Inception Busts Open The Doors Of Perception

Inception has imposed itself as the film to beat for Best Picture and, I would guess, will become the lodestone for "mind movies" for a generation. Don't miss it.

About halfway through Inception, it struck me: This movie was succeeding at doing what The Matrix tried to do but never quite pulled off. Exploring the external manipulation of the inner workings of the mind is a delicate subject. And one which, apparently, requires a lot of exposition.

Fortunately, I don’t mind exposition. A lot of commentators have praised the film for the boldness of its complexity, fearing it will lose audiences. I didn’t find it too complicated; in fact, a little less explanation would have been fine. Or, at least, rearranging the explanations so that, when the “kick” from a twist hits, the action isn’t interrupted by another explanatory scene. A lot of this comes from an obvious decision to create mystery, but it bogs down the climax.

With so much plot to explain, the characters never get the chance to develop any real chemistry. Ariadne’s (Ellen Page) quick grasp of what’s really driving Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) and her (frequent and emphatic) pleas for him to grapple with his demons have to do double duty as plot drivers and substitute emotional connection. With so many characters, only Cobb really gets to develop, leading one to think the concept might have been a better subject for a three or four episode miniseries.

Don’t get me wrong; the movie is outstanding. Its structure is a deftly layered as the dreamworld designed by Ariadne. For all the emphasis the marketing campaign put on the “mindcrime” concept, I cannot recall the word actually being used in the film (I may have missed a mention, of course, but it certainly didn’t have the centrality one expected). But that head-fake actually works on a meta-level, as it creates an expectation that this will be an entirely different film than it is. And, once you’re inside, you quickly realize that what you might’ve thought you were getting paled in comparison to the actual product.

The film’s most impressive feat is inducing the audience to buy into the “mindcrime” being perpetrated. Heist movies (and this is one, at the core) generally work to get the audience to cheer on the heisters. But this “heist,” which looks more like mental rape than mere theft of property, is an altogether more challenging crime to applaud. I won’t spoil the ending, but suffice it to say that Cobb’s (ultimately selfish) reasons for taking the job aren’t enough to make the manipulation of Robert Fischer, Jr. (Cillian Murphy) justifiable. And yet one would have to be a coldly detached philosophical purist to think that he himself would have it any other way once it’s done.

I don’t think I can say anything about Cobb’s demons, the true emotional core of the film, without spoilers, so I will leave them to the reader to discover. Which I heartily encourage you to do. Inception has imposed itself as the film to beat for Best Picture and, I would guess, will become the lodestone for “mind movies” for a generation. Don’t miss it.

Dodd Harris
About Dodd Harris
Dodd, who used to run a blog named ipse dixit, is an attorney, a veteran of the United States Navy, and a fairly good poker player. He contributed over 650 pieces to OTB between May 2007 and September 2013. Follow him on Twitter @Amuk3.