Everyone has reviewed Inception by now. Millions of folks have seen it already, and about half my Facebook friends currently have statuses about how, and to what degree, it blew their respective minds. Every review I’ve read has compared it to other movies–from Ocean’s 11 to Last Year at Marienbad. For that matter, there is a passing resemblance to both those films, although I’d replace the comic Ocean’s 11 with the much more serious Heat–as a filmmaker, Nolan resembles Michael Mann much more than he does Steven Soderbergh–and Last Year at Marienbad with Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. In any case, the comparisons are a good approach–there’s no way to talk much about the movie in terms of plot in a short review–there’s so much going on that probably a good 75% of the dialogue in the screenplay is spent explaining to us what’s happening and why. So I will dispense with any plot synopsis (though I’ll still avoid any specific spoilers), I’ll avoid the temptation to talk about how genuinely awesome Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s no-gravity fight scene is, and I’ll just briefly jot down my own personal response to the conversation already surrounding the film.
I’ve got to say, this is the first Christopher Nolan film that’s done much to convince me that the man actually gives a damn about human life. And, honestly, it’s a pretty great movie. Not the masterpiece some are calling it, I don’t think. It still suffers from Nolan’s tendency towards excess, and towards the end of the second act I started to get a little bored and began to wonder why I should really care about all the stuff that was blowing up–but, in the end, DiCaprio’s character really gives an emotional core here that is largely absent for me in Nolan’s other films. And, while we’re talking about DiCaprio, his performance here is terrific, and gives the film most of its emotional heft–between this and Shutter Island, the man deserves and will very likely get an Oscar nomination (Inception also makes for a weirdly perfect follow-up to that earlier 2010 DiCaprio film). But back to Nolan. Where something like The Prestige is riddled with such a ridiculous amount of angst it starts to feel like it was written by a particularly self-absorbed high school kid, Inception goes, thankfully, in the exact opposite direction–where in films like Memento, Nolan attempted to blow our minds by exposing the darkness of the human soul, with Inception he actually succeeds in moving us by reminding us that no one is beyond redemption, and that everyone is, at their core, capable of goodness. The ending reminded me, of all things, of a Miyazaki movie–where in Memento, the protagonist becomes the villain, here the villain is dissolved; the antagonist becomes someone we care about, a character whose catharsis serves as a fundamental part of the emotional climax. It’s lovely, really–Nolan has succeeded in making an action blockbuster with no villains. Think about that. Of all the people in the world, I perhaps would have expected it least from him.
Christopher Nolan is still, I think, a filmmaker who makes movies for people who get a kick out of doing algebra–and, in that regard, Inception is no different (in fact, it messes with linear narrative to a degree that makes Memento look like, I don’t know, a Hemingway short story or something). And where Scorsese’s Shutter Island was rough around the edges, Inception is perhaps slick to a fault–as much story as there is crammed in to the running time, it still felt a bit long–and I feel like I can always sort of see the spirit of Chris Nolan smugly watching his audience, waiting to be patted on the head and told he did a good job. But for once, I don’t mind his messing with us–for once it feels like he’s smiling with us, rather than smirking at us. Inception, like many of Nolan’s films, is something of a Rubik’s Cube, but it’s a Rubik’s Cube with a heart.