Is all we see or seem but a dream within a dream within a dream within a dream?
Image: Warner Bros. Pictures
Following on from a film that grossed 1 billion dollars must be somewhat daunting. Whether or not it was entirely merited, Christopher Nolan’s last movie, The Dark Knight, was a resounding success, bringing in both big bucks and critical acclaim. For his next project, Nolan was given a great deal of creative freedom. Such freedom, in the wrong hands, can lead to terrible cinema. A lesser director than Nolan might have baulked at the task and delivered something safe, some big budget action film which would ensure bums on seats and full coffers worldwide. Instead, Nolan took himself back to his roots in inventive, intelligent drama (his breakthrough hit, lest we forget, was the twisty and marvellous Memento) and has managed to deliver a film with something for everyone.
Inception is a film about dreams, and as such revels in the chance to supply beautiful images for us to stare at in awe. However, Nolan is well aware that gorgeous images alone do not make a crowd pleasing film, and thus he also gives us characters that are instantly engaging, and add some real heart to the spectacle. Nobody is a letdown, but the outstanding stars of the piece have to be Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Tom Hardy. Both have been threatening to break into the mainstream for years now, and if this doesn’t do it for them then nothing will. They each bring the most out of somewhat underwritten roles, shining particularly in the moments when they get to play at being an immature double act. As you might expect from Nolan the direction is glorious, with action sequences which would not look out of place in a Bond film matched against crisp heist movie scenes cooler than anything we have since Ocean’s Eleven.
It should be pointed out, however, that Inception is by no means flawless. While the concept is high, the storyline itself is remarkably uncomplicated. Poor Ellen Paige, while likeable, is reduced to being a spokesperson for the less involved viewers, constantly asking for clarification of what is going on as though for the ease of those who might have nipped out for a quick loo break. This means that there is a distinct lack of surprises in the film, with only the rather cheesy final shot offering any sort of question as to what is really going on. It must also be noted that the film is not as original as it thinks it is, borrowing liberally from other films with bendy realities like Dark City and The Matrix. Also, despite the occasional use of dream logic – with a shifty staircase being the hilarious high point – the film does not go far enough in exploiting its fun premise. While Wes Craven gave us stairs made of porridge and a devilish bogeyman with unlimited dream powers in A Nightmare on Elm Street, Nolan seems content to leave us with pretty cityscapes and some neat urban realignment. More, we say! If this is a dream, why not have some fun with the concept? At one point Gordon-Levitt’s character explains the wonderful idea that the people in the dream will eventually start acting like white blood cells and attack the invasive dream technicians, but this scary concept never gets allowed to play out. Indeed, the fact that the film takes place in the realm of the imagination ensures that there is never much chance for suspense, which is a great shame, although it will never get in the way of the sheer enjoyment of watching. It is certainly to Nolan’s credit that such flaws do not occur to you until the film has finished, so finessed is the experience.
Nit picking aside, Inception is that rarest of beasts – a blockbuster with a brain – and as such it should be applauded. What is lacks in originality and tension it makes up for in brilliant direction and acting, and an irrepressible sense of fun which will stick with you even after the post-film debates and Facebook status admirations have passed.
Not as clever as it thinks it is, certainly, but incredibly fun and well acted, Inception is perfect summer viewing.