Though I'm just a mere filmgoer and was in-no-way involved in the making of INCEPTION, I still felt like I had a lot riding on its success. Films are a part of who I am as a person, they structure me creatively and even socially. Defining the types of films I like and the ones I hate is important because it is a reflection of something within me. I go through a relatively time-consuming mental process on a daily basis where I flesh out my reasons for liking certain films and subsequently their actors, writers and directors. I have a hard time picking favorites. I see so many great films every year and so many new talents emerge that it's damn near impossible. I have a favorite film - JAWS - and I don't think that will ever change. This stability is comforting and defines me more than my various whims and preferences for certain things.
It wasn't long ago that I decided on Christopher Nolan as my favorite director. Previous to Nolan, Scorcese was my favorite director, but SHUTTER ISLAND's mediocrity changed that. It was a little crushing for me to have to give up on something I'd held as a personal truth, but it didn't take long for me to find his replacement. MEMENTO, THE PRESTIGE and THE DARK KNIGHT are some of my favorite films and it's rare for one director to be on that list with such frequency. This may seem a little like fair-weather fandom, but I still love certain directors even when they make bad films, I just like dominant champions. If a director can repeatedly make films that I love without faltering, they're the man. I've been excited about INCEPTION all year, hoping that this would be the film to garner Nolan the recognition he deserves. If I didn't find it satisfactory, I'd be crushed, and my "favorite director" category would be cast into purgatory once more. Nolan did not disappoint. What he did do is reaffirm my belief that he is indeed the greatest filmmaker currently working.
INCEPTION is ambitious in a way most films, and certainly the summer blockbuster sort, are not. It tackles not only ideas about dreams, but also about perception, reality and their role in who and what we are. The science of dream-espionage is not overly explained or tapped in to, it just exists, it's the world of the film (perhaps the future, it's never said outright), a world where this science fiction imagining exists. This might cause some confusion in viewers waiting for some expository lead-in to the action, but they just have to be patient. It took me a few minutes to get my bearings, but once you're there, it's an exciting ride full of great possibilities.
Setting the film up with a heist storyline gives it a little more foundation. Without it, you might float away and end up in narrative limbo. Nolan knows where to ground his film full of wild possibilities so that it still reads like films we are all familiar with. The heist concerns the titular "Inception", which essentially involves planting an idea in someone's dream and having them believe that it's their own. Commissioned by a rival company, Cobb's (DiCaprio) group must plant a seed of doubt in a young heir (Murphy), so that he'll dissolve his company and curtail a potential monopoly. In doing this, they not only change the path his life is taking, but also the way he thought about himself and the life he wants to make. There's a heart and a mind to this heist narrative. It doesn't just involve monetary gain and some mark, it instead has its roots in the very things that make us human.
Cobb's personal story is also heavily entwined in all the other elements of the film. He mourns his wife (Cotillard) and she continues to show up in the dreamscape to sabotage their various missions. She is a crippling manifestation of his guilt, which is dangerously corporeal when dreaming. I initially didn't think this was an entirely important part of the picture, but as you close in on the ending, it proves inseparable from everything else. This is the emotional backbone of the film.
Keeping everything straight while writing INCEPTION must have been very difficult for Nolan. Often the action jumps from dream to dream and back to reality, all the while taking into account various time discrepancies that supposedly go along with the shared dreaming process. It's an interesting tweak on the classic idea of cross-cutting action sequences and results in some of the more interesting visuals in the film. Most notable of these is the anti-gravity sequences with Joseph Gordon-Levitt fighting his way to and collecting his unconscious partners. The lack of gravity is the result of the fact that the group is actually in free-fall over a bridge in the preceding dream level (yeah, I guess you'd need to see it).
In fact, all of the visuals in this film are elegantly captured and so are the performances. It wouldn't surprise me at all if some of them earned recognition at next year's Academy Awards. They tend to swoon over DiCaprio despite him not being a great actor, so this strong performance could land him another nomination. Supporting work by Gordon-Levitt, Watanabe, Hardy and Cotillard are all deserving of consideration, especially since those categories can tend to be weak and hard to fill.
Speaking of Oscars, there has been a fair amount of discussion already about whether INCEPTION will get this nomination or that. This likely stems from the widespread belief that THE DARK KNIGHT was snubbed for a Best Picture nom (something I agree with). I'd have a hard time believing this doesn't grace that category this time around. I'd also expect Nolan's writing and directing to be acknowledged, but who knows what the rest of the year will hold. Much attention has been paid to the fact that this has been a weak year (especially summer) for films. We're already past the half way point and INCEPTION is the best film I've seen this year. It's actually the only film I've seen that I felt deserved an "A" grade.
This review is a bit all over the place for a reason. I don't really know what to focus on. It's such an intricate and amazing film that I can't possibly cover everything and explain it eloquently in writing. It needs to be seen, probably more than once and then discussed. In it I believe there's an instant classic, a film that will be remembered decades from now as we remember the great science fiction films of years past. Thank you Mr. Nolan.