CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: INCEPTION
By Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares
(THE SCENE is a hotel room. LL SOARES is stretched out on the bed, in a deep sleep. An IV needle is in his arm, providing anesthesia. Sexy blue women are dancing around the bed, dressed in string bikinis and holding baskets of fresh blueberries)
VOICE: WAKE UP!
(LS moans and stirs awake. The women are gone. So is the hotel room. He finds himself in a damp, dark cellar, with MICHAEL ARRUDA shining a flashlight in his face. LS looks down to see he is on a rotten old mattress on the floor)
LS: What the hell is going on here? How did I get down in this basement?
MA: We’re not really in a basement. It’s all a dream.
LS: Where are the smurfettes?
MA: I don’t know what you’re talking about. We’re here to review the new movie, INCEPTION. It’s your turn to start.
VOICE: WAKE UP!
(LS wakes to find himself in the back of a van going at top speed. MA is sitting beside him)
MA: Well, are you going to start the movie review or what?
LS: Are we still in a dream?
MA: Yes. This is a dream within a dream within a dream. Deal with it.
LS (Yawns): Okay. I didn’t realize I was so sleepy.
One thing about Christopher Nolan’s movies is, they’re smart. And INCEPTION is no exception. He’s always played around with the workings of the human mind, whether it was a short-term memory-deprived Guy Pearce in MEMENTO (2000) or Heath Ledger’s iconic turn as the truly insane Joker in THE DARK KNIGHT (2008). But this time, he’s even more blatant about it.
INCEPTION is about dreams. And it begins with a dream. Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) is an “extractor.” It’s his job to go into people’s dreams and extract important information. Sometimes this is a consensual arrangement, but most times it is not. We’re talking kidnapping, sedation and violating people’s subconscious here, and Cobb is the best there is at what he does.
As the movie opens, we are in the mind of Japanese businessman Saito (Ken Watanabe), and Cobb is looking for certain confidential papers in a safe. But this isn’t your average heist. In the world of dreams, things are ramped up and a little bit off. By the end of this particular romp, it turns out it was a test, and what Saito really wants is someone good enough to put something “inside” someone’s mind – rather than extracting it. This insertion of an outside idea into a person’s subconscious – with the intention of it growing there and the person truly believing the idea is theirs – is called “inception,” and it is incredibly hard to do, if not impossible. But Cobb is up for the challenge, and he doesn’t want money in return for his services. He just wants to be able to go home again.
LS: Am I boring you?
MA: Honestly? Yes, but don’t take it personally. It’s not you. It’s the movie. Listening to your plot synopsis reminded me of how much this movie drove me to sleep. You called this movie smart. I think it was too smart for its own good. Going inside people’s minds, inserting ideas, conducting tests inside people’s dreams, and this is all in the first few minutes. It’s all so medical. Too bad it’s not dramatic.
I just didn’t find any of it compelling. But please, continue. I’ll drink some coffee. (Pulls out a Giant Mug)
LS: His wife, Mal (Marion Cotillard), was killed and Cobb was framed for her murder. This means he has not been able to go back to the United States, since he’s a fugitive from justice. He wants to see his children again. Saito tells him that he can solve Cobb’s dilemma, so he can go home, and Cobb is willing to do anything to achieve that goal.
The truth about Mal’s death, and who framed Cobb, is one of the central mysteries of INCEPTION.
MA: It’s not much of a mystery, but go on.
LS: But the main show is the inception itself. Saito wants Cobb to insert a specific idea into the mind of his chief competitor, Robert Fischer, Jr. (Cillian Murphy, who was also the Scarecrow in Nolan’s BATMAN BEGINS ), the heir to one of the largest energy companies in the world, due to the recent death of his father (Pete Postlethwaite).
MA: Now there’s a compelling plot point, inserting an idea into the mind of a business competitor. Now that’s exciting! I haven’t been this interested since I read the fine print on that bank brochure the other day.
LS: To get the job done, Cobb puts together a new team of dream thieves to help him. These include an “architect,” Ariadne (Ellen Page), who can create worlds inside dreams; a “forger,” Eames (Tom Hardy) who can take on the appearance of other people in the dreamworld; a “point man” to think strategically, no matter what is thrown at them, named Arthur (Joseph Gordon Levitt); and an anesthesiologist, named Yusef (Dileep Rao, who we also saw as Rham Das in Sam Raimi’s DRAG ME TO HELL).
MA: Rao was in AVATAR, too.
LS: Soon after the team is hand-picked by Cobb, they dive into Fischer’s mind.
In order to “incept,” it entails going into dreams within dreams, and the more complex this movie gets, the more interesting it gets. We are talking about layers upon layers of dreams, and it gets pretty dicey at times.
I actually didn’t get into INCEPTION right away. The opening scenes just confused me at first.
