Smell of Popcorn

film reviews & musings by Max Lalanne


Revisiting ‘Inception.’

Posted by Max Lalanne on July 16, 2012


We were lost in here. I knew we needed to escape but she wouldn’t accept it. She had locked something away, something…something deep inside. A truth that she had once known but chose to forget. She couldn’t break free. So I decided to search for it, I went deep into the recess of her mind and found that secret place. I broke in and I planted an idea, a simple little idea that would change everything. That her world wasn’t real.

With “Dark Knight Rises” being released this Friday everywhere, I think it’s safe to assume that if the majority of movie-lovers are re-watching a select few of Chris Nolan’s films this week, they would be watching 2005’s “Batman Begins” and 2008’s “The Dark Knight.” However, today is the two-year anniversary of another of Nolan’s masterpieces, that being 2010’s “Inception,” one of the greatest sci-fi movies made in the 21st century for sure. I must’ve watched it at least three times already, and gave it another go this Sunday in anticipation of this article. If you don’t know it already, “Inception” – like 1999’s “The Matrix” before it, another highly inventive classic – is one movie that gets better and better the more times you see it. All the virtues, and there are many, of the film were massively amplified the fourth time, and the vices – slow pacing, mostly – almost all but disappeared. And mostly, I was struck by the brilliance that Nolan concocted in his brain of his – and managed to transform onto the big screen in a big summer blockbuster, without losing any of the remarkably sophisticated auteur-ish artistry. That alone makes him one of the best directors working today in Hollywood.

Like the multiple layers of dreams that our protagonists descend into in the movie, “Inception” draws you with a seductive ooze, and just when you think you know what’s going on, you enter into another level of twisty happenings – that actually make sense. Unlike a barefaced wannabe attempt like 2011’s “Source Code,” “Inception” doesn’t throw out all these complicated storylines and leave them hanging. No, Nolan wrapped everything he wanted to convey into a slick, sleek, and smart blockbuster that was damn fun and entertaining to watch for everyone, not only interesting on an intellectual level. But of course, “Inception” holds up as good, if not better, on the latter.

The heady yet simple stuff at the center of “Inception” is quite simply, reality vs. dreams/fantasies. Much like the afore-mentioned “The Matrix,” it’s all about what you choose to believe in, except that it’s not, because Nolan took it one step further by having all the conflict happen mostly inside the mind. There are still people perplexed by the movie, by what it means and what it doesn’t mean and what it really is. And the ending seems to be the one that stump people the most. It’s pretty clear to me, and yet I just love speculating about it because Nolan meant for the ending to be ambiguous, for us to believe what we want just like the characters in “Inception” themselves believe what they want.

No creeping doubts? Not feeling persecuted, Dom? Chased around the globe by anonymous corporations and police forces, the way the projections persecute the dreamer? Admit it, you don’t believe in one reality anymore. So choose, choose to be here, choose me.

What the enigmatic, hypnotic, and alluring Mal (Marion Cotillard) said near the end of “Inception,” which I quoted above, is very true. The sequence where Dom (Leonardo DiCaprio) goes to Mombasa to recruit Eames (Tom Hardy), and Yusuf (Dileep Rao), and gets into a street chase is proof of that. Nolan didn’t shoot the sequences taking pace in “reality” with a different style or specificity that could differentiate it from those taking place in the “dream” world. By all accounts, as some imaginative folks have put forth, the entire movie is a dream that Dom is living, obliviously. The “reality” as it is presented is merely a layer of a dream, and the “dreams” as they are presented are deeper layers of the dream. I wouldn’t go as far to say that, but the fact is everything’s open to speculation. And none more than the outstanding ending of “Inception” itself.

Dom can’t believe that his coming home and finally seeing his family again isn’t a dream – because this literally is his dream, to return home to his children, after somewhat successfully pulling off his mind heist for Saito (Ken Watanabe). He’s been dreaming about it and now his dream is coming true. But now the question. Is it coming true because he wants it too, because what he’s living is yet another one of these damned dreams? When he gets off the plane and past immigration, past the customs official – even “Welcome home, Mr. Cobb” seems to contain some hidden meaning – Dom is experiencing that same feeling that the audience is, the one you don’t want to encourage yourself because you might be completely disappointed – can this really be a happy ending?More technically, can this finally be reality that Dom is living?

Dom’s father-in law (Michael Caine) greets him at the airport and brings him home. Dom’s house still looks the same, everything seems the same as we’ve seen it before, remembered in his dreams and memories. His kids, with their backs turned, are still there, James digging up a worm on the lawn with Phillipa. Simply put, everything looks too good to be true. Dom takes out his totem and spins it on the dining room table, but then James and Philippa turn around. It’s the first time we ever see their faces, and the first time Cobb doesn’t turn away because now, he’s convinced himself this is reality, that these are his real children. He rushes out and hugs his two kids, and James, adding a little more provocative thought into the mix, innocently proclaims, “We’ve been building a house on the cliff,” bringing to mind the city-building alongside the sea that Mal and Dom spent years and years doing when they were stuck in limbo. Does that have anything significant to do with the story of “Inception,” or is it just a casual touch Nolan inserted there to make it even more gloriously ambiguous? And meanwhile, Dom’s totem is still spinning, still spinning, until finally the revolutions become slower. The totem starts to slow down…and the screen cuts to black. It’s the ultimate tease, and yet it is oddly satisfying that Nolan didn’t explain everything out. Is Dom still living out a dream, which he now accepts as reality? Or is it truly reality, which all his dreams behind him now?

I firmly, without a doubt believe in the latter. But it’s all up for different interpretation, and there’s no better time to re-watch “Inception” and marvel at the unparalleled genius of Nolan’s work – at least, one that’s not part of his equally brilliant Caped Crusader canon – than this week. At the very least, you’ll be asking yourself questions that may have been stuck in the back of your mind since two years ago.


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