You have the spectacular chases, the bombastic explosions, the zero-gravity fights. You have a visually impactful and entertaining film. You have the romance and emotional tale. What sets Inception apart, what makes it one of the three game-changing films of my lifetime (that list fills out with Star Wars and The Matrix) is that it is complex framework that remains intelligent, busy, and accessible throughout. It is intimidatingly well-written, and the end result of all this together in a film is awe.
Christopher Nolan’s similarly intelligent, complex thriller Mememto, which put him on the map and began his mainstream career, feels like an undergraduate project compared to Inception. With a bigger budget came not only bigger effects, but a bigger, more complex storyline. From conception to fruition, the script Nolan developed took him 10 years, and it is easy to understand that the time spent wasn’t idle.
One of the basic rules of time passage in the film is that 5 minutes dreaming equates to one hour of time in the dream. When master extractor Cobb’s (DiCaprio) team plants a dream-within-a-dream, it means that the 2nd-level dream time is likewise equivalent to 5 minutes of his dream time in the 1st-level dream. And events that happen in the dream must be coordinated precisely with the two levels. Let’s not even added a third just yet and think of the ramifications, but the film does and beyond, and when it delivers in synchronicity, you marvel at the effort to conceive such coordination. And this is just one aspect of the framework of the tale.
The film contains a lot of exposition that is skillfully interwoven into intense, plot-developing action sequences. It never feels overlong or tedious. The information is dispensed in short, packed bursts that teeter on the edge of overload each time, like the main character’s totem spinning wheel, and then the move thrusts forward with spectacle and action to allow the audience to catch up while still contemplating each new layer of complexity added. A couple times, a character will ask a question that the audience will appreciate, as when Ellen Page’s Ariadne asks “We’re going into whose subconscious now?” The audience laughs in both the comic timing of the delivery and appreciation of the moment of clarification. An earlier moment of uncertainty about the rules is also played to higher laughs earlier at Ariadne’s expense – Nolan’s script not forgetting to have fun with the complex world he’s set up.
Although I won’t reveal any of the secrets of the film, I will remark that the end, the resolution of the caper itself was one of the more moving and altruistic methods of corporate espionage. The inextricable mark made on, well, the mark is just as interesting as Cobb’s tale.
Of particular notice to me was Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s performance as Cobb’s right-hand man Arthur, although singling out an average performance would be a more difficult task considering the amazing cast. The actors as a whole bought in to the concept, and probably had to read it several times before getting a handle on it. Inception doesn’t need 3D to dazzle, to amaze, to be the best film of this millennium. But it will need repeated viewings to peel back the layers of this dense, astounding, satisfying journey. And I look forward to it.