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Film Studies 101
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STAR RATINGS EXPLAINED
Unmissable 5 Stars
Excellent 4 Stars
Good 3 Stars
Poor 2 Stars
Tragic 1 Star

POSTER ART
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FILM DETAILS
Certificate
12A
Cast
Leonardo DiCaprio
Joseph Gordon-Levitt
Marion Cotillard
Ellen Page
Cillian Murphy
Michael Caine
Ken Watanabe
Tom Hardy
Tom Berenger.
Directors
Christopher Nolan.
Screenwriters
Christopher Nolan.
Running Time
145 minutes

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Inception
Christopher Nolan’s exquisite equation of dreams and death... and shit blowing up


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Plot
Corporate spy-for-hire Dom Cobb (DiCaprio) steals ideas in dreams, but then he's hired to achieve the impossible: "inception" - planting an idea in the mind of a target. If he succeeds, he can see his estranged children. If he fails, he'll be trapped forever.


Review
Inception
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If you know nothing else about Inception, at least know this: it is not a trick. It is ingenious but not crafty, knotty but not duplicitous. It has neither Memento’s method conceit nor the smoke and mirrors of The Prestige. To contrast it with the latter, in particular (fine film though that is), is to appreciate the difference between stage-magic and a real miracle.

The director-as-magician analogy feels least tired when applied to Christopher Nolan, given his body of work, its formal and mental layers and precisely engineered reveals. At best, this approach can be exhilarating. At worst — as with the narrative drip-feed of Insomnia, his weakest picture — it is obfuscation masquerading as artistry, aka not half as bloody clever as it thinks it is. Given its setting is largely the subconscious, though, Inception can’t work with a rug-pull denouement. Every scene — let alone the movie — could be punctured with that postscript beloved of primary school story scribblers: “And I woke up and it was only a dream...” So, don’t brace for a “ta-dah!” moment — it will impede your enjoyment and waste your time. Instead, marvel at the effrontery of a filmmaker who asks you to emotionally invest in avowed mental constructs — and succeeds. In one sense, admittedly, this is what every filmmaker asks us to do: engross ourselves in their imagination. The movie, then, could be interpreted as being about craft and inspiration — one character even says, of constructing the architecture of dreams, “It’s just... pure creation.”

But there are bigger things in play here than simply Art, and Nolan isn’t given to self-referential indulgence. This is about life and death and what might be beyond and between. It is also about blazing gun battles, zero-gravity fist fights and stars you’d like to sleep with. Fret not, Batfans — Nolan hasn’t turned into Andrei Tarkovsky. The muscular action that distinguished his Bruce Wayne pictures is again in evidence, but whereas Gotham in the Nolanverse is bound by at least some constraints — you know, little things like physics — here all bets are off. It’s not that Inception doesn’t have rules: like any convincing science-fiction, it has rules and boundaries it will not break. But those boundaries are pretty broad — they are the limits of each character’s imagination. The images deserve to be untarnished by much explanation — you should see them for yourself and on the biggest screen you can (it’s coming to IMAX — book now) to best appreciate Wally Pfister’s excellent, expansive photography. Funny, though, how moments that make the memory boggle when you recall them pass naturally in the moment because you are rooted in the world Nolan has created, in the reality(s) of the characters. This is testament to the physical prowess of the production and thorough thought that’s created this world, but also to the actors.

Some rise to particularly fascinating challenges (hello, Tom Berenger) and some surprise — principally Cillian Murphy, who can do danger and insolence in his sleep, but here shows a tenderness and vulnerability crucial to the story. Others exert a personality and appeal on parts that on the page would have played very close to ‘types’ — particularly Ellen Page, exuding a prim sexiness as, really, Basil Exposition, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who somehow manages to appear both ambiguous and dependable as essentially a sidekick. The pair share one of the movie’s best comic beats, too, though most of the sly laughs come from Tom Hardy’s roguish Eames.

It will be fascinating to read the hypotheses that percolate about Inception after release and no doubt what characters are called will be explored. That Page is Ariadne — the name of a figure in Greek myth who guides a hero from a maze — has already been noted. Eames shares his name with seminal designers/architects Charles and Ray, who made a celebrated short film, Powers Of 10, about the magnitude of the universe. Marion Cotillard is Cobb’s wife, Mal — which means “bad”, but can also derive from the Hebrew for messenger or angel. Cobb itself comes from Jacob, who, when fleeing from his murderous brother in the biblical book Genesis, dreamt of a ladder to heaven...

