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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: 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 T... More

Posted by Qwerty Norris at 06:41, 21 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 recal... More

Posted by BOHEMIANBOB at 09:10, 18 August 2010 | Report This Post


RE: Sorry Graeme

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 The Naked Gun), paper... More

Posted by gooner_no1 at 23:44, 17 August 2010 | Report This Post


RE: Sorry Graeme

I still love the Scots! "if football" isn't a typo! ... More

Posted by BOHEMIANBOB at 23:17, 17 August 2010 | Report This Post


RE: Apology to Graeme

Shaunyboy, if you disagree with Graeme fine - but please watch the tone and avoid calling strangers 'morons'.   See - not even saying no to the annoying 'weegie' word. Which is more likely to be used by folks from Greenock anyway - just watch A Sense of Freedom. ... More

Posted by elab49 at 21:03, 17 August 2010 | Report This Post


RE: Apology to Graeme

Scots em! ... More

Posted by BOHEMIANBOB at 20:50, 17 August 2010 | Report This Post


RE: Apology to Graeme

Thanks for the apology.  It's nae bother.  This is just a bit of banter.  I see ye've went from personal insults to regional stereotypes.  Classy!  Ok then, I'm not going to change my opinion and follow the rest of the crowd.  That's what all the sheep in Aberdeen do.  You're aptly named, Shaun.  By the way, I'm from Greenock.   ... More

Posted by graemes10589 at 19:56, 17 August 2010 | Report This Post


RE: Indifference

L: graemes10589 Jeez!  Now I know why I don't post on these forums.  Yer an awful touchy lot.  Look, I'm only giving my opinion.  I think yez should all go and watch Airplane! and lighten up a bit.  Maybe in Inception 2 Marion Cotillard will wake up and Leo will be in a shower (a la Bobby Ewing in Dallas) and the whole thing will have been her dream. ve Airplane! Maybe she'll wake up and Patrick Duffy will be in the shower and Leo was never really her husband,he was really her son,... More

Posted by BOHEMIANBOB at 19:18, 17 August 2010 | Report This Post


RE: Indifference

Jeez!  Now I know why I don't post on these forums.  Yer an awful touchy lot.  Look, I'm only giving my opinion.  I think yez should all go and watch Airplane! and lighten up a bit.  Maybe in Inception 2 Marion Cotillard will wake up and Leo will be in a shower (a la Bobby Ewing in Dallas) and the whole thing will have been her dream. ... More

Posted by graemes10589 at 19:02, 17 August 2010 | Report This Post


RE: Indifference

If this didn't linger in your head,i'd suggest you and your girlfriend were doing something other than watching the film! You said you don't normally post on forums,but you have about this film,and you admit you were caught up in the hype. If you didn't get the how the kicks work when you were watching the film,how can you say the film was so predictable when you didn't even understand one of the basic ideas?And then arrived with your opinion which you yourself have admitted was based on so... More

Posted by BOHEMIANBOB at 18:23, 17 August 2010 | Report This Post


RE: Indifference

Thanks for pointing out the detail that I missed regarding the 'kicks'.  I hope you sensed the tone about my query regarding the 'kicks'.  It was a bit of a glib, throwaway line in a poor attempt at humour.  I rarely post comments on films but felt compelled to do so with Inception as I was caught up in the hype, therefore expecting a lot from it but when I finally did I couldn't help feeling a sense of disappointment.  Sorry but it just didn't do anything for me.  A us... More

Posted by graemes10589 at 18:09, 17 August 2010 | Report This Post


RE: Indifference

L: graemes10589 If anybody didn't see the ending coming then they must be dreaming. I thought it would come sooner than it did. I expected Leo to wake up in the plane only to see a spinning totem. Fairly predictable stuff. I saw the film in Glasgow on Saturday and when it finished there was a collective groan from the audience - not a gasp of wonder and excitement - but frustration. That's awful slippery of Christopher Nolan to leave the audience hanging in order to 'generate debate'... More

Posted by Gretzky at 14:37, 17 August 2010 | Report This Post


RE: Reply to Shaunyboy

L: graemes10589 Shaunyboy, yer childish personal insults fall on deaf ears. To do that says a lot about the person you are. If ye can't join an adult debate without resorting to crass remarks then stay out of it wee man. Maybe I'm showing my age but the question of: is the film reality or another dream? - is just a rehash of the old Blade Runner 'is Deckard a replicant or not?' argument. Nolan himself cites Blade Runner as a major influence - and by the end of the film I couldn't ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Francis46 at 13:37, 17 August 2010 | Report This Post


RE: graemes10589's Girlfriend is a moron!

