I never thought I would ever be that guy, the one who appears to hate something popular so vehemently that he starts to look like he’s trying too hard to be edgy, but honestly: I did not like Inception. If this movie represents the new dawn of the intelligent blockbuster (Roger Ebert describes the plot as ‘a dazzling maze’), then let me get back to my papers because this is not a world I want to be in.
There is nothing particularly interesting about Christopher Nolan’s latest movie. Visually it is impressive, but Nolan wastes his opportunity to explore dreamscapes by filming scenes that so many action movies have done multiple times before. We are given an anonymous city, an anonymous hotel, a damned ice-fortress and then, finally, a crumbling dystopia. The objectors amongst you may, rightly, accuse me of being overly critical. It is established in the movie that the dreams have to appear like the real world in order for inception to work. But if that’s the case, then why set this film around the premise of dreams at all? Beyond the early folding of Paris, the proverbial carrot, we, the movie-going donkey, are given no other unique ‘only in Inception’ scenes – everything else that occurred in this movie could very well have occurred in, say, James Bond. And it probably has. Twice. Whatever happened to good-old-fashioned hostage-taking and threats?
The film could have occurred in reality. And, if it had all been set in the real world, we may have actually seen a bit of this world that we’re meant to care about because, let’s not forget, the characters are supposedly doing this for two reasons – firstly, Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) needs to clear his name and secondly, Fischer’s (Cillian Murphy) company will destroy the world unless he changes his ways. I do not believe I was the only one who sensed a major lack of perspective here.
Let’s focus on the dreams for a moment. They’re Inception’s Matrix, the world within a world. Already you can see that it’s not particularly new, as The Matrix came out 11 years ago. Nolan began writing his script 10 years ago. See the connection? But beyond that frivolous point, I was led to believe that Inception was ‘maddeningly’ (The Daily Telegraph) complex. It was anything but. It was bloated, yes, but it wasn’t complex. It was incredibly linear.
Cobb and company enter one rabbit hole, Cillian Murphy’s original dream, and then proceed to enter three more dreams-within-a-dream. It’s never especially difficult to follow whose dream they are apparently in, nor is it hard to see that they will eventually achieve their goal. My criticism is not with Nolan here, because this part of the movie is actually very well done. With the number of different plot points effectively working in parallel with one another, Nolan does a commendable job of controlling the mayhem. What irks me is that this has been lauded as revolutionary cinema, when it’s simply a method of creating more layers of action playing over the top of each other. The time distortion between dreams is an interesting idea, but the sheer number of times the movie cuts back to reveal the falling van (the ‘kick’) was tedious. It seemed that the dreams are used in no other way than to skip the travelling sections in most action movies. Nolan could conveniently cut to the next scene and everyone would be on skis.
Inception does not feature a single character of worthy note. Leonardo DiCaprio, as much as I like him as an actor and respect him for his recent film choices, is stuck playing Cobb, a man who is supposedly the finest dream-delver in existence. But much like every other actor in the movie, DiCaprio has to fill the spaces of personality Nolan left out with his own. There is more than a passing resemblance here to his turn as Teddy Daniels in Shutter Island.
Cobb is insane, feeble-minded and boring. He has nothing to say or do beyond finding the Holy Grail, which is in this case Fischer’s relationship with his father. We are told, through conversations with Ellen Page’s Ariadne and Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Arthur, that he has a dark past with his wife Mal. The fact that it transpires that he essentially placed the idea into his wife’s head that her world was not real, provoking her suicide, hit me as particularly stale. I just didn’t care. We meet him at crisis-point, which is always interesting, but we never develop from that state. I can’t understand how a movie fails to develop its main character even though it is set, partially, within a world he creates in his head.
But, having said all that, I’ll end with what really got me. After the breathtaking moment in the Paris-dream, where Ariadne folds the city on top of itself, it seemed like the movie was going to be visually and intellectually exciting. She looks around and spots people (and Mal) with faces staring at her as if she has just killed their dog. This, I thought, is interesting. Personal demons rise up in a world that could only occur in a dream and threaten the intruding presence. But then it ends. We are never blessed with this sort of intrigue again. The movie plummets downwards from this exact point. Intellectually, it shuts down. It becomes a basic heist film and nothing, not the layer-upon-layer structure, not the ‘is he dreaming, is he not?’ ending, not even the interesting notion that Cobb is a dream himself, can raise the movie from the rabbit holes of mediocrity that it continually jumps through.