MA: I agree. The opening was very confusing, and so for me the movie got off to a weak start, which surprised me, since I had high expectations for this one.
LS: This wasn’t helped by the fact that the way DiCaprio says Mal’s name almost sounded like “Mom” early on (was this a ghost of his mother? We find out it’s his deceased wife who is turning up in his subconscious with more and more regularity). Also, I found Ken Watanabe’s accent hard to decipher at times (in a movie this complex, that can be problematic). But by the time Cobb starts to assemble his team and finds Ellen Page’s character, a student in Paris, things click, and the movie began to grow on me.
VOICE (singing): I love you. You love me. Oui Oui Oui Oui – Oui Oui Oui
(LS wakes up to find himself on the set of the BARNEY THE DINOSAUR SHOW. BARNEY is wearing a beret and has a strong French accent. LS begins to scream)
BARNEY: What is zee matter, boys and girls?
VOICE: WAKE UP!
(LS wakes up to find himself in a former ski lodge, now turned into a fortress with guns and barbed wire): What are we doing here?
MA: I’m dreaming about an old James Bond movie.
LS: You’re dreaming? I thought this was my dream?
MA: It was. But now it’s mine. Later it’ll be yours again.
LS: I’m confused.
MA: Welcome to the club.
LS: Actually, the movie is not as confusing as you’re making it out to be, but one gripe you and I have always had about movies like A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET is that directors have complete worlds at their disposal – dreams can do anything – and yet they completely lack any kind of imagination. In INCEPTION, we get a taste of the pure adrenaline rush of playing god and creating new worlds, during Cobb’s “test” of Ariadne’s abilities. But it’s a temporary rush, since Cobb tells Ariadne that – during the real heist – the closer she sticks to the way real things look and work, the better. So she’s not even allowed to cut loose again!
MA: I’ve come to the conclusion that I just don’t like movies about dreams, or at least they’re a hard sell for me. Here’s the problem I have with them: what happens in a dream isn’t compelling because— it’s a friggin dream! Nothing that happens in it is real, and so when characters die, they don’t really die, they either wake up or in the case of this movie they enter a state of comatose limbo, whatever the hell that is. I just can’t get into it. I feel like I’m watching a story that really isn’t a story because it’s a dream.
And all the scenes in INCEPTION where one setting changes to another, and we see bizarre sights like trains roaring through streets, and vans taking forever to fall off a bridge, just come off as fantasy to me. With little basis in reality, it’s not all that exciting for me, and by the end of the day, I’m just plain bored.
LS: I don’t know. I thought the script was solid. So was the acting. I’m not a big Leo DiCaprio guy, but he won me over here in ways he didn’t in SHUTTER ISLAND (I thought he was good in that one, too, but the script ultimately defeated his attempts to make it work. There aren’t nearly as many problems with INCEPTION). Ellen Page is a stand-out and a scene-stealer. Everyone’s very good here, but the most underappreciated character is probably Arthur, who is actually quite intricate to everything that happens in this dream heist, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays him to a “T.”
MA: I would disagree about the script, and although I thought this movie boasted a very strong cast, I’d have to say I didn’t find the acting all that hot either.
The script, written by director Christopher Nolan, tells a story that just never grabbed me. It failed to hook me from the get-go, and it never really caught me later on either. I mean, a story about a businessman trying to stop a competitor by hiring a team of experts to go inside his head and instill an idea into his subconscious seems to me like a monumental waste of time. Isn’t there an easier way to get the job done?
And if you’re going to tell a story about people who can change events through dreams, wouldn’t you choose something a little more exciting than fixing a business deal? I mean, if they fail, what’ s the worst that can happen? A company gets bigger. Ooooh! Scary!!! So, I thought the entire mission of this movie was hugely disappointing.
I was actually a little disappointed by DiCaprio’s performance. Don’t get me wrong, he was okay, but he blew me away in films like THE DEPARTED (2006) and BLOOD DIAMOND (2006). He didn’t blow me away here.
And his characters sure have problems with their wives. Didn’t we see a similar plot point with his wife in SHUTTER ISLAND? Granted, this one wasn’t quite as horrific, as it didn’t involve the killing of children, but the emotional places DiCaprio goes in INCEPTION could have been lifted from similar scenes in SHUTTER ISLAND. Watching his angst, I was thinking I just saw this a few months ago.
LS: You’re right, there are similarities between the two films. But I think INCEPTION is the better movie.
MA: I thought Ellen Page and Joseph Gordon-Levitt were just okay, and I certainly didn’t think they were scene stealers here. Film veterans Michael Caine and Pete Postlethwaite have hardly more than cameo appearances, and Tom Berenger has a few scenes, but he, too, does very little. I liked Ken Watanabe as Saito, and I like Cillian Murphy a lot, and he’s very good here again, too. But nobody stands out in this movie, which is a shame, because the cast is so darned strong.
