Friday, July 23, 2010
Posted by Maggie May Labels: movie review of Inception
In third grade, I stood on the hot San Diego playground of my elementary school, feet planted on the blacktop, suddenly acutely and astonishingly aware of the hundreds of small bodies that teemed around me; aware of their lives, their fragility, and two things occured to me at once: all of these children will one day be dead- and- no one can prove to me that this is real. Inception is a movie hand crafted for the neurotic and expansive inner life of people like me, who never stop wondering at the strangeness of life and reality itself.
As the now famous David asked in his video: Is this real life? ...and Queen continued: Or is this fantasy?
This movie tells the story of Leo Decaprio's character Dom Cobb, a man seemingly without any roots but his children that have been somehow- we aren't told at first- kept from him in the US while he floats in expat hell working his magicks around the globe. Those magicks, we learn after an intense and what feels immediately dreamlike opening sequence, are the science of invading and controlling a person's dreams. Dreamlike? No, we realize, this is the stuff of dreams. The opening scene is taking place in what is in fact a dream, complex and bizarre as dreams are, with layers of memory and the actual bodies of the dreamer and dream-invaders all layered in the scene, coming forth one from the other in a perfect bloom and retract dance that engages the audience completely.
Cobb is the action character, we assume, the ringmaster and dynamic. Other minor characters help Cobb invade the dreams of a person by simultaneously all being hooked up to the same drug cocktail while someone in real life watches all their sleeping bodies. The mission is to find out an innermost secret that they have been hired to obtain, which in dreamland is locked in a vault or prison, representing of course the subconscious and it's desire to protect itself. In Inception, the subconscious is a leading character; a man or woman of a thousand faces showing up in dreams as hundreds of 'extras' that roam around the cities and villages of dreams. As the dream continues, the subconscious of the person dreaming slowly realizes that an invader is present, and the 'extras' begin staring at the invaders as they walk by, banging into them with a shoulder or bag, eventually attacking with the intent to kill.
Only it is not as it seems: ( making this move from a good movie to a great movie ) Cobb is the dynamic leader, but he is also in the midst of a great and terrible dream himself- an internal struggle involving his dead wife that is so painful and entrenched in his psyche that his wife begins invading the dreams that Cobb is invading, ruining his plans and his job. Cobb works with an Architect, who builds the dreams ( Ellen Page ) and Eames, a.k.a. “The Forger” (Tom Hardy) who impersonates people within the dream- an idea which resonates clearly for anyone who has had a dream and woken to realize a person in your dream was also NOT the person in your dream, at the same time. The dual nature of all representation of people in your dreams- they are themselves, filled with your projections- is a fascinating idea. There is also Arthur ( Joseph Gordon-Levitt ) who is Cobb's right hand man and who is primarily concerned with organizing the timing of dropping into and out of a person's dreams, and controlling the increasingly volatile subconscious of the person being invaded.
As the movie moves forward, with it's thrilling cinematography and explanations of how to make and map dreams, the emotional life of Cobb moves forward center, and the love story between Cobb and his dead wife Mal becomes intertwined inexorably with the big dream invasion they plan: hired by a mega millionaire to invade his rival's dream and do what is thought impossible, to not only invade a person's dream, but to plant an idea in the deepest recesses of the mind. In exchange, the CEO promises Cobb a safe return back to the U.S. and his children.
In an quote from a premiere Leo Decaprio said of this film, This is an interesting movie, because I really believe people can extract what they want from this film and interpret that in a lot of different ways. I interpreted the movie very personally as it continued; his dead wife's pleas for him to join her ( in his dream ) and his eventual revelation of what happened to his wife moved me to the point of tears based on that interpretation. The meaning of a life lived on different planes of reality, when one does not or cannot differentiate between reality and fantasy spoke loudly to me as a metaphor for mental illness or damage and death- the great losses that can occur when those we love slide away from us, no matter the greatness or depth of love- into a world of their own making or simply a world we are unsure exists: after death. The excruciating pain of such losses, our inability to let go, to accept the loss in our day to day life and the consequences of that inability, is reflected in this movie beautifully between Cobb and Mal, and gives the movie it's emotional backbone and resonance. The movie beautifully utilizes repetition, shorthand and phrasing to build emotional intensity and meaning.
As Mal repeats throughout the movie in a haunting foreshadow: You're waiting for a train. A train that will take you far away. You know where you hope the train will take you, But you cannot be sure. But it doesn't matter, because we'll be together. What this means when you go together to somewhere outside of reality, a place that could be drug addiction, mental illness or death -but in this movie is dreamland- is a question that weighed heavily on my mind at the end of the movie.
Ellen Page's character, Ariadne, was the only weak link in the film and not the fault of bad acting but instead because her character was created to explain the movie to the audience as it continues and becomes more complex. Because she was created to ask questions of the main character, some kind of bond was attempted to be forced between her and Cobb that never comes through as believable. She spends the movie following him saying things like Now whose subconscious are we going into? while I would have rather been confused and had questions answered in repeat viewings. The chemistry between Marilyn Cotillard and Leo Decaprio is marvelous, adult intensity, heart and mind meeting an equal- both wonderful actors.
Not only is this film visually thrilling and intellectually stimulating, it asks without answer questions rarely touched on in mainstream art: What is reality, and after we think we have an answer makes us ask again... Are you sure?