Movie review: Inception

Posted by Bel. The time is 11.32am here in Wellington NZ.

Christopher Nolan's new film has layer after layer of deception until you find that the light at the end of the tunnel is actually a frieght train headed right for you.

The mind-fuck of his early work Momento meets the stylish modern noir of The Dark Knight, resulting in a pyschological thriller that has enough explosions to keep it fun for the mainstream.

It is impossible to write about this film without being completely spoilerrific, so if you're planning on seeing this - and you should - then run away now. SPOILERS AHOY!

Okay, I can say a few things.

If you liked Shutter Island, you will like this film. If you liked A Scanner Darkly, you will like this film. If you liked Pi or Scanners or Flatliners, you will like this film.

Did you read A Wrinkle In Time when you were a kid? As an adult?? Yeah, you will like this movie.

It's kinda like all that weirdo mind-melt dreamscape shape-shifter time-travel you-can't be-crazy-if-you-think-you're-sane sort of thing ...meets Ocean's Eleven.

Oooooh have I said too much??


Leonardo DiCaprio plays a thief. No common household burglar, but someone who can enter your mind and steal the very thoughts from within. If you found yourself getting sick of Leo's ponderous looks and guilt-stricken grimaces in Shutter Island, then you might want to give Inception a pass - as he is once again in the role of a widower with a shadowy past and a rather loose grip on reality.

Here his wife (a combination of soulmate and nemesis) is played by Marion Cotillard, whose luminous face features eyes which manage to out blue even Mr Titanic. Her performance is a fusion of fragility and furious power, sealing her as one of the rare European cross-overs to Hollywood.

His team of merry men (just the one lady, Ellen Page demonstrating there's far more to her than roller skates and fake bellies - remember how she scared us to the bone[r] in Hard Candy?) is rounded out by everyone from Ken Wantanbe to Cillian Murphy.

The stand out is Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Maybe it's the sharp suits, but this film maximises the talent he demonstrated in Brick and just how far he's come since cutting his teeth on sitcoms like Third Rock From The Sun.


Wow. Yeah, sorry. That was just kinda mean, huh?

The storyline may seem convoluted, but fans of sci-fi will get on board easily. And Nolan makes sure there is plenty of action for those who are finding the concepts a bit arty-farty.

There's even a bit that he just straight ripped off classic computer game (by which I mean one of two (the other was Minesweeper) we had on our computer), SkiFree. They are all skiing around in white jumpsuits and they have to dodge the trees and do jumps and - unfortunately - there is no hungry yeti, but there are lots of baddies on snowmobiles instead:

Yep. SPOILERS. Told ya.

Leo and his crew have embarked on this dangerous psychic mission in an attempt to do something they believe has never happened before: plant a thought deep inside someone's subconscious, so that they will believe it is their own thought and act upon it within their life, without ever realising they didn't think of it themselves.

(Is this not the plot of Mad Men, every single friggin week?)

They are asked by a businessman (Ken Watanabe), who promises them shitloads of cash and to Leo, the chance to have his life back - he is estranged from his children as a result of a crime which is revealed as the film unravels (or spirals tighter, depending on your point of view).


There are two emotional climaxes of the film (as opposed to the Bourne-esque orgies of violence that occur at regular intervals). One is when it is revealed that Leo has achieved this 'inception' before, upon his own wife as they lived within a dream, and when returning to waking life, it was this that lead to her suicide and the catastrophic destruction of his life and possibly sanity.

The other is when the team's hyper-manufactured inception comes to its peak upon their mark (played by Cillian Murphy, pleased to see he's a Nolan favourite; that guy does not get enough attention). He has a heartfelt and unexpected reconciliation with his dying mogul father, which changes the path of his life - seemingly for the better, but only because Watanabe's character has paid for it to play out that way.

And why did he want it like that? There is a hurried conversation at the start of the film, about how the father-and-son corporation is a energy multi-conglomerate, dominating the market, and 'must be stopped'. Oh, okay, so another businessman is threatened by them? And initiates corporate espionage? And then what?? Why couldn't they have been planting the thought that all G20 countries would band together to solve climate change? Or that the IWC would actually end commercial whaling? Or for the World Bank to unify on eliminating the debts of third world countries?

