysis retweeted by FLICKCHART. Anyone who’s seen the film should read it:

  4. johnmason says:

    @JRM: That is an interesting analysis. There’s another one on the IMDb FAQ page for Inception that I thought was also interesting.

    @topichtennis: I do think the movie’s saying more than you’re giving it credit for, but there are different ways of interpreting it, I think. All the heist stuff, while, as you say, very well done, is really incidental, because it’s not what the movie is really about.

    (Um…these comments are obviously getting full of SPOILERS.)

    It does seem obvious to me that Cobb has been dreaming for the entirety of the movie. Not a single sequence actually occurs in “reality”. The final shot just sells that. Unlike some other movies, this narrative structure doesn’t feel like a cop-out to me with Inception; it’s the whole point.

    I’d never really considered the fact that Cobb might never have been an extractor, though. My take was that he and Mal were both entering dreams, but when she was convinced that they had not yet escaped, Cobb was the one who was wrong; they really were still trapped. I do like the theory, though, that the technology is never better explained because Cobb’s just making it up in his dream as he goes along.

    Anyway, I think Inception’s going to be a lot like another Nolan film for me: The Prestige. It’s a movie I actually liked better the second time, when I realized just how well-constructed it really was.

  5. johnmason says:

    Oh, and I take Inception over Memento simply because it’s so much BIGGER. I think it’s just as well done, from the writing to the directing to the acting, and I just love the sci-fi trimmings.

  6. marvelboy888 says:

    Just like you, I found myself in awe at the end of Inception leaving the theater last night, and adding it to my flickchart this morning I found myself struggling to place it on my Top 20, though I do think it will get there eventually. The film was completely engaging all the way through, and a spectacle that I really think I am going to need to see again before I feel fully satisfied with ranking it as high as being in the Top 20, or even the top 10 perhaps. (It should be noted that I am most likely younger (just turned 18 years old) than most people who have flickchart accounts, and thus find myself discovering my own film “identity”. My top films are a hodgepodge of different genres and sentimental favorites.)

    The film is so raw in my mind that I can’t even decide what the ending is about or formulate theories or opinions on any of the topics above- all I know is that I enjoyed what Nolan gave us immensely and that’s it. His exploration of the unpredictable and the fleeting nature of dreams really left me thinking, and the film was so stuffed full of layer upon layer of concepts that I need to digest it all before I can contrive a real opinion on the meaning of the film.

    However, I do want to say that I rather enjoyed this analysis of the film, and found myself agreeing with you on almost all accounts. I’ve never found The Matrix to be as great as everyone claims it is, and agree that the spectacle of Inception does eclipse the gritty nature of The Departed. I have not seen Memento yet (though I will be picking up soon after reading this!), but I do have to disagree with you about The Dark Knight. I’ve never had the reverance for the film quite as much as the rest of the world, but do find it quite good. I think I prefered the chaotic, convoluted nature of Inception more than the straight-forward Dark Knight, and with the exception of Ledger’s haunting Joker found the performances in Inception superior to those in Knight.

    And that is really the only part of the film I feel confident about commenting on: the performances. The entire supporting cast delivered solid performances, especially Gordon-Levitt and Page, who each in their own way serve as the heart of the film. DiCaprio is typically solid, and I agree with you that he is one of the best actors currently working, and rarely does a bad film and never a bad performance. However, the emotional center of the film comes from one of my favorite actresses, the impeccable Marion Cotillard. Anyone who has seen Nine or Public Enemies knows she was the best part of either of those films, and her performance in La Vie en Rose is just astounding. Here, she has the most challenging role and plays it beautifully. If she doesn’t get at least a Supporting Actress nomination, I will be serious disappointed in the Academy.

    The film is currently #21 on my flickchart, and is guaranteed to move up higher once the film has set it.

  7. Travis McClain says:

    I’m with topichtennis on this one. Inception was presented as cerebral and complex, but it’s very simple. The movie was actually very linear, so long as you’re not easily confused by flashbacks and can keep straight three concurrent “dream” levels–made pretty easy by being in different environments.

