I just had the pleasure of seeing in a movie theater Inception, the 2010 film written and directed by Christopher Nolan. The screening of the film was preceded by a short documentary / commercial about Tenet, his new film, as well as about Inception itself. I found it interesting that both Nolan and his actors all said the same things about these two films: spectacular locations, great special effects, for the most part practical ones, and complex stories capable of capturing the audience. This constant repetition of these elements made me think a little about how Nolan perceives his cinema: as he himself says, he wants to create great experiences for the cinema audiences like the ones he felt when he was going to the movies to see action films as a young man (I guess there are several James Bond movies in his memory).
Inception contains all the elements that Tenet promises to contain, at least judging by the footage I’ve seen. A tormented protagonist has to come to terms with his emotions (in this case remorse), there are a lot of different locations (thanks to the trick of dreams within dreams), and the special effects are impressive. But let’s start from the plot.
Cobb (Leonardo Di Caprio) is a peculiar thief: he steals ideas. In this science fiction world, it’s indeed possible to enter people’s dreams and snatch their deepest secrets. The boss of a large corporation, Saito (Ken Watanabe), hires him to do something even more difficult: implant a new idea in the brain of a competitor (Cillian Murphy). Thus, Cobb forms a team of aces of this type of robbery to carry out his mission (the cast also includes Tom Hardy, Ellen Page, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Marion Cotillard and a thousand others, including the inevitable Michael Caine). All great, except that Cobb is a tormented person, exiled from his country and full of remorse. Will he be able to complete the mission? Who knows!
If you’ve seen the film, you know the reason behind my answer: this film is famous, among other things, for its open ending. Characters can enter dreams, and dreams within dreams, and so on, but the deeper they go the harder it is to return to the real world. And in the climax of the film our protagonists go in a dream within a dream within a dream within another dream! Cobb remains alone and it’s not clear whether he can save himself or not. But in my opinion this is not an important point to discuss: I don’t particularly care if the film has a happy ending or not. I’m interested in explaining why I think Inception is that great of a film.
Inception is huge in the sense that it hits you with loud sounds and amazing images until it stuns you. The action is very well shot, the actors are very good, the cinematography is impressive… but the movie also hits you with a lot of explanations of things that seem very complicated at the beginning but that in the end are not even that complex. You can enter dreams and time expands exponentially as you do so. And it’s important to wake up from all the dreams you entered at the same time. That’s it. And these rules are repeated a thousand times, practically the movie begins with a one hour-long hour of explanation (Gordon-Levitt’s character on;y explains things, a bit like the robot explaining things to the viewers in Interstellar, 2014).
And is this a problem for me? No, it isn’t. The vision of the film becomes a bit heavy, yes, but the thing itself doesn’t bother me too much. What I find unbearable is that these rules are continually broken by the protagonists of the film! Why create so many rules and obsessively repeat them if what we see on the screen clearly contradicts them? It seems to me that, for a movie based on a complicated plot, there are too many holes everywhere…
For example, just before the climax we are told the amount of time the protagonists have in the various dreams: ten seconds in the van, two minutes in the hotel room, and twenty minutes in the mountain fortress. Ok. It actually takes the van ten seconds to fall into the water from the bridge. But in two minutes Joseph Gordon-Levitt gets into a room, ties four people with a telephone wire found after searching for something to tie them up, gets out and goes to the elevator, he gets out of it, places two explosive charges, detonates them, and then places two more and detonates those as well? All this in zero gravity! Unlikely.
And in twenty minutes I can believe that Tom Hardy and Cillian Murphy break into the fortress, okay. But then why does this very difficult thing become something that Leonardo Di Caprio and Ellen Page can do in two seconds? One moment they’re standing on a hill in front of the fortress shooting with sniper rifles, and the next moment they’re in the safest room in the fortress. Mmh … how did they get there? If it’s all a dream, is everything possible? So why all the chases and shootings?
And normally I wouldn’t want to pay too much attention to details, but if the film itself insists on highlighting all these details and rules, then it’s only fair to ask for some consistency! In Inception, in my opinion, there is no such a thing as consistency. And once the rules crumble, there isn’t much left, unfortunately. The reason behind Cobb’s torment can be understood about halfway through the film, but even that is explained over and over again at the end (this time by Di Caprio to Ellen Page).
I have the feeling that Nolan writes these scripts and thinks that they’re brilliant and very complicated, fills them with explanations, and then doesn’t realize that nothing really works. And no one has the heart to tell him because he has a lot of fun making these big movies full of practical special effects that he wants everyone to have fun with! And I can enjoy this type of movies, but more often than not they don’t make any sense: both The Dark Knight (2008) and The Dark Knight Rises (2012) have glaring plot issues, and the same goes for Inception.
And of course Di Caprio is good at interpreting the tormented Cobb, but honestly I wasn’t moved much by his tragic story in the midst of all this chaos and deafened by Hans Zimmer’s soundtrack… In short, I’m glad to have seen Inception at the cinema, but I don’t think it’s an unmissable movie. I hope Tenet is different! Ciao!
PS: Anyway, in my opinion there’s no happy ending: Cobb’s children at the end look exactly like the ones in his dreams, so, unless he’s been in exile only a few days, the reunion be real!
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