Based on his previous behaviour, Nolan isn’t likely to explain what he thinks Inception is actually about, but it’s certainly possible to see it as a blockbuster allegory about grief, faith and the desire for an afterlife — to be reunited with those we love and have lost (those with even a passing knowledge of Catholicism may note an interesting use of the word ‘limbo’). You could argue it’s about suicide and the fears and hopes that can both power and prevent it (for in that sleep of death, what dreams may come?), just as was Soderbergh’s Solaris. Nolan, though, doesn’t muse; he motors. This is no sombre meditation. The themes are there to be explored (there will be more theories about this movie than about the killing of JFK), but you can just as well sit back and enjoy the spectacle.

And what a spectacle.

In terms of scale and style it is, as Nolan intended, comparable to Bond’s best excursions — yet filtered through a brain-frying, subconscious-spelunking, time-dilating structure that boldly frames action sequences around each other. So we get an explosive Arctic mountain vault-storming within a zero-gravity scramble within a vehicle-crunching chase. In effect, the set-pieces are simultaneous. Which is insane, but brilliant as, while he at times boggles through the necessarily complex editing, Nolan never corrupts his multiverse’s internal logic.

When you’re not basking in the visuals, you can always lean into DiCaprio and appreciate the emotion. He anchors everything. An actor who has long borne the blessing and the burden of being hailed a genius before he was even a man, he has never been less than good, but can appear either callow or try-hard, like a child dressing in daddy’s suit. Not here. He shows a depth of feeling rivalled only by his work in Shutter Island. To deliver two such turns in a career would be impressive. In a year, it’s just showing off. What makes it work, really, though, is how unfussy he is, how unselfish — there’s no showboating. Good as he is in The Departed or Gangs Of New York, you could sometimes feel the Weight of his Acting. Here, paradoxically, he appears effortless, even though he’s the beam on which the whole mighty edifice rests. It’s because you believe his journey, his heart, that you buy into Inception. If he failed, so would the movie. This isn’t the sort of performance that usually wins Oscars — it’s not ostentatious or superficially transformative, but by God it is brilliant. The strength of it is that you remain emotionally engaged, even if you’re not entirely sure what’s going on. The third act makes Memento seem about as complex as Bear In The Big Blue House. And while there is remarkable clarity given the complexity, you are pummelled with information and have to keep up — pay attention, figure it out.

Only repeat viewing will reveal if this comparison is truly justified, but it feels like Stanley Kubrick adapting the work of the great sci-fi author William Gibson (Neuromancer) — except Nolan appears to like people more than the 2001 auteur. So, you have a film that embraces intellect and emotion but also sheer entertainment — that can include a character staring at what looks like one of Francis Bacon’s tortured self-portraits, but also has the best EXPLODEY BUILDING sequence since Zabriskie Point. That film was a notorious bomb, ignored by audiences and pilloried by critics. And some, who may find Inception exposition-heavy and bewildering, will no doubt argue that, drunk on the freedom of The Dark Knight, Nolan has spent $170 million disappearing up his own arse. He hasn’t. On this form, wherever he goes next, be it Batman 3 or something else, we’ll be the first in line to follow.


Verdict
Like The Matrix mated with Synecdoche, New York — or a Charlie Kaufman 007. To paraphrase Casino Royale’s Vesper Lynd, it’s a meaningful pursuit in a summer of disposable entertainments. With physics-defying, thunderous action, heart-wringing emotion and an astonishing performance from DiCaprio, Nolan delivers another true original: welcome to an undiscovered country.


Reviewed by Nev Pierce


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Your Reviews

Average user rating for Inception
Empire Star Rating

RE: Really wanna see it NOW

The story can be told for certain phrases, or did not say anything. Here is a film about the immune spoilers: If you knew how it ended, telling you nothing if you do not know how it got there. ... More

Posted by jackamla at 11:51, 03 February 2011 | Report This Post


RE: Inception

The story can be told for certain phrases, or did not say anything. Here is a film about the immune spoilers: If you knew how it ended, telling you nothing if you do not know how it got there. ... More

Posted by jackamla at 11:50, 03 February 2011 | Report This Post


RE: Inception

Sorry for the duplicate post. Seems like the forum is playing up. Just watched a bit of the South Park parody. They summed it up perfectly 'it's so complex it's cool.' Couldn't have said it better myself. ... More

