Saturday, July 17, 2010

Inception (2010) Review

Ideas have become far more important to us than action - ideas so cleverly expressed in books by the intellectuals in every field.  The more cunning, the more subtle, those ideas are the more we worship them and the books that contain them.  We are those books, we are those ideas, so heavily conditioned are we by them.  We are forever discussing ideas and ideals and dialectically offering opinions.  Every religion has its dogma, its formula, its own scaffold to reach the gods, and when inquiring into the beginning of thought we are questioning the importance of this whole edifice of ideas.  We have separated ideas from action because ideas are always of the past and action is always the present - that is, living is always the present.  We are afraid of living and therefore the past, as ideas, has become so important to us.  ~J. Krishnamurti

Praise Be To The Cinema...

To be able to sit here, and express about how a film such as Christopher Nolan's latest probably shouldn't exist in today's film world, and yet does is a testament to the fortitude, and dedication it took such an obsessive mind to unleash it upon the world. Several hour later, I'm still doing my damndest to keep all the best images & thoughts for myself, and possibly failing as human memory often does. Much in the way it has been suggested in his past films, memories often lead toward decisions not completely within absolute control. And the consequences of living a life through captured memories sans the essence of those memories as ripe as they were on the day of their occurrence. To be able to retain that feeling, that place that felt so aligned with everything on the exterior must be one of the greatest longings inherent in the human experience. But for them to fade, allowing room for new experiences to breathe lives of their own must be considered. And finding a way through these mazes we create for ourselves is at the heart of INCEPTION. Taking pages from some of the best in science fiction writing of the last thirty years, mixed in with some of that classic Nolan grit, and warping them into a wholly new hybrid form of cinematic achievement is something truly exciting indeed. There is simply no real way to merely review a film like this without looking at the other "I" word...Intent.

The stars were aligned at last for Nolan to finally tackle what is essentially a dream project. The film by which a director risks life and limb to earn an ability to construct. It has been known that he had in fact been conceiving this piece for well over ten years (even during his MEMENTO days), and after the monolithic success of his Batman reinvention, he has finally been allowed to share the tale of expert mind-diver, Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio), and his voyages into the framework of the human mind. Its also no secret that the director's films have often been derided as being either too meticulous, and emotionally distant to make any truly deep impression. And it can be said that this isn't far from the truth, as often we are made participants in his sometimes overtly clever mindgames , nothing could prepare the average moviegoer for the Herculean workout they are about to receive with this one. This is the kind of film that anime such as Ghost in The Shell has been hinting at from the horizon for over a decade now. And boy, is it a welcome entry into this rarely filmed mode of hard science fiction. And in the best examples of a volatile project of this nature, it is a resounding success.

Cobb (DiCaprio) is an exiled american working as a master of psychological corporate espionage, which is to simplify, a "dream thief", specializing in diving into the minds of a mark to retrieve data for paying interests worldwide. A haunted anti-hero figure, Cobb requires the assistance of several other experts in the hopes of earning his way back into the US due to laws forbidding him to do so. Hired by the mysterious & dedicated Saito (A wonderful Ken Watanabe), Cobb and his partner in crime, Arthur(Joseph Goron-Levitt) enlist a small team of experts, including fellow diver Eames (Tom Hardy), chemist Yusuf (Dileep Rao), and architectural prodigy Ariadne (Ellen Page), who can help enter the mind of powerful heir-to-be, Fischer (Cillian Murphy) in the hopes of doing the near-impossible...the implantation of an idea as opposed to extraction. Despite the precision, and ability this team can muster, there is no guarantee of success in the realm of the ever-unstable human psyche. Especially when the leader is as tormented by the past as he is. And it is this fly in the ointment that fuels a great deal of the film as Page's eager student longs to better understand the world of the dream, despite the terrible danger Cobb's past engenders for not only her, but the entire operation.

