STUDIO: Warner Bros.
TIME: 148 Minutes
- EXTRACTION MODE
- DREAMS: CINEMA OF THE SUBCONSCIOUS
- INCEPTION: THE COBOL JOB
- 5.1 INCEPTION SOUNDTRACK
- CONCEPTUAL ART GALLERY
- PROMOTIONAL ART ARCHIVE
- INCEPTION TRAILERS
- INCEPTION TV SPOTS
- PROJECT SOMNACIN: CONFIDENTIAL FILES
- 4 FOCUS POINTS
- DIGITAL COPY
Director: Christopher Nolan
Writer: Christopher Nolan
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio. Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Michael Caine. Tom Hardy. Ken Watanabe. Ellen Page. Marion Cotillard. Tom Berenger. Cillian Murphy.
RENN THEN: 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.
RENN NOW: …pretty hardcore accolades for a summer blockbuster. That’s the kind of effusive praise that will make you blush a few months down the line when you realize the movie was operating on an over-inflated sense of importance and that it deflates after a few viewings. Fortunately I have not found that to be the case with Inception, and my most recent viewing (at home, on a modest HDTV with only slightly better-than-average sound) proved it to still rank strongly among the best movies of the year, despite all of the great, smaller prestige flicks that are all trying to cram through the door in the last few weeks of 2010. After months and months of nearly constant speculation and deconstruction, the movie still works as a perfectly engineered piece of ambiguity that dodges any firm theory’s box in which you try to put it, while opening its arms to any interpretation you wish to consider. In other words: it is still great… a carefully chosen word.I do stand by my original hypothesis- Nolan is particularly adept at embroidering his films with the kind of sound design, imagery, and scale that make them immediately feel empyrean, whether they actually possess the substance of such a film or not. It’s this skill that made both The Dark Knight and Inception feel like grand cultural moments even before they ended fulfilling the prophecy of their own grandiosity. Inception though –and this is not a backhanded slight at The Dark Knight, which I find infinitely re-watchable– is the first to perfectly marry Nolan’s delightful left-brained creativity with budget, and scale. My god, I hope this wasn’t a fluke. Another 6 months of silly sequel announcements and greenlit projects based on board games had me striking another match. Yet even a third (or is it fourth?) viewing of Inception, at home, promised enough that I had to blow it out once again.
NICK THEN: 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.
NICK NOW: It’s a different movie to me today than it was upon release. I’ve watched it several times now and it still is a massive creative success but it’s a different kind of creative success than it was. The whole “dream within a dream” motif is good but it’s not as compelling as it was the first time. It’s not the kind of story that lends itself to dozens of spinoffs and ancillary projects. It’s epic and beautiful and certainly shakes its fist as the standard mainstream Hollywood fare but it really is sort of a small story at its very core. Stripped of the artifice and effective presentation it’s a story about a man wanting to go home to his children. Respectable and easy to be swept up in but damaged a bit by ineffective work of Marion Cotillard and the many flaws in the execution of her character, Mal.
RENN THEN: 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.”
RENN NOW: Before glancing back over my original thoughts, I’ll acknowledge Nick’s points and offer a counter-point: that is, I have actually grown to appreciate Mol, and specifically Cotillard’s performance, more on every re-watch. From her first mysterious appearance to the heartbreaking final scene between her and Cobb, Mol always emanates a sense of unpredictable danger that is truly frightening. Her maddening conviction that no reality is true, and that Cobb has blinded himself tugs at me, and makes me as sad, frustrated, and powerless as Cobb must feel. I lay this squarely on the feet of Marion Cotillard, who weaves that familiar marital fury of a pissed off wife with feminine vulnerability so deftly that it was one of the striking elements to me during my home rewatch. As for Nolan’s use of the character- I could see where one might take issue with it, but I find way too much enjoyment in Nolan’s positioning of Mol as the sexy enemy spy who will show up unpredictably, yet always before a moment of triumph. She’s the one who fucks everything up, but is just too beautiful and exciting to get rid of. In this case she is summoned at moments most critical for Cobb psychologically and logistically, which is the most effective exploitation/re-imagining of a spy-movie trope I’ve found in the film.Looking back to this specific piece of the Tag-Team, I can still stand behind all of the casting endorsements- no performance has weakened with time, in my eyes. I will also stand by my assertion that Inception is the true and ultimate successor to The Matrix and the promise that film showed (certainly much more than that film’s own sequels). In addition to the similarities I spoke of originally, there are just too many other unique levels on which these films both find themselves working, too many neurons and portions of the brain they both spark. I think we’ll be able to look back long from now and quite clearly see the seeds planted by each of these films, and how those ideas/techniques/images/etc played out over the following decade. It’s a relationship I intend to look into deeper.
NICK THEN: 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…
NICK NOW: This is the thing that still gets me. I own the Cinefex issue devoted to Inception and I still marvel at the way this thing was put together. The only effect that still doesn’t blow me away is the ‘City Folding’ one because upon closer inspection (inception?) it’s a little less convincing. Within the conceit of the story it’s fine, but it’s much more interesting to see the movie unfold an try to figure out the logistics of what Nolan & Associates were able to pull off. The hallway fight is gimmicky and there are times where it isn’t wholly effective but the marriage of worlds between Buster Keaton and Neo Reeves loses none of its appeal on the rewatch.
