Renn: Inception is the kind of film that feels like an important, powerful piece of popular art from nearly the first moment it flashes in front of your eyes. Your gut tells you that you’re watching a film that people are going to react to strongly, that will send kids to film school, and will show up on favorite and best-of lists for decades. You just know you’re witnessing a film you’ll be watching and discussing for the rest of your life.

Nolan has pulled this trick before- The Dark Knight has the texture of a cultural phenomenon in every frame. And while that film was released in an atmosphere of hype and big numbers (an environment, at least in terms of hype, that Inception will share), it remained that Nolan’s choices of powerful but simple imagery, and collaboration with an incredible batch of actors and craftsmen led to a film that plays larger than life. What we didn’t know with The Dark Knight is that Nolan was perfecting a skill set that –when they were applied to a film purely from his own mind and not laden with fanboy baggage, and character-necessitated fatty sub plots– would help him create a truly spectacular piece of cinema that in many ways feels like the culmination of (and the victory in) the modern battle of Commercialism vs. Art.

Inception opens our minds to what can be accomplished when nearly unlimited resources, the precision and freedom of modern technology, and a strong vision are combined. Inception is the reason not to burn down Hollywood.

Nick: Well, Piranha 3-D is as strong a case for continuing Hollywood as this, but you are correct in that this is a giant among men in 2010.

There’s a cunning and a confidence to Inception that was present in smaller doses in every film Christopher Nolan has made (more people should love Insomnia by the way), but this truly is the purging of an incredible creative load unlike any we’ve seen from Nolan. What makes Inception special isn’t the many influences that inform it, and many have claimed that this is the next incarnation of The Matrix. It isn’t. It shares elements with the 1999 phenomenon but then so did that film with many which preceded it. Inception is a game changer; a new IP that delivers an epic entertaining experience while really challenging both the craft of modern filmmaking and reminding us that as generic and dire as the industry may seem at times, there’s still the ability for something new to make its way through the system.

This is that project.

Renn: I don’t want to dwell on The Matrix comparison for too long, but it is something I’ve actually been considering. I mentioned Inception sending kids to film school above, and that was on purpose- The Matrix was that film for me and it has remained an important presence in my film-watching headspace. So when I look at it, I think the connection between Inception and The Matrix is something deeper than just multiple layers of narrative reality, or a casual relationship with gravity. Inception is the next big step on a path The Matrix showed us when it demonstrated that modern effects could be used for more than making objects and creatures that we had never seen before, but that it could actually add to the grammar of filmmaking. Inception feels like the first great novel written with that new grammar, to push the metaphor a little too far. Of course, there are a ton of other films it shares a lineage with, so that’s one conversation among many about the influences on Inception.

In any event, the film is an incredible achievement whether looked at in a vacuum or not.

There’s plenty to be said about Nolan’s filmmaking, but the first thing I want to praise is his casting. Leonardo Dicaprio is certainly a huge star and the increasingly “go to” guy for baggage-ridden geniuses, but the rest of the cast (aside from a few Nolan alumni) is filled with choices that are far from obvious, yet yield remarkable results.

Joesph Gordon-Levitt deserves a ton of recognition for his turn as the ice-cold point man, Arthur. Levitt brings back some of that imposing subtlety that made Brick work so well, and oozes competence and quiet charm whoever he’s on screen. Tom Hardy is a ton of fun as a subconscious impersonator, Eames, who’s balanced out by the delicate, yet intellectually imposing Adriadne- played to perfection by Ellen Page. I could go through and list each and every member of the cast, but there’s only so many flowery ways to phrase “fucking great.”

Nick: It was nice seeing Page play a normal person who isn’t quirky and alternative. She’s the heart and soul of the movie and she’s subtle and a great compass for DiCaprio. Tom Hardy is an absolute chameleon and though I think Bronson is quite a bit overhyped, there’s no denying his skill and he shines here in a role I thought I knew the arc of and was absolutely wrong. Hardy and Levitt are legendary in this and pretty much everyone that surrounds them as well. Marion Cotillard on the surface may seem the weakest link but in the context of the story it makes all the sense in the world.