    I wanted to be wowed by the film, but I wasn’t. I can’t say it was boring, because the pace was fairly taut and there was plenty of spectacle. The cast was fine, though for my money it was really Ellen Page as Ariadne that stood out. She was clearly our point-of-view character, as most of the exposition meant for our benefit is exchanged with her. Page played it with intrigue mirroring our own curiosity about the potential for this world. Unfortunately, her brief tests of the dream world are the closest we ever get to seeing something truly imaginative.

    I’m not sure what to make of Nolan’s message to her–and, by extension, us–that there’s little room in one’s dreams for imagination. It’s just part of the coldness of Nolan’s storytelling that I found off-putting here. I know that the subplot between Cobb and Mal is supposed to be upsetting; DiCaprio shouts and even cries about it. Yet, despite his performance–which I’m sure would have been moving in another film–feels perfunctory, as though the screenplay had a box to be checked off, “Establish Cobb as Emotionally Compromised by Mal. Have Actor Cry.”

    There’s a vague message about the danger of too much escapism, but it’s never really made clear whether Inception is meant as a cautionary tale. Cobb himself seems to be of the mind that while too much dream state cost him his wife, that the problem was with her–not the escapism itself. One can argue that Cobb is, himself, an escapism addict and that he lacks the requisite objectivity to even make that assertion, but within the film he’s forced to address these questions by Ariadne–and she’s largely mollified by his arguments; ergo, we are clearly meant to likewise accept them.

    I wouldn’t say Inception is a bad movie; the narrative is clear and easy to follow, the action sequences were fun to watch (more than one reviewer has commented on the Bond-like nature of Dream level 3) and the pace was fairly taut. I can’t say definitively what fat could stand to be trimmed from the movie that runs two hours and twenty eight minutes, but I do know that for a story no more complex than this it’s definitely overlong. I’ll come back and re-watch it at some point and see if it means more to me upon second viewing, but for right now I remain very underwhelmed.

  8. Nigel Druitt says:

    I think you too easily write off “easy to understand” as “simple”. The narrative is complex enough that it takes talent and – yes – calculation to make it easy enough for the average viewer to grasp. (I dunno, maybe I’m slow; obviously, other people would be ahead of the curve on this.)

    Of course the different dream levels take place in different environments; not only does this help distinguish them, but the movie would be far less interesting if they were all the same!

    Nolan is often accused of “coldness” in his narratives. I, for one, don’t see this. I’ve been very moved by all his films (perhaps less so by The Prestige; in that case, I was simply wowed): Memento and The Dark Knight were both very “shattering” to me, and I was touched by the relationship between Cobb and Mal. (For my money, while Page is great, Cotillard is the brightest spot in the cast.)

    After seeing the movie a second time, I’ve only realized that there are more interpretations of the ending that I first thought. Has Cobb only been dreaming the whole time? Is he in reality? The whole point is that he knows inception is possible because he achieved it with Mal. He persuaded her to leave limbo with him, but did they escape the dream entirely? Did she kill herself? Or did she actually wake up, and he’s the one who’s trapped in a dream? The technology they use is deliberately described very vaguely; is that because it doesn’t actually exist, and everything’s happening in Cobb’s dream?

    Is there a “message” to this movie? I don’t know; does every movie have to have a “message”?

    After my second viewing, it’s still going to remain in my Top 20, but I’m conceding now that movies I’ve loved for some time (like Memento, and probably even The Matrix – a movie I’ve been really wanting to re-watch for some time now) are going to move ahead of it.

    I would never attempt to change somebody’s mind. (That would be foolish, and futile.) Everybody gains something different from every movie. That’s just as true of a movie like Big Mommas as it is of a Best Picture Oscar nominee. But I think you’re selling the “complexity” of Inception a little short. But then, I’m a Nolan nut.