From the opening scenes, into the leaps in non-linear time, and ultimately the dream itself, the film is an intoxicating mix that may alienate some upon first viewing, but render many to return as there is just so much value in nearly every moment of it. From the scenes revealing the unstable, shifting world of the dream, the nature of dream invasion, and the interweaving of exterior logic within the confines of full REM sleep. (I often sleep with music playing subtly in my room, so this makes absolute sense) The mission unfolds, and nearly spirals out of control to a point to where the team is forced to go much deeper than initially planned which creates a dizzying effect not unlike the way real dreams take conventional logic, and sends it packing. The interlocking of dreams within dreams is an incomparable feat of writing and editing that must be experienced to be fully comprehended. And this is where Wally Pfister's visual wizardry is paramount in expressing the tale in a nature most comparable to the images of one MC Escher. A visualist perfectly cast into a story so entrenched within such a labyrinthian structure. Hans Zimmer's score evokes both his greatest strengths alongside the very best of John Barry in a truly rapturous accompaniment. And to see a film so realized in its vision that the sights and sounds are so aligned with the intelligence to match, it is perhaps no big concern that the emotional effect perhaps is best saved for a second, or third viewing. The mind is so busy working overtime, this is perfectly understandable. This is a definitive example of the kind of rare work that rewards multiple viewings with added volumes of thought.
 And this is where the cast keeps the film so well grounded. DiCaprio's performance is a perfect follow-up to his impressive leading turn in Shutter Island earlier this year. In many ways, Cobb is an extension of the same character. But this time, the pain is driving his every move and has worn heavy on his appearance. It's a startling transformation for him, and offers a lot more than one may expect. Also engaging & funny is Gordon-Levitt's Arthur, the kind of slick upstart that pays counterpoint to Cobb's troubled, determined demeanor. He's a natural sidekick who more than holds his own in some of the work's most thrilling action pieces. Its also great to see Watanabe in such a larger role than usual in a large scale feature. Hopelessly dedicated to his cause, and oddly charming, his Saito is a fun, toned-down twist on the Bond-villain that adds a cool touch to the whole caper. And I can't help but love Tom Hardy in the role of Eames, a man so clearly aligned with his inner Ian Fleming. Support by Murphy, Tom Berenger, Rao, and even Nolan regular, Michael Caine are equally welcome to the proceedings.

Now what I haven't mentioned thus far was the inclusion of the film's feminine element consisting of a figure of Cobb's past played by Marion Cotilliard, and his urgent present in the form of Ellen Page. In the role of Ariadne, Page is tasked with perhaps the least amount of characterization in the film, and yet is all-important to the overarching narrative. As the young, eager student, she is tasked with entering the mind of Cobb, but discovers his secret that threatens the operation, and yet she cannot help but be entranced by the need to know. To push further than anyone prior had done. Knowing that her task is to create a projected maze within this scape of existence, she cannot help but wonder what lies beneath, and is thus more in tune with what Cobb truly wants as opposed to what he hopes to avoid. And in this, it is clear that she is less a requisite character on a heist as the majority of the cast, but more of a conscience that Cobb has been neglecting to keep his memories locked within. She is the key to his salvation, even as memories of the being known as Mal (Cotilliard) threaten to keep him imprisoned forever. It is in this stroke of story that INCEPTION leaps beyond the surface of protean mechanism, place, and spirit to deliver a most complex, yet human of parables.

And speaking from looking at the film from an interior view, it is also very telling that multiple parallels indicate that this is in fact at least a partially autobiographical look into a director whom at least right now, has the moviegoing public in his hands. With the revelation that one of the lead character's children is played by his real-life son, it isn't far off to see DiCaprio's Cobb as a broken analog for the director himself. And filmed with a love for pop-cinema of England past(the Bond connections are blatant), the piece can also play as a mediation on the life of one who has sacrificed so much in order to weave tales for us. And while some may see this as something less than subtle, it is also a declaration of the necessity for ideas in all eras. A primal call to arms in an art world in danger of collapsing to mere co-opt, familiarity, and safety. With a wildly ambitious script, a supporting public, and a note-perfect cast, we are sharing his dream within a thousand dark rooms. And perhaps with a hope that souls young and old can remember what it is to remain truly inspired.

Never mind that cinema may never be the same after INCEPTION has its way with your mind upon exposure. Never mind that it is a heist caper in rank with the best of authors such as William Gibson, and has an interior logic all of its own, and not in the best interest of mass audiences(especially within the realm of that all-comfort-food world of the Summer Film). What we have to bear witness is a thriller that stands defiant in the face of an ever-deadening cinematic landscape, and declares ideas to be our greatest saviors if not greatest terrors.

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