But you know, whateeevvvver... How about that bit when everything was all upside-downy?! WHOOO!! Because, you know, it totally wouldn't have made sense for Leo to have had a paradigm shift after he came to terms with how his first inception-thingy was such a bad idea and then to go about trying to reverse the damage they were doing fulfilling the commands of another inception planting done purely for financial motivation??

(Man, I am writing a lot lately about how evil people's financial motivations are. What a hippie.)

Okay I really did write some epic SPOILERS in there so I hope you didn't read this far unless you've actually seen the movie. That'll teach you.

Inception is released nationwide in New Zealand on Thursday 22 July. Thanks to for the preview screening.

9 thoughts on “Movie review: Inception”

  1. Oh oh - I also meant to say: the dreams-with-dreams thing totally made me think of Dante's Inferno and the whole 'descending through the circles' thing... does our hero end up in paradise or the very centre of hell? Hmmm... yes... still the only one who has seen this...? Okay then.


    I hate dream narratives and other false consciousness films, but loved this. Perhaps this is why my text to Bel immediately after (not having read this to know she quoted similar films) was along the lines of:

    You think it's The Matrix crossed with Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind crossed with James Bond [or the Ski game haha] crossed with Ocean's 11... but really it's Shutter Island.

    Agree about the casting (I frickin' love Cillian Murphy - this is a well-documented fact - and was also taken aback at how good ol' 3rd Rock Boy was); the mind-blowing visuals (3rd Rock Boy defying gravity - a rare example of a shit-hot and showy effects action sequence totally adding to the tension, suspense, plot and story); and the satisfaction that came with the emotional climaxii.

    Points to add:
    Leo is totes going to get the Oscar for this right? He's overdue (I still insist he should have won for The Departed, but was unfortunately put up for Blood Diamond instead), but in a way - whilst I thought he was excellent - it'll feel a bit like his BFF Kate Winslet winning for a role that wasn't really her best work.

    I had a moment in the film where I started to feel a little bit confused - just kind of started to go "ummmm...." and my brain kicked into overtime repeating where exactly they were on the mindfuck continuum - and at that moment I thought "this is Christopher Nolan - I'm in safe hands" so gave it the benefit of the doubt. There are so few filmmakers that can command that level of trust in their work. And of course, that was the exact moment that it all came together in a fantastic sequence kicked in that utterly clarified where everyone was, and brought it all to a rapid and satisfying climax.

    However, (perhaps unlike Bel? she doesn't say either way) I left the cinema assuming that the whole thing was Cobb's limbo dream. Without this in anyway undermining the film - perhaps the first time a false narrative [ie "and it was all a dream/ insane delusion (/both?)"] hasn't left me going "what! outrageous!"

    But I am googling and see that others are taking it much further and reading Inception as being a film about... film-making. It's pretty convincing and totally makes sense - and actually crystallises for me a thought that was lingering in my mind afterwards, which was that Inception is - above all else - a superb demonstration of the art of story-telling.

    I don't know how to do fancy links, but here you go:

  3. In my brain-dump I didn't actually clarify that my point with the text comment was that I did not even think of dream narrative films let alone liken it to them - instead it was the sci-fi / philosophy of consciousness* (/ commercial action).

    *Yes you could (and will) argue that dream narratives are philosophising about consciousness. But I'm not that into them in that regard.

  4. "There are so few filmmakers that can command that level of trust in their work."

    Totally agree with this comment, Lou.

    You start going 'ummm hang on, does this make sense? do I know what's going on? do they know? do I care?' and then you just throw your hands up bc you're having a helluva good time and next thing you know, it all falls (in gorgeous slo-mo) into place anyway.

    Round of applause, Nolan. Brain-bender for the masses, love it.

    I like the interpretations that it is a film about filmmaking - rather than people getting so caught up in "the top didn't fall over! but it wobbled! but it wasn't his totem anyway! limbo! dream! reality! crazy!"...
    To not give the film a deeper resonance outside of its own narative seems a bit of a cop out!

  5. Your last point is why I was okay with it being (or not!) a dream narrative - because that was by-the-by. The point was the characters and their emotional catharsis/ progression - whether or not that occurred within the bounds of "reality". (With the reading of the film as being about filmmaking would say is a metaphor for the way that fictional narratives in general can cause real emotions for the audience.)

  6. Hi, um, Inception Movie...

    During JGL's "disappearance" he did some pretty cool stuff - you should think about checking out Brick for starters :)