Shaunyboy, yer childish personal insults fall on deaf ears.  To do that says a lot about the person you are.  If ye can't join an adult debate without resorting to crass remarks then stay out of it wee man.  Maybe I'm showing my age but the question of:  is the film reality or another dream? - is just a rehash of the old Blade Runner 'is Deckard a replicant or not?' argument.  Nolan himself cites Blade Runner as a major influence - and by the end of the film I couldn't ... More

Posted by graemes10589 at 13:14, 17 August 2010 | Report This Post


RE: graemes10589's Girlfriend is a moron!

Shaunyboy, yer childish personal insults fall on deaf ears.  To stoop to that level says a lot about the person you are.  If you can't join in an adult debate without resorting to crass remarks then stay out of it wee man.  Maybe I'm showing my age but the question of:  is the film reality or another dream - is just a rehash of the old Blade Runner 'is Deckard a replicant or not?' argument.  Nolan himself cites Blade Runner as a major influence.  By the time I'd go... More

Posted by graemes10589 at 13:10, 17 August 2010 | Report This Post


RE: Almost cracked it...

I caught this the other night. It was a strange film. Prior to the movie I expected a royal mind fuck. I didn't really feel that watching the film. I thought especially in the first half the movie laid out it's plans/ideas and just how the world worked over and over. Some of the dialogue felt a bit forced and more like a manual on how the whole dream concept worked. I missed a bit in the latter half of the film (... I nodded off for a bit simply knackered) but manged to get everything and... More

Posted by the anomaly at 21:34, 13 August 2010 | Report This Post


RE: Almost cracked it...

L: Rgirvan44 L: shool L: Rgirvan44 L: shool L: BOHEMIANBOB Yeah,it's kinda the problem though-Nolan doesn't help all the theorists with his bits of fun! For what seems a very complex and serious film on one level,it does seem on another that Nolan does have his moments here where he is messing with your head and enjoying it! l,that doesn't mean it will do what you want,just that it is unrelaible to the person using it. Agree though it debunks the rel... More

Posted by BOHEMIANBOB at 12:03, 13 August 2010 | Report This Post


RE: Almost cracked it...

L: hatebox I don't regard this as a plot hole, but it made me chuckle: i.imgur.com/JiPqw.jpg/quote] ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by shool at 12:00, 13 August 2010 | Report This Post


RE: Almost cracked it...

L: shool L: BOHEMIANBOB Yeah,it's kinda the problem though-Nolan doesn't help all the theorists with his bits of fun! For what seems a very complex and serious film on one level,it does seem on another that Nolan does have his moments here where he is messing with your head and enjoying it! hats what makes it really interesting though. We will never know the answers because they arent there. Its just interesting talking about different view points on it. Every viewer has to m... More

Posted by BOHEMIANBOB at 11:59, 13 August 2010 | Report This Post


RE: Almost cracked it...

Triple post! Sort this forum out, Empire... ... More

Posted by hatebox at 11:52, 13 August 2010 | Report This Post


RE: Almost cracked it...

post ... More

Posted by hatebox at 11:49, 13 August 2010 | Report This Post


RE: Almost cracked it...

I don't regard this as a plot hole, but it made me chuckle: http://i.imgur.com/JiPqw.jpg ... More

Posted by hatebox at 11:49, 13 August 2010 | Report This Post


RE: Almost cracked it...

L: shool L: Rgirvan44 L: shool L: BOHEMIANBOB Yeah,it's kinda the problem though-Nolan doesn't help all the theorists with his bits of fun! For what seems a very complex and serious film on one level,it does seem on another that Nolan does have his moments here where he is messing with your head and enjoying it! hats what makes it really interesting though. We will never know the answers because they arent there. Its just interesting talking about different vie... More

Posted by Rgirvan44 at 11:46, 13 August 2010 | Report This Post


RE: Almost cracked it...

L: Rgirvan44 L: shool L: BOHEMIANBOB Yeah,it's kinda the problem though-Nolan doesn't help all the theorists with his bits of fun! For what seems a very complex and serious film on one level,it does seem on another that Nolan does have his moments here where he is messing with your head and enjoying it! hats what makes it really interesting though. We will never know the answers because they arent there. Its just interesting talking about different view points on it. Ev... More

Posted by shool at 11:41, 13 August 2010 | Report This Post


RE: Almost cracked it...

L: shool L: BOHEMIANBOB Yeah,it's kinda the problem though-Nolan doesn't help all the theorists with his bits of fun! For what seems a very complex and serious film on one level,it does seem on another that Nolan does have his moments here where he is messing with your head and enjoying it! hats what makes it really interesting though. We will never know the answers because they arent there. Its just interesting talking about different view points on it. Every viewer has to m... More

Posted by Rgirvan44 at 11:38, 13 August 2010 | Report This Post


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