LS: If I have any problems with this movie at all, there are two of them. First, a lot of the time, the movie has a sterile feel to it. Aside from DiCaprio, none of the characters really seem to have a strong emotional investment in what is going on. There is also no erotic/sensual bond between Cobb and Mal – despite the fact that she is so important to him, so deeply entrenched in his mind – it’s a cold PG-13 relationship without any real sparks.
MA: I would agree. DiCaprio’s character is the only one we have some emotional attachment to, as he actually has a legitimate reason to be doing these things. He’s trying to get back to his kids. That’s a real reason to be taking all these risks. The rest of the cast seem to be playing a video game or something. Here they are messing around with a person’s life through his dreams, and they seem to be having fun. Weird. And the flaw with DiCaprio’s character is his problems all seemed too familiar to me, because I’d just seen him fight similar familial demons in SHUTTER ISLAND.
To be honest, none of these characters did anything for me. I cared for none of them, nor did I care about what happened to them, and so, ultimately, I didn’t care all that much for this movie.
LS: My other problem is with the music. For the most part Hans Zimmer’s score becomes part of the overall story and you barely notice it. But toward the end, the music had too many flourishes and went way over the top – especially during key scenes without dialogue – in its effort to manipulate our emotions, when a more spare, spooky soundtrack would have been much more effective. I hate music that makes itself obvious and tries to control the way you feel. It’s a cheat, but it often works if you’re not conscious of it. Which is why Steven Spielberg does it so often, I suppose.
MA: When I watched the trailer to INCEPTION, I thought the music was cool. But you’re right, it’s used so much in the actual movie, especially the end, that it really becomes like noise after a while.
LS: I guess I liked this movie. It was smart and different. It could have used a bit more of a human touch, especially for the other team members. Only Ellen Page seems truly alive, after Leo. The rest are just cut-outs. I also wish they’d taken a lot more risks as far as delving into the darker aspects of Fischer’s subconscious – some non-PG-13 rated stuff would have been nice. INCEPTION just seems too controlled for a movie about dreams. And there are slow stretches. I give it three knives, because I know it’s a good, well-made movie. But I have to admit, on a personal level, it didn’t really thrill me. What about you?
MA: Well, as you can tell by my comments so far, I didn’t like INCEPTION. I had the exact opposite reaction to this one than I had last time with PREDATORS. With that one, I went into it with no expectations, got hooked within the first few minutes, and never looked back.
I really expected to love INCEPTION, but this one surprised me by how much I didn’t like it. It got off to a confusing start, got a little bit better as it went a long, but ultimately, never drew me in enough for me to be really into it.
One of the reasons I couldn’t get into this movie was its style distracted the hell out of me, and I’m not usually distracted by the visual style of a movie. But scenes would jump from here to there, and then from there to here and back again. I found Christopher Nolan’s style of storytelling confusing, distracting and, ultimately, uninspiring. I was unable to relax and simply enjoy the movie. Scenes seemed to be flying at me from everywhere and nowhere. I just didn’t find it a good way to tell a dramatic story. As a result, I never really got to know the characters all that well, other than as shallow players in a big screen video game.
I also found the plot point of DiCaprio’s relationship with his wife redundant. It just kept going on and on. If I hear the phrase “We’re going to be together forever” one more time, I’ll scream! It reached the point where it was rivaling “Who loves Bella more?” from the damned TWILIGHT movies!
Ultimately, INCEPTION is a special effects movie, and while there’s CGI effects galore, and they’re done well, this type of thing just doesn’t carry a movie for me.
I say it’s a special effects movie because its story, a plot about going into people’s dreams, is supposed to be hip and cool, especially with all kinds of neat dream jargon thrown in throughout, but it’s all too dream-like to hit me with any sense of reality. The result is a story that is uninspiring and dull.
I give INCEPTION two knives. I almost gave it one knife, but I’m giving it two because I liked the strong cast, even if their roles weren’t all that meaty. Still, I was incredibly disappointed with this movie. I expected much, much more.
VOICE: Wake up!
(MA wakes up in a tent. A strong wind is howling outside. Huddled in a sleeping bag nearby are Jacob Black, the werewolf from the TWILIGHT movies, and Bella Swan. Vampire Edward Cullen looks on, clearly startled by MA’s sudden appearance)
MA (horrified): No way! No friggin way! Wake me the hell up already! WAKE ME UP!!
(LS chuckles somewhere off-screen)
FADE TO BLACK
© Copyright 2010 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares
Michael Arruda gave INCEPTION – 2 knives
L.L. Soares gave INCEPTION – 3 knives