    Speaking of which, I finally just saw his first film, Following, on Friday. That one was more “interesting” to me, as opposed to actually “good”, like I consider every other one of his films to be. It was definitely “colder” and more calculated, I felt, than his other films, but at just over an hour, it didn’t overstay its welcome, and it was interesting to see where my favorite director came from.

  9. Travis McClain says:

    If we allow for a seemingly straightforward story to operate on several levels, then we must also allow for a seemingly complex story to be shallow. Inception is such a story. There are several characters, each performing a duty within the story…but nearly none of them actually grow. Indeed, they are no more relevant to us as the audience than they are to Cobb within the story: they are there to fill a job, to perform tasks. Cobb himself doesn’t even really grow; he knows who he is, what he wants and the lengths to which he will go to get what he wants when we meet him. He never loses sight of any of that. Ariadne is the one character open to growth, but it’s unclear just what she takes away from the whole experience.

    This speaks to the larger issue of Nolan’s coldness. I was unmoved by the Cobb/Mal storyline and it wasn’t the fault of the actors. Nolan creates a situation designed to elicit sympathy within us. We see DiCaprio become demonstrably upset over the tragedy of his wife.

    Nolan leaves us to process all this intellectually. We’re expected to take the nature of Mal’s story, combine it with crying/shouting Leo and be led to the conclusion that this is an emotional storyline. It’s actually a lot like how psychopaths mimic what they believe to be appropriate emotional behavior, as they’ve seen it in others, because they don’t feel anything themselves.

    I’ve read and heard a lot of discussion about just what part(s) of the story were “real” and which were dreams, but that’s merely a within-the-story consideration. I’ve not heard anyone argue that Inception is actually commenting on anything, aside from a vague cautionary statement about the dangers of “too much” escapism. It’s simply too shallow to be taken seriously as high art, and takes itself too seriously to be fun entertainment.

    All that said, I would quickly throw my hand in the air and say Inception, more than his Batman work, made me very curious what Nolan would do with a Bond movie. I’m a very enthusiastic Bond fan, not generally prone to that kind of speculation.

  10. Nigel Druitt says:

    Nolan doing Bond? I could get behind that. (Though, I’m very curious about Sam Mendes; he is doing the next one, isn’t he?)

    Anyway…straying off topic…

  11. Travis McClain says:

    Yeah, Mendes is directing the next Bond. I’ve seen American Beauty (I initially hated it; now I think it’s mostly good, but needs to trim some pretentious fat) and Road to Perdition (solid, but not the “OMG masterpiece!” some feel it is). Based on those, I confess I have no idea what the appeal of Mendes directing Bond is or what to expect, but I’m game. Bond is largely a factory anyway, where the Broccoli family picks the writers and gets a story they like, then hire someone to direct it using their crew. Hardly the kind of environment for an auteur, you know?

  12. Nigel Druitt says:

    Indeed. As for me with Mendes, I remember liking – though falling short of loving – American Beauty, but I only saw it the once. (Gee, a decade ago, now…?) And I rather disliked Road to Perdition. A pity, because its actually the only Paul Newman movie I’ve ever seen. Unless you count Cars. (*Insert mocking here*)

  13. Travis McClain says:

    You haven’t seen The Sting. That, I suspect, is why you’re more taken by Inception than I am! :P

  14. Nigel Druitt says:

    Hm…. :P

    I do plan on educating myself a bit. Picked up a cheap copy of Butch & Sundance the other day…

  15. Travis McClain says:

    I’ve said it elsewhere, I’ll say it again. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is #4 on my Flickchart and there are times I think that’s too low. The first time through, it’s fun. The second time around, it’s clever. The third time, it’s brilliant.

    Also, if your cheap copy was the Special Edition, you’re privy to some very frank interview comments (especially from William Goldman). Fox edited those for the subsequent Ultimate Edition (the same content as the Blu-ray release).

