Watch this as soon as you can…
In Rick and Morty’s second episode, “Lawnmower Dog”, the eponymous drunk scientist describes Inception as “everybody’s favourite movie”. I felt personally attacked by this comment. Liking this movie is so common that it is almost cliché. My opinion became the same as everyone else’s. Earlier, Rick frames any fan of Inception as a pretentious, and someone using the film to feign intelligence- he describes it as “confusing” and jokes that Morty only fakes his understanding of it. and portraying themselves as superior for getting such a complex movie. Whilst I’m not the latter kind of fan (I hope), I will walk straight through the doors of cliché and say that I adore this movie. It is easily my favourite blockbuster. Who care if it is “everybody’s favourite movie”? There are many reasons why this is the case.
To describe the film in the simplest possible terms, it is a heist movie. Dom Cobb, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, is an extractor. He is a thief but he does not burgle houses. He burgles minds, breaking in through your dreams, and stealing all the valuable information in there. This is an illegal practice, and he has also been wrongly accused for the murder of his wife. As a result, he has been exiled from the United States, meaning he can no longer see his two children. Mr Saito (Ken Watanabe) offers him a way out of this legal maze, in return for performing the act of inception. Inception is the opposite of extraction; instead of stealing ideas, you plant them. Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) immediately describes this as “impossible”, raising the stakes early on. Tom Hardy’s character, Eames, asserts that it is “possible, but just bloody difficult”. To pull off the nigh-impossible heist of the century, Cobb needs to build a team of the very best.
To play these characters, Nolan has rounded up a truly star-studded cast. The term “ensemble cast” was invented for this film. Ellen Page, Marion Cottilard, Michael Kane, Cillian Murphy, Tom Hardy…. These are just the side characters. They all deliver great performances, and the chemistry between them offers a rope for the audience to cling onto when the plot starts getting more layered and complex. The biggest draw, though, is Leonardo DiCaprio. In one of his more underrated roles, he brings a lot of the emotional weight to the movie through his performance (particularly in the scene when he describes his wife’s death). He is also perfect filling the role of calm, cool and driven leader that all heist movies need.
These stars bring a sense of familiarity for what is a highly original film with a lot going on. The second half of the film has three heist missions taking place simultaneously. For the audience, they all appear to be taking place in real time, but they are all taking place at different speeds, yet still taking place at the same time. Each heist mission serves as a shell for the next one, and so on. Whilst this many layered plot might be difficult to follow completely during the first viewing, it also for a lot of exciting editing. Each heist mission gets its moment in the spotlight as the stakes rise and events get more intense. The film will then cut to the next mission, and the momentum starts building again from that point. Like the Penrose Steps, a motif from the film, the momentum is this movie is moving continuously, never ending and never starting again, but constantly snowballing.
With such an impressive, original story by writer-director Christopher Nolan, the technical aspects of the film needed to hold up to tell this grand epic. They do. Hans Zimmer has created a score of the highest density which perfectly captures the stakes, the emotional and the physical. Death through limbo is a very real consequence, as is the possibility of Cobb losing his children, and the score never lets you forget that. The cinematography is extraordinary; Wally Pfister is working at his best here. Each location is given a discrete, but equally awe-inspiring look, that helps prevent the audience getting lost, for each narrative location is recognisable: the hotel hallways have a warm glow about them, whilst the scenes in the van are much more neutral in hue, for example. Despite the surreal nature of dreams, and the film’s action which is only constrained by the limits of the imagination, the film feels real. Very little CGI was used in favour of more practical effects. (The scene involving the rotating hotel corridors were filmed with a real, purpose-built set!) The film goes against the trend of the time and was not filmed in 3D. Using practical effects also gives this film’s power of spectacle a longevity that films with heavy CGI do not possess. These practical effects are less likely to become outdated than blockbusters involving . This also meant that when CGI was necessary, it was done right and with the full weight of the budget and the technical crew’s behind it. The iconic sequence involving Paris folding over on itself as if it were a sheet of paper is still mesmerising nearly ten years on.
There are many reasons to adore and to marvel at this movie. Everything from the script to the special effects are impressive and done to the highest possible standard. One may poke fun at the fact it seems to be the stereotypical answer to the question “what is your favourite movie?” I would still argue, ten years on, that it deserves to be so beloved. It is immersive, narratively and visually. It is complex, but the technical aspects of the film work overtime to guide us through the maze. The film is powerful on the emotional level, and performed using some of the finest actors around. What’s not to love?