There’s a moment in Inception when Leonardo DiCaprio’s Cobb tells Ellen Page’s Ariadne that a dream is unique because we rarely remember the beginning or the end, because we always seem to be in the middle of it. It’s anyone’s guess if this is because the bookends are unremarkable, or just forgettable for in a way I feel that (inadvertently) Nolan might have identified one of the flaws in Inception. In a way, I suppose it’s a good thing that I saw Inception so late in the game. It’s still not accurate to say that I’ve gauged the playing field, I’ve read only one complete review of it. I’m acutely aware of the hubbub surrounding it but I can’t really discern the sides because I’ve avoided all Inception information. I have a natural inclination to overanalyse films I see and I went into Inception with that natural inclination even more heightened due to the claims that it was a cerebral experience. I’m not sure the film made good on those claims and thus my state of acute sensibility may not have been the best state to appreciate it in.
Essentially, Inception is a heist film. Cobb (along with help from his team) are noted for their ability to extract information from dreams but for personal reasons Cobb is lured into a new heist to perform the opposite – create an idea in someone’s dreams. The visceral portion of the story, which concerns the assimilation of three dream sequences, is played consciously alongside the emotional portion of the story which sees Cobb’s memories of his relationship with his dead wife Mal. Cobb’s reasons for performing this dangerous inception job is so that he can return to his two children who he is unable to see as he travels the globe avoiding arrest for the murder of Mal – an act he is apparently nnocent of. No one is a blank slate and whatever perceived objectivity we bring to a film is always tainted. In case you don’t already know I’m overly fond of Leonardo DiCaprio and despite my general indifference towards Nolan I’ll admit that DiCaprio’s presence in it piqued my interest. I don’t know it was this state of acute expectancy that made DiCaprio’s performance come off with less of a bang and more of a whimper. Considering that if it were up to me he’d have four Oscars (one, two, thee, four) I don’t think I’d say he’s untalented. And say what you will about Titanic but he proved he could at least hold our interest when the special effects were front and centre, but he seems decidedly unremarkable throughout the entire of Inception (and, yes, it hurts me to admit that) and seeing that his performance is imperative to sustain the very significant emotional arc of the story it’s no wonder that I’m left generally unmoved by it – but not necessarily uninterested.
True, Marion Cotillard ends up getting best-in-show honours but Inception is obviously NOT an actors’ showcase. In many ways Inception seems more like an extended pilot episode for a new sci-fi series and less like a complete movie. The ending and beginning, though each fair in its own right, are trite when I consider Nolan’s intent. I’m amazed at Cotillard’s skill though because she comes off with the most difficult task, being forced to move from perfect wife to shrieking siren in a mere second. She pulls off her task credibly but I’m inclined to believe that she’s not playing a real person but Cobb’s memories of her – which makes sense, in its own ludicrous way. I'm not sure if Nolan attempts to be mysterious but he ends up being esoteric because I'm not sure how the characters of Inception exist in the larger world. Was Mal as experienced at the thievery as Cobb...is it legal? I’ve heard Nolan’s biggest fan acknowledge his Achilles’ Heel as his female characters – and it’s true. But despite this Cotillard shines and though Ellen Page’s Ariadne is a woefully underrated character, and more of a glorified mouthpiece she manages to create something real, fleetingly yes but I’ll take what I get. I’m no fan of Page but I’d credit her with one of the film’s better performances managing to turn what could have amounted to a talking head into something that exists. It’s because each person in the film is playing a decided “type” that prevents the emotional connection from being salient. Other than the Mal / Cobb arc Nolan doesn’t care to turn these sketches into real people. Joseph Gordon Levitt and Cillian Murphy round out with Cotillard as the film’s strongest performances, Murphy in particular impressing me with what could have seemed to be something particularly hackneyed.
Inception has a whole lot of information it wants to convey to us and the result is that we spend a good deal of it getting a tutorial into the machinations of this dream world. It’s not that I balk at the plethora information put forth, to Nolan’s credit he is never condescending and the information is never confusing. Yet, there’s that striking feeling of lack of fulfilment. Yes, it looks good but it doesn’t take my (figurative) breath away. Nolan spends a great deal of time focusing on the technicality of different levels of dreams that propels me to think that perhaps there's something complex for the audience to latch on to, but other than arbitrary locations there's nothing striking that differentiates any one level from the other. The technical aspects are handled well, but I'm tempted to say, "So what?" Then there's the fact that I couldn’t even love DiCaprio which threw me a bit considering he's the film's only irreplaceable character (but not performance). Yes, it’s meticulously made - visually- but that doesn’t really thrill me. In the end, for me, Inception is merely adequate.