Christopher Nolan seems to be a fascinated filmmaker. Fascinating, too, but he absolutely has some key themes and ideas that he wants to explore in his films. The most prominent, at least at this point in his career, seems to be order. The notion that people can impose order on their world figures strongly in Memento, The Prestige and The Dark Knight as subtextual themes, but it’s essentially the text of Inception. Perhaps not the result of applying order to chaos, but of applying the logic of design to the inherent illogical state of dreaming.
Inception is, fundamentally, a heist film with a strong emotional core. The layers that Nolan adds are in many ways literal layers, and it’s to his credit as a writer that the film never becomes so obsessed with the gee-whiz novelty of it’s concept that it gets in the way of telling that story. Yes, confusion can set in, but for a movie that takes place largely within the subconscious, it’s layered in about as straight-forward and logical a way as possible.
Does this make sense? It seems like a paradox for a dream to be easily understood, navigated and even manipulated. Yet these aren’t random subconscious dreams; they’re painstakingly designed. By an architect, no less.
Still, even in a logically structured dream, the chaos of the subconscious can’t be controlled. Leonardo DiCaprio’s Cobb appears to be intent on preventing that, much like Leonard in Memento or Bruce Wayne in The Dark Knight, but it appears as though Nolan doesn’t think order can be imposed where it isn’t already present.
Story aside, however, Inception is engrossing and astounding. The cinematography is absolutely beautiful, taking pleanty of time with it’s shots; when they’re composed with such detail and purpose, there’s no sense at all in quick-cut editing. The action scenes are unlike anything seen since The Matrix, and the visual effects are state-of-the-art. It’s difficult to really overstate how great Inception looks. It was shot and edited with purpose, and holds your attention like few films can.
But all that aside, Inception does need to be more than just an intriguing story and spectacular visuals. In science fiction, your concept is only as good as the characters who have to navigate it; at the end of the day, the audience needs a reason to give a shit about what happens.
Performances are, in general, solid. There’s really no glaring errors in casting or performances, save some occasional overacting by Ken Watanabe and perhaps too much exposition required by Ellen Page. But the core of the story, Leonardo DiCaprio and Marion Cotillard, excels. Both deliver stirring performances, and give the film the weight it needs.
So with all this working for it, what more can be said about Inception? It’s a rare film; one that looks like it cost the $200 million that Nolan required to see his vision come to life. It’s surprisingly ambitious, and surprisingly ambiguous. There’s a lot for the audience to wrestle with, and it practically demands repeat viewings.