One look at buildings and streets bending upwards towards Leonardo DiCaprio (Cobb) and Ellen Page (Ariadne) and we knew we’d not be waiting to see Inception on DVD. So Laurence and I bought our tickets and shuffled in, chuffed to find that the best seats in the house were free (dead centre, of course). We tended a mish mash of expectations.
Some have called it mind-blowing. Others are convinced that Inception is a dull attempt by Christopher Nolan to match The Matrix and by DiCapro to be taken seriously as an actor. I can get where both responses are coming from.
To be sure, the film is visually stunning. There is just no question about it. The gravity-defying scenes which see Joseph Levitt-Gordon (Arthur) defending himself against a militarised subconscious and binding the rest of his team and guiding their sleeping forms through a hallway are memorable. Ariadne’s manipulation of the dream world as Cobb trains her in dream architecture cannot but delight.
The story, too, hangs together with strength. The intrigue is there – Cobb and his band of merry men make a business of bringing people into manufactured dreams and stealing their secrets from their subconscious. They are now presented with the infinitely more difficult task of ‘inception’, of planting an idea in the subject’s mind. Cilian Murphy plays the subject, Robert Fischer Jr., whose aged father has just passed away leaving him the family’s big business. Japanese rival businessman Riao (Ken Wantanabe) hires Cobb to convince Robert to divide his father’s business. Everyone involved makes it clear that the task is difficult, if not impossible, making the audience ravenous to know how they will accomplish it.
The emotional logic is also there. Cobb is trying to get home to his children. We are continually reminded of this fact to make sense of the risks he takes. But while it serves to drive the plot forward, it doesn’t necessarily tug on the cockles of our hearts.
This is partially because next to no time is spent building up the relationship between father and children so that it’s difficult for us to emotionally invest in his motives. It’s even challenging to work out why Ariadne is so determined that he should succeed. She appears to be an effort to provide the film with a human rationale. She asks the film’s big question: How important is reality if you’re happier in the dream?
The father-children plot might also be disrupted by the shallow fact that, at 36, DiCaprio still looks too young to be taken seriously as a father. Similarly, Levitt-Gordon (Third Rock from the Sun) and Page (Juno) also seem visually under-aged for their complex roles. Don’t get me wrong. They both play the parts beautifully and believably and they’re both so good-looking and likeable that I hope they get together if Inception has a sequel (as it appears geared up to do). Personally, though, I had to keep reminding myself that they weren’t fourteen and therefore would have had the time to acquire the level of knowledge necessary for mental espionage.
Obviously, if a film discusses the mind as a physical space that can be broken into, secrets as objects that can be stolen and the subconscious as a violent population, it’s asking you to suspend reality. Still, there needs to be a measure of coherence within the film’s reality.
So, I have a few questions I can’t quite push aside. Why does Ariadne not respond with surprise when Cobb initially tells her about shared dreaming? Why is Cobb the only character to bring traces of his own subconscious into the shared dream? How does the technology make shared dreaming possible (as far as I can tell, they don’t actually explain this)?
I’m sure that when you see it you’ll have answers for my questions and a few more questions of your own. Laurence and I had a bit of a debate and he won me around to accepting that there must simply be different sections of limbo – obvious, maybe, but it took me a while to get there. So, I say, go see it, come back and fire away. It is certainly worth seeing.