Inception, a review and discussionSo, I shall start with a non-spoilered review. Its an excellent film, of a level you simply do not see for blockbuster films. This is up there with the Matrix quite easily as a massive, big budget film, that has actually thought about what its doing (yes, I know the Matrix's ideas have been ripped off other things, but its an ultimately clever film despite that). I am pretty confident that it will go into my list of favourite films that I've seen.
At its core its a heist film, but by setting it in dreams it gets to explore a lot more. In particular, its a heist with astonishing, inventive active sequences that is actually mostly about DeCaprio's emotional status. This film is about things, more of which i'll explore in the spoiler section.
Are there some flaws? Kinda- some of the film drags a tiny bit- in particular I don't think the snow fight works entirely, because its not entirely clear where everyone is in connection to each other, so it feels like a sequence of disconnected fights. Its still pretty breath taking along with that, with some lovely moments, but I think it could have been better done. Theres also a couple of moments of unnecessary exposition later in the film, but for the most part these are well done and explain the film well.
Whats terrific about this film is that while its complicated, and at its climax a lot is going on, its sufficiently explained its world that you should be able to follow whats happening at any point.
A must see film. I really want to see this film do well, because as Mark Kermode said, if it does well it'll show that blockbusters really don't need to be brainless to succeed.
And now, spoilers. Please see the film before reading this next part. Seriously. totally going to spoil the film.
You better have seen the film if you're reading this part. It would be a real shame to not experience all the joys of this film by itself.
OK, so. What I love about this film is that its all about DeCaprio's guilt. One thing the Matrix did not really explore was the idea that maybe staying in the Matrix was fine. Cypher was the only character who wanted to, and he clearly wasn't meant to be someone the audience was meant to like. Inception, however, is actually fine with the idea that maybe reality isn't all its cracked up to be.
The film does appear to reject the notion of staying in dreams- Mal (had to look up the spelling for that) would seem to represent the notion of staying in fantasy. Yet really she doesn't. Its made sort of explicit, but Mal represents Caprio's guilt. Consider his only dream space, where each level contains a memory of his past live. But, crucially, these aren't good times, happy moments- these are his failures, the moments he desperately wishes he could change, so much so that he keeps coming back and looking at them. Staying with Mal, on the level she wants, would be to give in to his guilt about his wife's death, not to succumb to a healthy fantasy- its not just that the dream of Mal is unreal, its that its a horrifying dream of her.
To me, the final spinning top, with its ambiguous nature, is the entire point for me. It doesn't MATTER if that final moment is a dream or not- the point is that it is a healthy one. Getting to see his children means that Leo has moved on from his wife, and accepted emotionally that he is allowed to see them. His exile from America, is, on some level, self imposed, and only by letting go off his wife is he able to end it.
So, was it all a dream? Possibly, but I'm not sure if I'm satisfied with this explanation. For it to work, I think it has to be Caprio's own dream, with Mal having successfully escaped, but he is still trapped.
Why? Well in the "waking moments" of the film, the spinning top settles. I suppose its possible that Caprio has so accepted the dream that he has given up on his totem- stealing his wife's, which won't work for him. I'll consider both cases, and point out issues with both.
The first scenario is an incredibly dark one. It implies that Mal is now awake, but her husband is still trapped. Worse yet, this means the entire film is not about Caprio dealing with guilt, but accepting the fantasy. After all, Mal has escaped- she was right, and he was wrong, yet Caprio is instead struggling to ignore that. This scenario explains the other characters lack of back story. The film is all about Caprio, of course, but the only other character (excluding Mal) to get back story of any real kind is Fisher, which is interesting in of itself. What Fisher represents here I'm not sure. Potentially Caprio's own father issues? Or merely a clever puzzle for him to solve?
There are some issues with this theory- the darkness of it is a little off putting, as the message of the film is overwhelmingly positive, and this would undercut it heavily, which would be an odd choice to say the least. Also, in the "real world", Caprio comes under attack. But this theory would imply this was own subconscious attacking him. This still can be explained- obviously his subconscious is attempting to protect him, to draw him from the dream. If so, Saito represents temptation to stay- note that Mal actually attempts to stop him from doing this.
The other theory is that this isn't Caprio's dream. He's the subject, or possibly the dreamer (but the latter doesn't make much sense). In which case, its not entirely sure who the dreamers ARE. Who they are matters a lot, as it changes the tone. Saito and Aradaine (Ellen Page) seem the most likely in this situation. So, in turn, whats their motivation?
In Saito's case, the same motives might apply. How on earth could he get the US to drop the charges? So instead he takes Caprio into a dream level, (which means the film starts in the third level of dreaming!), and convinces him and his partners to do this job. He then brings Fisher in, and the scenario plays out as in the film. The ending is then definitely a dream, which makes sense.
This is quite nice, and clever on Saito's part. It certainly makes sense, with the agents in the "real world" once again playing the part of Caprio's unconscious trying to wake him up, and ties up any holes that the film might have. The only issue with this as a theory is that thematically its a little disappointing- Saito would be doing it out of greed, and thematically thats not really very interesting, and doesn't really tie in to what else is going on.
Finally we have Ellen Page. This is stolen from another site, which sadly I lack a link to, but she could be Caprio's therapist. Caprio is in need of saving- he needs to badly deal with his guilt, and at every stage Page manages to push him to deal with his problems. In fact, she even goes in to investigate his subconscious (within his own unconscious!). She claims this is because she wants to know the truth about him before she works with him, but it also makes sense that she is analysing him. This would also explain her rapid pick up of the concepts of the dream world. There are a couple of issues here- Fisher becomes a bit of a cypher then, and also it makes the ending difficult to explain- why is Caprio still in the dream, and not woken up?
I'm not sure which explanation I accept, but I like that there are so many of them, and that the film is open enough to allow all of them.