Inception Review/Discussion

Inception Review/Discussion

32 Comments 21 July 2010

I have to tell you right off the bat that I don’t have normal taste in movies. I don’t like movies that take place in cold climates. I don’t like movies that make you feel like shit. I go to movies to escape. To see worlds that don’t exist. A handful of my favorite movies: Donnie Darko, Pleasantville, Dark City, Jurassic Park, Aliens, Abyss, Iron Giant. Sufficient geek cred, I’d say. I also have to tell you that if you haven’t seen Inception then you should stop reading. I think it’s a solid 8/10 [edit: bumping this up to 8.5/10 for all the good discussion down below], but more than that it’s a theater film. Go see it on the best screen, with the best projector, and best sound.

Ok, with that out of the way, I HATED Inception. Kidding. I just want to be realistic about it. Around my office (definitely a movie geek crowd if ever there was one—an internet company targeted to guys 18-34) people are frothing at the mouth over Inception like it’s the greatest thing since sliced bread. Is it the best of the year? Probably. But that’s not a huge accomplishment. It hasn’t been a great year for movies (sorry Toy Story 3, you were good, but the Pixar playbook is showing its age). And if I had to sum up my problem with Inception it’s that I feel like it could have been more. Here’s what I felt it was missing:

  • Where’s the imagination? Ok, admittedly that’s inflammatory. The mechanics of the dream world are amazing—the time dilation, how it gets magnifies with each layer, how you get people out of the dreams, the subconscious, prying out secrets—that’s good stuff. That’s great stuff. But here you get a chance to build worlds that cannot and will never exist in the real world. I understand that if you’re trying to extract a secret you need to keep the dream world really realistic. Fine. But once the subconscious is onto you, why not start changing the world? They do this a little bit with the MC Escher stairs, but why not have the architect start throwing up walls? Change gravity around, mess with the weather, etc. You could even have a rule where the subconscious resists these changes and so there’s a constant back-and-forth as the architect bends the world and reshapes it as the subconscious seeks to maintain “reality”. All the while the other team members are fighting off angry strangers. Exciting!

    Another missed opportunity is Cobb and his wife’s world. They lived there for 50 years. How cool if they had made something totally insane and totally beautiful. Impossible gardens and architecture. Starry skies that mix with sunny skies. Permanent storms in the distance. Just crazy shit. And it would off-set the forced reality of the dreams they normally operate in. What a great excuse to build something totally unique and Nolan gives us giant gray buildings.

  • Where’s the joy? They hint at this once when Ariadne leaves and Cobb says she’ll be back because you can’t experience dreams like that and not want to do it again. Exactly! How awesome. She comes back and enjoys exactly none of it. In fact, she does nothing creative after that first exercise with Cobb (which was pretty cool—folding city! Wow! She’ll do really cool stuff later in this movie I bet! No? Oh.). Eames (the kick-ass Brit) also shows a bit of enjoying himself times, but it’s just not enough. Not when we’re saddled with…

  • Sad sac Cobb. I get it. You feel guilty. You need to get to your kids. Ugh. Having to follow this character’s life is like hanging out in an old folks’ home. After about 5 minutes you’re like, get me the fuck out of here before I slit my wrists. When was the last time Leonardo DiCaprio even played someone that enjoyed life? Catch Me If You Can? Go look at his IMDb page. Full of depressing Oscar bait.

  • Cobb’s wife is kind of a bitch. They show a bit of him happy with her in their dream world but not much. She spends most the movie just fucking his shit up. Back in my first bullet point where I say that their dream world should have been impossibly beautiful, how cool if Cobb admits to Ariadne that his wife was responsible for all the beauty in it. Like her mind is so unique and creative that you see what someone who builds dreams sees in her.

  • Fleshed out secondary characters. Tom Hardy (as Eames) does the best here with what little he’s got. Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and Ariadne have a lot to do in terms of the plot, but get zero help on the character front (pretty much zombies the entire time). They have no emotional arc. They hardly even seem to care. Why not develop a connection between Ariadne and Arthur and have that build over the course of the movie? I will say that Fischer has a decent arc with his father, and Cillian Murphy does a great job with the role.

