Unfortunately, the arrival of 2020 saw many great films parting ways with streaming giant Netflix (I’m still kicking myself for missing the highly praised Brick while it was still on there, and not just because it was directed by the same person who did the near-perfect Knives Out, either)–though some of the ones that replaced them are arguably just as good in the eyes of most critics. Chief among them is Inception, the mind-bending Christopher Nolan sci-fi thriller that I’d admittedly put off watching for years because it looked far too “commercial” for me. Boy, was that a seriously bad lack of judgment on my part.
Researching some more info about the film, I learned that Nolan not only wrote the screenplay for it, but also shelved it for nearly ten years while working on massively successful blockbusters such as Batman Begins and The Dark Knight in order to gain more experience making big-budget flicks. Judging how utterly flawless Inception looks and feels as a result, I’d say that this training was well worth the effort.
The film’s cinematography is stunning, the camerawork steady, the visual tricks all mind-blowing, and the action exciting without once reaching the point of being obnoxious. However, to discuss this film without also looking at its surprisingly deep plotline would be akin to writing an essay on rock music that doesn’t mention Led Zeppelin. It is also kinda hard to explain, so try and bear with me here:
As if computer hacking wasn’t already a big enough danger to your personal security, in this movie, human minds are now a target as well. No, seriously–the work is done by experienced “extractors”, who do this by entering their targets’ dreams while they’re sleeping. Chief among them is Dominick “Dom” Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio), who decides to both use himself and his team to accomplish the seemingly impossible task of implanting a very profitable idea so deep in the head of Robert Michael Fischer (Cillian Murphy) that he will think it is his own. Not only do those plans go south really quickly, but in the midst of all the chaos that follows, Dom is repeatedly haunted by visions of his wife and young children, the former of which is dead.
This premise demands an epic, complex treatment, and boy howdy, does it get it. Rest assured, though: Inception is never boring–in fact, literally every single minute of it is eye-catching or engaging in some way. How much so, you may ask? I’ll put it this way: the film is nearly two-and-a-half hours, yet it is so fast-paced and compelling that it actually feels half that long.
On that note, remember my review of Clear and Present Danger, where I complained that “I don’t think really long films are bad per se, but if you’re really going to stretch yours out to an epic length such as [141 minutes], you’d better have a damn good reason to do so, which [this film] doesn’t”? Well, as with the fantastic Boyhood, Inception actually has not one, but multiple “damn good reasons” to be that long. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be able to properly develop Dom’s character, the tragically troubled relationship he had with his wife, or even the nature of the various worlds he races through in an effort to get the idea in there, get out, and maybe, just maybe, see the faces of these kids again.
As for whether the film is too “commercial” or not, I will admit that yes, as with nearly all the other films Nolan has directed, it is pure mainstream Hollywood blockbuster fare. But Inception didn’t come from the Hollywood of faceless sequels, reboots, and thinly veiled ripoffs of old glories I’m talking about here. No, it came from the Hollywood of stories that are actually original, themes that stick in audience’s minds for years to come, and endings that are the exact opposite of "predictable" or "unsurprising", a Hollywood that is all but gone today (the consistently creative A24 studios excepted, of course). Savor it here while it still lasts.