It’s been quite something seeing the reaction to Inception, with the Internet filling steadily with an intriguing mix of lavish praise and bile. And since it’s already been out for a few weeks and most of you will have either seen it, or decided against it, I hesitated over whether to write a review, but fuck it, this is my site, and I figure we’ve been so light on updates of late that you’ll forgive me my tardiness.
On the interwebz there seems to be a perpetual echo chamber effect going on at the moment where as soon as anything at all reaches a certain size you are forced to take a position immediately, and the only options are available to you are two. Yin and Yang. Once something reaches a certain size it’s inevitable that you’ll have reams of people flogging the shit out of it, in some cases for no other reasons that to piss of the people who over-enthuse. On the other hand, you have the rabid fanboys, who are so heavily invested in liking it that they have elevated a film only a few weeks old to the greatest epic of our time. I only hope that by the time I end this review I haven’t fallen into either camp, but given my personal history with over-exuberance I wouldn’t count on it. But I’ve yet to hear a single person say that Inception was ‘kind of ok’ or ‘not bad.’
As I entered the cinema two weeks after release I had no idea what to expect, but given how much I’ve enjoyed every other Chris Nolan film to this point (Memento will always be a top ten film for me, and I adored The Dark Knight) I have to admit I was worried that the bubble would burst, and that by trying to bring the world of blockbuster together with the densely packed layered plot I’d heard so much about that it’d collapse under it’s own self important weight. And given some of the reports I’d heard that seemed to be the conclusion of a whole lot of people whose opinions I normally give some credence to.
I needn’t have worried. For the dizzying opening ten minutes Nolan simultaneously sets out his visual and tonal palate for the rest of the film and distracts you by making everything confusing as fuck, but Nolan then has one of his characters tell us they are ‘making mazes.’ This is then precisely what Nolan does for the next two hours, making mazes of complexity that are breathtaking and yet never hard to follow. Looking back on it now, it is clear just how manipulative a plot it is, but then that doesn’t matter, because it’s just a ride, and for it’s duration it’s as good a ride as I’ve seen cinema offer. As with Memento and the Prestige, he tells you exactly what he’s going to do, then does it with zero excess. Recently he’s been compared to Kubrick but it seems to me the better comparison is with Hitchcock. The whole of Inception is plot, even with the scenes that carry the emotional heft, but as with Hitchcock there is never someone standing there explaining it to you, spewing exposition out of their face. With Nolan it’s always show and never tell. He never bothers to explain the technology involved because he (quite rightly) surmises that we are perfectly capable of taking a leap of faith, of following him on the journey.
As well as the frankly barking but brilliantly conceived plot, Nolan’s main other coup is to assemble a cast that are so perfect for their roles that one sees why they all jumped at the chance. As well as DiCaprio (in his best and most layered role in years, and that’s saying something) in the lead, the likes of Cillian Murphy, Tom Berenger, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ellen Page and most of all Tom Hardy all manage to take roles that have very little for the audience to invest in and make them living breathing entities without ever doing being showy or actorly.
And then you have the visuals. Some of these you will have seen, from the bending over streets (which is far more impressive in full) to the zero g fight scene. The latter is probably the best effects work I’ve seen since Helms Deep, and it’s very clearly all in-camera and not CG, which makes it even more special. It’s brilliantly lit and shot of course, but then you expect nothing less from Nolan.
As the bewilderingly audacious final shot rolls by, everyone in the cinema with me sat stuck to their seats with mouths open and quizzical gormless expressions slapped across their fizzog’s, and this to me is why this film is worthy of the praise that comes its way. It’s not a perfect film, by any stretch (for one thing the dreams were not really what dreams are like, in my dreams I find myself walking from my room to the control deck of Babylon 5 with alarming regularity, but that didn’t happen once in this film, which was a shame) but what it is instead is a film unlike anything else you will see this year. Vast in ideas, swimming in complexity but also full of human warmth and with the fiscal and creative heft to back up everything that it sets out to do. I have very little doubt that this will top my end of year list.
Oh for fuck’s sake, I went and fell into the fanboy camp, didn’t I?