Alright, so those are my gripes. Seems like I’m dumping on it, I know, but remember, 8/10 [now 8.5/10] isn’t bad (especially on a REAL 1-10 scale, where 5 is still “average”). So what are some of my favorite things?

  • The zero gravity scene. From the fight, to having to wrangle unconscious bodies into an elevator, wow. WOW. Still not sure how they pulled off such realistic zero-g but it looks great and it’s exactly what I would expect from this movie (or would have expected from a Matrix sequel).
  • The sand castle scene, where the building in the back gets destroyed as Cobb knocks over the sand castle. Sweet!
  • Time dilation and it’s exponential magnification as you go deeper into dreams.
  • Using the standard heist flick framework to present a really complex idea. Brilliant. Use a plot technique we’re very used to (almost bored with) as a life vest for some heady stuff.
  • Ariadne’s “training.” The city folding up is really cool. Watch how the cars go through tunnels instead of just crashing into a now 90-degree street.

So what did I miss? How lame am I for not thinking this is teh best movie evar!!!11!1! I still liked it. Hit me up in the comments. What did you love? What did you hate?

Your Comments

32 Comments so far

  1. Avistrange says:

    Great review! I pretty much feel exactly the same way. My only gripe is that the dream reality was less surreal than at least my dreams usually are. Where was the sexuality that often shows up in dreams? Where was the grit? Where was the bliss or the terror? As a former lucid dreamer (I’ve become lazy in my old age), I found the dream world in Inception to be very cool, but a bit to “clean” to feel like a real dream.

    For the record, I LOVED this movie. I give it an 8/10 as well. I just would have made it a little more strange. Imagine that.

    • Brian says:

      Thanks dude! Yeah, it wasn’t quite weird enough to feel like a real dream at all. Like how you’re talking to one person and all of a sudden it’s someone else but you never really think about it.

  2. CCap says:

    I liked it. A lot. Not a 10 or an 11. I think it grew on me the more I thought about it. Closer to a 9 for me 🙂
    Hard to expand on what you so thoroughly went through – but I think seeing it in IMAX was definitely a plus for a flick like this.
    I would like to see it again, I think there’d be a lot more little details to notice…

    I notice your review is pretty spoiler free – what are your views on going into that here?

    • Brian says:

      Actually I thought it was really spoilery. Hmmm. Yeah, go for it man. What do you want to talk about?

    • Chelsea says:

      Like…the end! Does the dreidel fall or not?!?! It was amazing to hear all the gasps in the theater at the end – I LOVED how they ended it.

      • Brian says:

        Yes, I also liked the end. I should have put that in my “pro” list. =)
        See my reply to CCap below in regards to the top falling over or not. Although it DID start to wobble a bit…

        • Brian says:

          Oh, also, wasn’t that his wife’s top originally? If she knows how much it weighs couldn’t he be in her dream? Or something? Wait, I don’t think I understand the totems anymore. Hahaha.

          • CCap says:

            Dude the “whose dream” thing is TOTALLY something that started giving me a headache. Especially, like, it’d be the architect’s dream (or something) but then the other dude in the dream would “populate” it. Got so tricky as you go down each level.
            And yeah, great point, if it’s his wife’s totem it totally COULD be her dream! Or what if he only dreamt up the whole totem idea in the first place?! What if shared dreams don’t even exist!

            Yeah, it is almost pointless to go into it, because these are things that will NOT be answered. It’s like Lost, but better in a way, because we don’t HOPE for future answers in upcoming episodes and then get disappointed when they don’t happen.

          • Brian says:

            Coworker says it was always his top. I thought it was his wife’s totem that she “locked” in her subconscious but now I can’t remember.

  3. CCap says:

    Well, yeah, so, is it all a dream or what? Is that top gonna stop spinning?