    Back to The Sting and Inception, what I prefer about the former is that it doesn’t pretend to be anything more than it is, and it remembered to actually have fun. Hamlisch’s score (adapted from Scott Joplin’s ragtime work) has a lot to do with it, but so does the fact that the movie isn’t trying to convince you it’s a serious, cerebral story. You need to pay attention, but you’re also allowed to have a good time watching The Sting. With Inception, I felt as though if I were to laugh at anything, it would be akin to burping loudly in church. It’s simply too stuffy, and I still believe it’s because Nolan was entirely too focused on the intellectual side of the story and forgot to make it about actual people.

  16. Nigel Druitt says:

    Well, thanks for the recommendation! (I’ve got a few DVDs on my hands; I’ll make that the next one I watch when I get a chance.)

    And you and I are going to have to agree to disagree on Inception. (Um…though I’m with you in that it’s not a comedy…)

  17. Travis McClain says:

    I’m not sure I properly conveyed my point about humor in Inception. Most stories–regardless of medium or tone–include at least some deliberate humor. We find all kinds of things funny, largely based on context, the presentation of the joke and our own mood at the time. Since a film has the power to craft the context and greatly influence our mood all that is needed is proper delivery.

    Inception could have presented us with some humor, but never did. Perhaps it’s because Nolan felt that the slightest joke would keep us from taking his serious movie seriously. I personally suspect it’s because he simply forgot that stories shouldn’t take themselves so seriously.

    Look at The Dark Knight, his most recent previous film. There’s some hilarious stuff between Bruce and Alfred (“Accomplice? I’m going to tell them it was all your idea!”) that never detracts from the tone of the film. Rather, it endears us to the characters within it because it shows that they’re developed enough to have a sense of humor. No one in Inception ever really comes off as being that well developed–and it’s not because the cast wasn’t talented enough and it certainly wasn’t because there wasn’t sufficient time!

    In any event, I do agree with you that I think we’ve largely covered anything to be said for the time being regarding the film. Once you check out The Sting you may find something new to say about it and I’ll be happy to hear whatever that may be; likewise, I may yet have a new epiphany of some kind and knowing me I won’t just keep it to myself. ;)

  18. Nigel Druitt says:

    I can think of a couple of lighter beats – particularly with Gordon-Levitt’s character, Arthur, and Hardy’s character, Eames – but I’ll concede your point there, for the moment.

    “One mustn’t be afraid to dream a little bigger, darling…”


  19. Nathan Chase says:

    The fact that it’s raining in Yusuf’s dream is both plot essential and understated humor at the same time.

    I think you could point to the fact that they’re all on a very important job to account for the tone not being very light hearted. It’s a completely different type of heist to something like Ocean’s Eleven. If Inception had felt like that, it would have made the entire premise more silly than it already is.

    By keeping it serious, it allows you to accept the plot as possible – that dream technology might actually exist – in a stronger fashion than you would have otherwise.

  20. Travis McClain says:

    Two weeks before I saw Inception I saw Restrepo. It’s a documentary that filmed a platoon of soldiers deployed to the worst part of Afghanistan. If those guys–with a far more important job to do–can remember to have some humor then there’s no excuse for a made-up movie to take itself so seriously that its characters can’t.

    As for the idea that the characters had to be serious to keep us from thinking the film silly, that’s suggestive of one of two things. Either Nolan had too little faith in his own story, or he had too little faith in the audience. Regardless of which insecurity it might have been, it’s not something a storyteller on his level should have.

  21. Nigel Druitt says:

    Of course the premise is inherently silly. Does that mean that the characters should be offering a “nudge-nudge, wink-wink” at the camera every few minutes?

    But then, I happen to think that the movie is not “devoid” of humor. No, it’s not a comedy, and no, Ocean’s-style humor would not have worked for this film. (I happen to love Ocean’s Eleven, by the way.)

    I think this more speaks to our individual tastes as viewers than to any inherent “weaknesses” in the story.

    But are our individual perceptions of the story so different as well…?

  22. Nigel Druitt says:

    Honestly, there are about 1000% more jokes cracked in this movie than there are in Memento…