Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Inception: The Metaphysical Heist Movie


Inception is, at its core, a heist picture. It's a thinking person's action movie. They like to call those "thrillers," so that people who watch them don't feel like they're enjoying some kind of b-grade genre film. Which they're not. In Inception's case, they're enjoying an a-grade genre film, and Christopher Nolan has added another fine notch to his belt with this one.

He's basically turned the heist genre on its head with this one. It's not about stealing, it's about delivering. And it's not from a traditional vault, but a person's mind. Still, it follows the heist formula more or less to a T, right down to "one last job." Rounding up his team, working out the plan, and then pulling off the caper, not without a few hitches, of course.

Being both a heist caper and a Nolan film, you can imagine that it'll require a second viewing. The completely batshit insane metaphysics involved pretty much guarantee that. And, honestly, that's where the film is the weakest. In the final act, there's a three-layered dream sequence, that becomes a four-layered dream sequence that starts to crumble under the weight of its own movie-science, particularly as it pertains to how the kicks work. That being said, it's movie-science, and getting too bogged down in it is kind of missing the point anyways.

Really, the heart of the film is three fold, and little of it has to do with trying to understand metaphysics. No, the film's really about 1) how strikingly gorgeous it is, 2) Cobb's inability to forgive himself for Moll's death and 3) totally sweet action sequences. The second is arguably the most important if you're a film snob, but they're all equally important if you're a normal person who likes movies. The scene with Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) fighting the dude in the rotating hallway was my personal favorite (and reportedly done with practical effects, which you know I love).

Either way, in the roll of Cobb, DiCaprio emotes very well, as usual, and you feel genuinely bad for him. Despite my teenage loathing for him, he's now one of my favorite actors, with the gravitas to pull these kinds of rolls off. In Inception, he blames himself for something that isn't really his fault. His speech to the phantom Mal (Marion Cotillard) at the end is fantastically delivered, and exceptionally written.

The film has been well received to this point, but one thing I've seen alot of discussions about is the ending. Does the top fall or doesn't it? Is Cobb still in limbo? Has he escaped his dreams into the real world? Why did Nolan cut away before we knew?

The answer to these questions is actually pretty obvious, if you think about it. The answer is that it doesn't matter. The reason there's a cut is because it doesn't matter if it falls or not. What matters is that Cobb believes he's back in the real world. (For the record, I do think he's back in the real world, in case you're curious.) Just as in Total Recall, it doesn't really matter if it's a dream, because at this point, it's likely to be all but a permanent dream anyways, and a person's perception of things is what makes them real. What you're really supposed to walk away with, what's really most important is that Cobb has finally let Mal go, and is, at least for the most part, at peace with himself.

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