    I mean, the “reality” in the flick does not feel very real to me. Crazy amount of conspiracy and paranoia and tycoons buying airlines in order to get his hands on his competitor.
    What I kept thinking when I was driving home was – if Leo gets on this flight from Europe to the states (w/ barely any notice), how the hell does Michael Caine make it all the way from Europe to the US in time to pick his ass up from the airport? First, Leo doesn’t even know if he’s gonna be arrested when he gets there. I guess he could’ve been, like, “look, pop, I’m getting on this transatlantic flight in a couple days, on the off-chance I don’t get arrested upon landing, could you please fly over before me and pick me up from the airport so I can see my kids?” and then Michael Caine is like, “sure! I’ll just ditch my class and hop on the next flight!” I don’t see it happening. And that’s assuming that Leo even had a couple days to plan the flight. If Cillian’s pop just died, you’d think he’d be on, like, the NEXT flight out once he found out his private jet was out of commission.

    Also, they don’t mention the timeline really, but they sure seem to imply that Leo has been on the run for a long time, right? Like at LEAST a year? Isn’t it weird that his kids look exactly the same size when he gets home? I mean, aren’t they even wearing the same clothes as in his dreams/memories? These are little kids! They grow up quick!

    Okay, that’s what I was focusing on. I feel like if I watched it again more inconsistencies would come up to suggest it might be a dream.

    Oh I remembered one more thing. Not so much an inconcistency, but more of a WTF. Okay, if they were in the real world when Mal killed herself. She would have to be REALLY cunty (crazy or not, whether or not she thinks she’s in a dream) to give her lawyer a letter saying that the love of her life has been abusing her and she’s afraid he’s gonna kill her. Also, having three shrinks find her competent as a way to make Leo look more guilty so he’ll kill himself too? That sounds just too unreal – totally sounds like something one would come up with in a dream.

    Okay, yeah, so there.

    Back to reviewish sort of things. One semi-negative. Cobb is on the run from some dude (besides the government) right? They mention towards the beginning and have that little chase scene and then TOTALLY drop the thing. I mean, I know the movie is super dense and pretty long, so can’t really fit much more stuff, but kinda weird to bring in that whole character and then just ignore it for the rest of the flick.

    I totally agree with you too about how much they held back in the dream world. I mean, these guys are all powerful and can create ANYTHING they want! Show us some more awesomeness!

    I’ll think of more to add later probably.

    • Brian says:

      Great point about his dad being at the airport (I thought this too), the size of his kids (I did not think of this), and the suicide (also didn’t think much about it). The suicide, wasn’t she like, across the street in another hotel? Did she have to get a room there? How did she find the right window? It can’t be that easy. Also, wouldn’t there be witnesses that saw Leo running out of his hotel and into the street? And records of whatever other room the wife rented?

      • Brian says:

        As to whether or not it’s a dream… I suppose in the end it doesn’t matter does it? You could never prove that our world isn’t all a dream let alone a fictional world in a movie. He’s with his kids again, and that’s kind of what matters. Although if he went up one level he could be with his wife and kids. Hahaha. SUCKER!

  4. CCap says:

    Yeah I thought they said it was her totem at some point.

    Then again, it IS what Cobb used to, uhhh, incept her? Perform inception? So I guess he wouldn’t be able to do that if it was her totem? Damnit I have no clue.

  5. James says:

    Brian, I loved the movie, not least because it’s kept me thinking about it for the past few days. The reviews I’ve read criticizing it mostly seem preoccupied with how ambitious the entire production was and whether or not it lived up to all expectations–and I can live with the chief problem being over-ambition.

    I do think it was all a dream, and I think Christopher Nolan masterfully exploited the audience’s willingness to ignore plot gaps in stories to set this up. I mean, we’re told twice in the movie the best way to determine whether you’re in a dream is to try to remember how you got from one place to another. Is there clear logic supporting how we got from point A to point B?