Speaking of sense, one of the things I noticed a great deal from audience members was that they didn’t fully understand the plot. Which surprises me. Though the film jumps around and has several “dream within a dream” moments and never takes too much time to explain itself it all feels very organic. Plus, I think the point is to have the film unravel and bloom over repeat viewings. Not knowing every little piece of the puzzle is tantamount to enjoy films like this. It keeps the audience thinking and speculating, and had it been less of a cypher would cheapen it.

And frankly, just watching the thing is jaw-dropping…

Renn: It is going to blossom on multiple viewings, there’s no doubt.

I think audience confusion comes from the fact that Nolan expects you to pay attention, and take everything said and shown as important. There’s a actually an enormous amount of detail given about the mechanisms of what is going on, and the rules inherent, but they are single sentences rather monologues, shots instead of scenes. Nolan handles his action the same way. He doesn’t rest on the fact that he’s created one of the most interesting set-ups for a fight scene you’ve ever seen… he hits the note and moves on. The moment with the locomotive too- another movie would have turned that into a full-blown set piece (and would have kept falling back on BIG CRAZY SHIT happening at ANY MOMENT), but true to the transient nature of a dream, he lets the image strike and continues with the story. What he does so perfectly is generate a momentum in both emotion and plot that lets a viewer roll with it no matter how much or little of the operational details they’ve caught. I feel like I paid close attention and have a firm grasp on the structure and workings of the film and I’m already in awe at the logistical detail. Add to all of the overpowering and larger than life scale of the film, and I can see why people got caught up and found themselves not entirely sure how point A connected to point G. It’s all there though, the film follows its own rules.

Nick: I think it’s also in a weird place where it has enough variety so that the typical spots where one could find dead air don’t exist. It isn’t a perfect movie but it has so much resonance that if there’s a moment not speaking to you visually, there’s a moment of really interesting characterization. When there’s not the emotional connect, there’s a moment that somehow manages to be new and interesting in a world where the FX budget for a cell phone ad could cover two great 80’s horror flicks. The moment in the cafe, for instance. Though it’s been shown nearly in its entirety in the commercials for the film it still blows the doors off the competition. You think about the big hyped scene in Swordfish where time stands still as the world comes apart. The entire scene is build as a “look at me” moment. This scene, the impeccable effects are used in a teaching sequence that is all about the narrative and immersing the audience in this idea.

Funnily enough, in a film about stealing ideas and the sanctity of good ones, a filmmaker has delivered a cunning dose of nearly flawlessly executed ideas in a movie where they have been preserved right up to the end.

Though thankfully, this is not a film about twist endings. It’s not even about a mindfuck. It’s actually old school at its core and while paying respect to many archetypes it emerges on the other end wholly its own.

Renn: We often applaud (the few) films with well-managed twist endings that actually enhance the film when revisited, but Inception will work in the opposite manner. The knowledge that there is no twist, that you don’t have to out-think the movie, but instead think with it will complement the depth of the film’s character psychoanalysis. The film is forthright about the fact that these people’s demons are literally present elements and characters on the screen, and the endless possibilities for interpretation (which are sure to begin amongst you and your friends the moment the credits roll) will do a lot to seal this as a classic. The fact that it manages to be so direct without breaching into obvious and cheesy meta-wanking is yet another reason Inception will last in our minds.

There are two other things I think will weigh in Inception‘s favor as time passes and judges the film- the sophisticated implementation of effects, and the standalone nature of the film.

The effects are uniformly great, and the best that high-budgeted blockbusters have to offer. Computer imagery is maturely handled and mixed in with the much more present in-camera tricks, and beautiful high-speed photography. Elements of the film will certainly age, but not more than the matte paintings and effects of old. The ostentatious, in-your-face pieces are the score, mix, and picture editing, with CGI typically enhancing grander work. This artful use of tools, paired with the feeling of it being a singular vision, lends Inception the kind of credibility that lets it employ such an adventurous structure.

Nick: Yep, it’s one big pile of Bravo. I hope they don’t do a sequel and I hope there’s not some dumb fanboy backlash.

But either way, it’s a fucking stellar movie that has almost singlehandedly made 2010 a special year for film.

9.5 out of 10

Renn: I couldn’t have asked for a better movie than Inception- it’s the kind of exquisite film for which we fans keep our fingers perpetually crossed. Incredible, inspiring, and invigorating, Nolan’s masterstroke may very well have set the tone for the next decade of Blockbuster filmmaking.  

9.9 out of 10

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