Posted by jrewing1000 at 17:54, 16 January 2011 | Report This Post


RE: Inception

Yes, it can be linked to the Matrix, as a few people have pointed out. But I think the W.Brothers seemed to make more of an effort to create a solid premise that holds up to scrutiny. I guess it sits in that 'alternate reality' category. I really don't think it's good enough to create something that's so complicated and ultimately so confusing, that your audience dismiss their lack of understanding because they think they haven't thought about it enough - as if further thought will uncover... More

Posted by jrewing1000 at 17:50, 16 January 2011 | Report This Post


RE: Inception

Yes, it can be linked to the Matrix, as a few people have pointed out. But I think the W.Brothers seemed to make more of an effort to create a solid premise that holds up to scrutiny. I guess it sits in that 'alternate reality' category. I really don't think it's good enough to create something that's so complicated and ultimately so confusing, that your audience dismiss their lack of understanding because they think they haven't thought about it enough - as if further thought will uncover... More

Posted by jrewing1000 at 17:50, 16 January 2011 | Report This Post


RE: Inception

I agree although I'm more forgiving. I need to see it again to get it right but I'm sure there are other plot holes that are well covered but would actually kill the story. Like the falling to wake you up. That would only work physically, so doing it in dreams where there isn't gravity is pointless yet this hinges all dream layers together. I think they glossed over the point that beocuse the characters are dreaming they can do anything, like suddenly become mountain ninjas. Nolan should h... More

Posted by BigKovacs at 23:37, 13 January 2011 | Report This Post


RE: Inception

I've just watched Inception for the second time, and I'm really disappointed. I REALLY wanted to like this, and discover elements, depths and understandings of the film that make me enjoy it all the more. This happened with The Departed, but unfortunately watching Inception a second time for me just confirmed what overrated nonsense this is. Nolan is undoubtedly a master filmmaker. He takes risks, executes his movies with such skill and art that it's difficult to dislike his work. But Ince... More

Posted by jrewing1000 at 22:21, 13 January 2011 | Report This Post


RE: Brilliant and unique

I caught this at the cinema twice and last night was the first time I've watched it since then. I must point out I loved it in the cinema but being honest was expecting on this small screen viewing, that some of the gloss and sheen had rubbed off. How wrong I was! I love Inception. I by no means think it is perfect, infact its hard to define what type of film its trying to be, sci-fi, action thriller etc... But for me, whatever faults it has are far out weighed by its positive points. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by ongbakdan at 12:37, 11 January 2011 | Report This Post


RE: Whats with all this talk about the ending, it's a joke ending like xmen 3 no relevance whatsoev

I really enjoyed it but it was complication over sophistication. A goo film and as already pointed out, great manipulation of physics only to be let down by very weak action pieces. I'd give it a 3.5 stars. ... More

Posted by BigKovacs at 17:09, 07 January 2011 | Report This Post


RE: Whats with all this talk about the ending, it's a joke ending like xmen 3 no relevance whatsoev

I really enjoyed it but it was complication over sophistication. A goo film and as already pointed out, great manipulation of physics only to be let down by very weak action pieces. I'd give it a 3.5 stars. ... More

Posted by BigKovacs at 17:08, 07 January 2011 | Report This Post


RE: Whats with all this talk about the ending, it's a joke ending like xmen 3 no relevance whatsoev

The reason you guys are slating the film is because you are viewing it as an action film where there has to be "danger." There was danger in the film but ignoring that anyway the main reason I liked the film was because of the emotion. Marion Cotillard's performance gave me chills, alluring yet terrifying. I cannot believe somebody called her wooden? The visuals were fantastic agreed but look past that and see the emotion beneath it and the theme of uncertainty- life is full of uncertainty... More

Posted by chambanzi at 21:48, 06 January 2011 | Report This Post


RE: I still can't get out of my head...

