Inception (2010)

Rated: PG-13 for sequences of violence and action throughout.
Length: 148 minutes
Grade: ACBA+=A
Budget: $160 million
Box Office: $853 million (293 U.S., 533 Intl., 27 DVD)

Written and Directed by: Christopher Nolan (Dark Knight, Prestige, Batman Begins, and Memento)
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and Ellen Page
With: Ken Watanabe, Marion Cotillard, Tom Hardy, Cillian Murphy, Michael Caine, Tom Berenger

Striving to clear his name and return to see his children, a dream infiltrator takes on an impossibly difficult job of corporate espionage.

Entertainment Value: A
I’m not even sure I need to explain this one for anyone who’s seen it. As a simple action movie, this is fantastic. As a psychological exploration or a cinematic construction or an enigma, it’s brilliant. For me, Christopher Nolan is the top of the food chain in modern filmmaking after this and Dark Knight. And the thing that puts this ahead of Avatar is that long, long, long after the movie, you’re still thinking about it and the plot rather than complaining about how weak the plot underneath all the imagery really was.

Superficial Content: C
Drugs/Alcohol B, Sex/Nudity A, Violence C-, Language B
There’s mild profanity and the plot revolves around the use of sedatives/drugs to achieve stable dream states. There’s no sexuality at all. Violence will be the main concern, with lots of action, including action sequences with gunfire and people being killed. PG-13 is just right.

Significant Content: B
This is a VERY difficult one to assign, and the reason for it is that fishing the meaning out of this movie is a bit like trying to remove an elusive bit of eggshell from the white. But the obvious messages about guilt and repression and the way ideas can have restorative/therapeutic value is good. Also, dreams are notoriously difficult to separate from reality.

Artistic/Thought Value: A+
If you’ve read many of my reviews, you may have noticed there are several ways a movie can get a high art score. It can be a really cleverly constructed film, it can have high educational/illustrative value, or it can be truly beautiful. In addition to these, this is a film which, unlike any other I’ve seen, will compel you to think about it again and again and again because you want to solve it. For ongoing argument/discussion value, there just isn’t another film comparable to this. Witness some of the online forums I have listed below. But don’t read them unless you’ve seen the movie already. This movie deserves an A for sheer intricacy, a fact attested to by Nolan’s waiting to do this for nine years until he’d mastered filmmaking better with the two Batman movies. Also, the skill necessary to create the last 45 minutes or so and keep all the levels going in our awareness is its own masterpiece of filmmaking.

Discussion Questions:
~What does it mean?
~Have you ever had trouble telling a dream from reality?
~Has a dream ever had a lingering effect even after you woke up?
If this reality were a dream, how would you know?
~Have you ever thought of this life as a kind of dream from which we all wake up when we die? What does the Bible have to say about this notion?

Poignant or memorable scenes:
Unlike most movies, now that I’ve watched this 2+ times, I have to admit that you could select almost any of it for poignancy value. Certainly the elevator sequence and Mol’s invitation to Dom to join her would qualify. But so many others are worth listing that it’s hard to pick any, really.
Overall Grade: A
As a mere action movie, this is outstanding. As a puzzle to be solved with psychological/philosophical themes, it’s a treasure trove. I didn’t love it fully after the first viewing because I couldn’t solve it, but this made me go back and back which has drawn me into the abyss, happily. Dark City, The Matrix, and now Inception.
Spoiler Alert! Spoiler Alert! Spoiler Alert!
Below, I have some theories, etc. for those who have seen the movie and want to “figure it out.”
2. Odd things to consider for any theory.
~Saito’s “miracle rescue” in Mombasa.
~Why doesn’t Fischer recognize Saito, who is supposedly a massively powerful competitor of his father’s company?
~Ariadne’s amazing initial adeptness at dreamworld manipulation.
~Saito interrupting Dom’s totem test after his trial with the new sedative and his vision of Mol out the window thereafter.
~Saito so easily and quickly just buying an entire airline.
~The brass top being Mol’s secret, Dom’s Totem, and in Saito’s possession at the beginning.
~The children have neither aged nor wear different clothes in the end scene compared with the scene when he leaves them after Mol’s death.
~Where is Dom’s mother, who is supposedly watching the kids?
~Why does Saito have the power to fix all of Dom’s problems with one phone call?
~What do the various looks at Dom during the airport scene represent?
~Who, really, are the thugs chasing Dom in Mombasa, and why are they unable to hit him with so many bullets? Whose subconscious is fighting back, if at all?
~The impact of Mol’s claimed threat letter to the police and the three psychiatrists certifying her as sane.
~The fact that the audience is not given a totem of our own to be able to verify what’s “real” in the movie and what’s a dream level. See “Dissecting,” above.
~Ariadne being a name from Greek Mythology who helped Theseus return from the Minotaur’s maze with a ball of red thread after slaying him.
~According to Nolan’s rules, any scene with an abrupt, inexplicable start is a dream.

3. My theory
Having read all the above websites and pondered the movie a lot (my wife would say too much), I have my own theory which none of the others seem to have seen. There’s a probable version and a totally wacked version.

My tame version:
The entire movie is an inception by Michael Caine in real life against Dom (his son) to get him to release the guilt he feels about the death of Mol when the two of them were first experimenting with Caine’s real world dream exploration techniques. The other players are all confederates acting to pull a con on Dom, including Fischer. This ploy ultimately works and Dom is freed from his guilt to love his children again. Caine is the dreamer, which is why he doesn’t ever go to any of the lower levels. In addition to how this answers the above issues, it also explains Michael Caine’s very odd line to Dom at the Paris lecture hall, “Dom, come back to reality,” his presence at the end and the top not dropping, and his (actual in real life) revelation to the media that he invented the dream, listed on Wikpedia.

My crazy version:
Everything is mostly as I just said, except there’s one major twist: Mol isn’t dead in real life. When she killed herself, it was actually still dreamworld and HE wouldn’t believe it. So the real problem keeping Dom from waking up is that he has all this guilt and he has become convinced that dreamworld is reality (like the Indian group-dreamers, whom we are told are experiencing a reality just as real as the “real” one by the cryptic old man). This would explain Mol’s ability to show up in the dreams basically at will (and why she moves down to limbo when shot in the snow level, perhaps). So Mol and Cain in real life are trying to get Dom to come back to reality together.

Final thoughts:
If the solution isn’t either of these, then the whole movie is itself a dream or else the thing has no “solution,” which are sort of the same, actually. I don’t dismiss these possibilities, I just hope this isn’t it. I’d be disappointed. Tom Brown is convinced that Inception 2 will answer our questions about Inception 1. I doubt there will be an Inception 2, personally. One frustration with this movie is that no one solution ever quite seems fully satisfying, and you have to watch the entire 150 minutes again after any tweaking to be sure that everything fits. I love the movie, but I don’t have the College-era time to do this enough to satisfy my curiosity. Plus, I’d be a bit heartbroken if I couldn’t solve it, which is why I’d almost rather believe I have without wanting to find out I haven’t (either by watching it again or by Nolan telling “the truth” about it). So in reality, I’m less concerned about the reality of Inception since I’m comfortable with my take on it, or my dream about it, if you prefer. =)

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