    One of the scenes that stuck with me was a throwaway moment–early on, when Saito wakes up in the train and frantically checks his wrist for marks. There are none. This scene is there to show us, the audience, that Saito has been tricked momentarily into thinking nothing actually happened to him. But I think the scene’s real purpose is to throw a hint in our direction–if the train scene was real, of course he should have had marks. In fact, they all should–they’ve routinely been hooked up intravenously to a machine in the waking world.

    I think the shadow henchmen hunting Cobb down in the real world–who collectively never utter a word–are also a clear hint. In each dream world the host’s mind manifests defenses against intruders. So, why couldn’t these henchmen be the same thing? Someone’s mind creating defenses, closing in on Cobb? In which case, who’s dream world is he really inhabiting?

    I think Cobb has been tricked into doing exactly what he tricks Robert Fischer, Jr. into doing–invading his own mind. I think the defenses we encounter in the movie are Cobb’s own, attempting to prevent him from progressing towards revealing a secret he’s been hiding.

    I don’t know who in the movie would benefit directly from doing this though. Maybe Molly herself? Maybe Saito? Maybe the audience? I dunno. But I think as complex as the movie initially comes off, it’s even more complex than that.

    • Brian says:

      James, I guess there can’t really be a right or wrong answer but that’s the most reasonable sounding argument I’ve heard yet, not just for “is it a dream” but also “why is it a dream”. Which of these characters would be after Cobb? Why would they be?

      Since you brought up the “device”, did they ever say that the device was how they link into dreams? Or is it merely something that induces sleep and then acts as a “kick” when they have to wake up?

      Is the fact that they never once talk about the science or history of extraction/inception yet another clue that this is all just a regular dream on Cobb’s part?

      • D3mo says:

        I think the reason for Mal’s death is being extracted from Cobb’s mind, all wrapped in an inception-based scheme by real-life authorities.
        The last scene, where Cobb finally looks his children in the eyes seems exactly the same as he remembers. Both his children
        sitting on the grass. No way this would repeat itself exactly in real life. This, to me, is a clear hint that Cobb is still
        dreaming. Even more than the totem not tumbling.
        One thing I don’t get though, is why Cobb needed to incept Mal to get her back to reality in the first place. Shouldn’t
        killing her suffice? I mean, they do end up putting their heads on rails. Ok she did not know she was dreaming anymore, but
        does that matter? And suicide got Cobb and Mal from level 5 to 1 without the need for kicks in the adjacent levels?
        Maybe someone has some idea about this, or maybe I missed the reason for the need for the inception?

  6. Brian says:

    This is pretty cool. Map of who’s dreaming what layer and the kick:

    • Patrick says:

      That just confused me… and after I thought I had it all figured out. Damn you.

      • Avistrange says:

        Ha! Yeah, the image above is actually clarifying but begs the question, what the fuck is the Juno chick’s purpose? Isn’t the architect the dreamer? I mean she obviously helped coach Cobb through Limbo, but how was she

        • Avistrange says:

          Whoa! That was weird. I think I just experienced my own little Internet kick. Anyway, Ellen Page was in the hizouse. Why?

  7. superdad says:

    nice review. you might enjoy Roger Ebert’s take on the movie

    • Brian says:

      Pretty good review. I also read is defense of his review on his blog. He seems to ignore any sort of problems with the movie though, which to me just seems like denial (hence my write-up above).

  8. I have some questions – What did Leo need to do to bring Ken Watanabe back from limbo? Did he just have to kill him? What if he had killed himself years earlier? I didnt really understand that part.

    • Brian says:

      BWarn, no idea. I think Limbo has different rules as to waking up, but I can’t remember. The other levels all required “kicks” since dying or killing yourself led to limbo. And then once you’re in limbo don’t you lose yourself and forget you’re dreaming so you’re not likely to kill yourself? Ariadne killed herself to get out of limbo at the end, right?

  9. Veggieblez says:

    Look up Lucid Dreams. Basically where inception is from. 😀

  10. jocuri says:

    As someone said above, nothing!

  11. sudo says:

    Nice post, thank you!


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