L: BatSpider .. the fact that Inception sucks, and Chris "12 certificate" Nolan can't choreograph fight scenes to save his life, and has never directed a shagging scene after how many movies? Even Spielberg's done a few of those. There are no challenging themes in his movies - nothing controversial or confrontational whatsoever. By challenging I don't mean convoluted. Nolan is the Dettol of action / fantasy movies - sterile, safe, manufactured, and designed for mass consumption. His bi... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by fiercehairdo at 14:26, 05 January 2011 | Report This Post


RE: Inception (2010)

]   Please be kidding.... ... More

Posted by Keyser Sozzled at 16:19, 09 October 2010 | Report This Post


RE: Inception (2010)

L: citygirl23 Loved it - v intriguing film with some great performances. I really enjoyed Tom Hardy's performance as Eames - mischevious and engaging - and I can't believe no one else has mentioned him. This is a definite purchase on DVD when it comes out. sp; Welcome to the boards, but if you read through this thread and others on the subject of Inception you'll see a lot of people have rightly praised Hardy's performance. ... More

Posted by tftrman at 09:23, 09 October 2010 | Report This Post


RE: Inception (2010)

Loved it - v intriguing film with some great performances. I really enjoyed Tom Hardy's performance as Eames - mischevious and engaging - and I can't believe no one else has mentioned him. This is a definite purchase on DVD when it comes out. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by citygirl23 at 05:47, 07 October 2010 | Report This Post


RE: Really wanna see it NOW

I just watched Inception and absolutely loved it. At last a movie that justified all the hype around it. ... More

Posted by achengms at 20:16, 29 September 2010 | Report This Post


RE: The film that made me sit up and take notice of Nolan

Inception is a film that has been greatly anticipated, but how could it not be, when Christopher Nolan is at the helm? After Nolan reinvented Batman in Beginslidified that reinvention as a piece of cinematic art in k Knights been considered one of the greatest directors of this generation. It may have been k Knightelped build up interest for onhat audiences were promised was something quite different. The trailers, with the loud noises and imagery of a sun-dappled city folding in on itself... More

Posted by McGeesJabberwock at 18:07, 26 September 2010 | Report This Post


RE: Inception

Fantastic film, one the edge of my seat, and thrilling to watch. A great storyline/idea for a film. The ending was also great and rather frustrating it has to be said. The film was not as confusing as I was told. Leo-Di-Cap played his character awfully well. If I had to criticize, I walked away not knowing much about the other characters, (not even their names!), but that didn't affect the experience. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by velpix at 18:09, 05 September 2010 | Report This Post


RE: Inception

Not a spoiler but another Inception trailer spoof. A well shot spoof at that. ]TION still give the film 3/5 not a as brainy as it appears. But they do have such tidy suits and nice hair. Not emotionally engaging enough. You want to see how longing and loss can be portrayed. Watch 1st reel of UP. Big energy deal is like Imperial Trade routes. vague & meaningless. Had the most exciting exposition of any film this year though. But once you've learned the Cause and Effect. (and then... More

Posted by oui3d at 15:54, 31 August 2010 | Report This Post


Inception

I LOVED this film. I'd read some reviews on it before I actually went to see it so I had a feeling it would be pretty good and it blew me away. The storyline and effects were stunning. Five stars. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Lynchie at 23:27, 26 August 2010 | Report This Post


Inception

I LOVED this. The storyline was brilliant, the effects were stunning. I'd read a few reviews on this before I saw it so I knew it would be pretty good but this actually blew me away. Five stars. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Lynchie at 23:25, 26 August 2010 | Report This Post


RE: Sorry Graeme

L: gooner_no1 I could write for a long time on how dull this film is and how shallow and how lacking it is in suspense, drama or thrills. But I'll get flamed whatever - so here's my one line review of Inception. It certainly has the Christopher Nolan effect - that point, halfway through when the film stops dead and you question why you are still sitting there being bored out of your mind by this lumbering, by-the-numbers plot, painfully bad action scenes (shootouts that recall Th... More

Posted by pete_traynor at 16:26, 25 August 2010 | Report This Post


RE: Sorry Graeme

Double Post ... More

Posted by pete_traynor at 16:23, 25 August 2010 | Report This Post


RE: Sorry Graeme

Yeah I'm really pleased to see it's got legs, has overtaken the abysmal Clash of the Titans, and is well on course to surpass Eclipse, Shrek & Iron Man 2. Hollywood no longer have an excuse to spend lots of money solely on reboots / remakes etc, but then again there aren't many Chris Nolan's working there either. ... More

Posted by Qwerty Norris at 01:53, 24 August 2010 | Report This Post


RE: Sorry Graeme

Still top 10 US box Office-and some people say there's no quality. ... More

Posted by BOHEMIANBOB at 23:55, 23 August 2010 | Report This Post


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