RENN THEN: 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.
RENN NOW: There’s the scattered moment that’s lost some potency, but in general I didn’t find that any of the spectacle has diminished in power. The first shared dreaming sequence between Cobb and Adriadne is still a remarkable marriage of exposition, timing, and effects. The slow-mo is carefully exploited and consistently gorgeous. The city folding I’ve actually watched in a high-quality GIF and sat, mesmerized by the careful visualization that is explicit enough to create awe, but yet somehow –right in front of your face– smears over gaps of visual logic in the same way a dream would. The folded city just works- exactly how things just work in dreams. As for the hallway sequence- there’s not a moment of film this year that has affected me physiologically every time I’ve seen it, without fail. It’s stunning, and enough to make me feel the adrenaline pour into my system and raise the hairs on the back of my neck. It’s no exaggeration that when Arthur gets off that last headshot, I let out a breath I’ve been holding since the first hallway shift.That said, I could have used a more even distribution of images like the train- a more consistent reminder of how inconsistent Cobb’s grasp on reality is. As I said originally, I’m glad the film doesn’t take the train and run too far with it, but another image or two like it would have done a lot to amp up the threat of Cobb’s mental intrusions into the heist.And at this point, I’m so familiar with the structure of the film that, like The Matrix, it seems baffling that there was ever anything to figure out in the first place. It’s fun to watch the movie dole out information and rules, while at the same time blatantly questioning the main character about his understanding of reality.
NICK THEN: 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 built 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.
NICK NOW: That’s the genius of this movie. It’s Christopher Nolan challenging himself and us. He’s created a world where it’s much easier to write yourself into a corner than deliver a big payoff. Or he could layer so much artifice on top of each other that the viewer is overburdened or flat out doesn’t care. It boils down to a film that is almost a placebo for whatever mood or experience a viewer might want on a given day. It has a simple enough throughline to warrant a casual viewing with your special someone but it’s also the kind of movie that is aggressive and powerful enough to be that Friday night guy’s movie. If I were a betting man I think that Nolan is a filmmaker who is sly and subversive enough to be intent on finding ways to extend the mainstream perception of the status quo. And it works, because though I try to find holes in the movie as I revisit it there’s always something tugging me towards being in awe of what he’s managed to do.
RENN THEN: 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.
RENN NOW: My mood hasn’t swung, my views haven’t changed- Inception is great. It’s Nolan’s current masterpiece, but the wonderful thing is that it promises so much more from the filmmaker. I expect virtually every element of this film to hold up in the long-term and it’s one I’m looking forward to enjoying for as long as I’m watching movies. Inception is highly unlikely to have any meaningful impact on the overall quality of the average blockbuster –we’ll mostly just have a ton of trailers cut to the recognizable cues, and most picture-edits will be done with an Inception temp-score for a while– but beyond the slight uptick in slow-motion and gravity-bending that we’ll see, there’s always the chance that it will open the door for one more big-budget film with a brain. If only one more filmmaker gets to bring his or her slightly unconventional idea to the screen with enough dollars to pull it off, then it will all be worth it. Anything like that is a bonus though- we’ve got this one. It’s in the can, it was in the theaters, and now it’s in our homes. The studio can re-release it in 3D, or push through some misguided sequel, but it won’t matter- Inception is ours now.
NICK THEN: 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.
NICK NOW: See above.
As far as a Christopher Nolan product goes, this has more in common with the diverse and abstract Memento DVD than the traditional (and with commentary) Insomnia package he put out there. He has a different approach to special features than many filmmakers and with this set the goal is about about expanding the experience rather than explaining it or sharing his process. It’s cool from a perspective but I’d like to think that a discerning film fan should be able to have their cake and eat it too.
For the general population there’s a one disc offering with just the movie. The experience is preserved.
For these big expensive sets I expect to be able to peek behind the curtain a little because if you have any sort of real passion for this stuff you can separate the art from the craft.
What Nolan has given us here is a very beautiful blu-ray presentation and a nice array of features. If you utilize the ‘Extraction Mode’ feature on the disc, the experience of watching the film becomes a three hour affair. It’s kind of fun but I have to admit that I am not a fan of the technology that bounces you in and out of the movie. I like the separation. I also find blu-ray to be slow and tedious at times and for the most part big efforts like this are a lot more effective on a press release than in execution. It’s fun and a lot of work was involved but it didn’t connect with me.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s dream documentary runs a little long but I like his approach and it’s good to see the attempt to diversify the content with interesting and inventive approaches.
The digital copy is a godsend and as I’ve said before it’s a vital part of my personal blu-ray experience. All discs should come with a digital copy because the ability to experience the film in the home theater needs to be balanced by the routine revisits I make on my various Apple products.
It’s a lavish set but ultimately I want to see the special features a little more linear, especially with a film I am vexed by and deeply interesting in the making of.
out of 10