By Brian Lafferty
"This is one of the best movies of the year." -- Brian Lafferty
July 22, 2010 (San Diego's East County)--Dreams have always been part of cinema. A common film use is the “it was only a dream” stunt applied to generate cheap thrills and groans (Jaws: The Revenge) or to foment laughter (A Serious Man, An American Werewolf in London). Dreams have also acted as visually expressive tools to reveal character or relay exposition (Salvador Dali’s dream sequence in Alfred Hitchcock’s Spellbound). Sometimes, dreams have been used to shock the audience (the movies of Luis Bunuel, particularly Un Chien Andalou, which opens with an eyeball being slashed).
Dreams may be old subjects in motion pictures, but with Inception Christopher Nolan has delivered one of--if not the most--original movie of the year, taking the concept in many new directions I never thought possible.
The idea of entering people’s dreams is not new. In 1984’s Dreamscape, Dennis Quaid played a psychic recruited by the government to enter the minds of people plagued by nightmares. Inception also features characters who can enter people’s dreams, but the comparisons to Dreamscape and all other movies involving dreams stop there.
In this film, Leonardo DiCaprio plays Dom Cobb, the leader of a team hired by a businessman named Saito (Ken Watanabe) for one of the most original and fascinating corporate espionage jobs put on film. Their task: to enter the mind of a business heir of a rival company through his dreams (which, according to Cobb, are when people’s minds are at their most vulnerable) and insert an idea that will cause the downfall of the corporation, with Saito benefitting from the lack of serious competition.
In order for this to succeed, however, they must go very deep in his subconscious. This demands not one, not two, but three layers of dreams, each more unstable than the last. It also calls for a “dream architect” (Ellen Page) to design these worlds. There are many intricacies involved in making these universes and Nolan takes his time in exploring them thoroughly. Characters often engage in intelligent dialogue about the subject. For example, he warns her to never design a dream from a memory because she will have trouble distinguishing them from reality. Also, tampering too much with a dream world will cause the projections (the people around them in the world) to attack. And if the subject wakes up, the whole world will literally come crumbling down around you, as evidenced by some sterling special effects.
The movie clocks in at two and a half hours but is never boring. Nothing feels padded and the movie, despite what the unusual length suggests, is lean and packed. The screenplay and the characters, like the three dream worlds, are multi-layered and richly textured.
In terms of the cinematography and art direction, the visuals pale in delectability to Nolan’s The Prestige and The Dark Knight. His trademark “dark” look remains even though it permeates throughout the film to a lesser degree than his previous work. In this case I found it perfectly acceptable. This film requires thinking and the last thing it would have needed were viewers admiring deluxe cinematography when their eyes should be focused on the story and characters.
The editing, by Lee Smith, is some of the best I’ve seen this year. For the second half the story jumps from one dream world to another without becoming incoherent. Rather than going for the quick cut, each shot is allowed to unfold for as long as it takes before moving on to the next. This makes the unorthodox fight and action scenes satisfyingly comprehensible and a pleasure to watch.
I don’t want to give away any more than what I’ve told you. All you need to know is that in an era where remakes and sequels are becoming the norm, that Inception is more than just a breath of fresh air: it’s a lung-capacity breath of crisp quality air. Unlike a lot of movies this year, this picture requires you to think. This is one of the best movies of the year.