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Director:  Christopher Nolan
Writer:  Christopher Nolan
Cast:  Leonardo DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon Levitt, Ellen Page, Tom Hardy

*This review contains spoilers*

Inception is the latest film written and directed by Christopher Nolan of Memento and The Dark Knight fame.  Reportedly, this film has been ten years in the making.  For a high-budget summer blockbuster release, it is uncommonly complex and requires utmost concentration on the viewer’s behalf to keep up.

The film tells the tale of a man named Dominic Cobb who is a hired gun that performs corporate espionage by entering a subject’s dreams and stealing secrets from their subconscious.  As Inception begins, he is recruited by a businessman named Saito to perform his biggest challenge yet: to convince the son of a terminally ill corporate mogul to disband his father’s empire when he inherits it.  This challenge is so great that Cobb must recruit a group of specialists, Oceans Eleven style, to help him with the dreamscaping (sort of like landscaping) required to plant the idea into the mind of the target.

Each specialist has a unique trait.  There’s a forger who can mimic the identities of people in the dream, an architect who can create spaces convincingly within the dream and a chemist who can create sufficient sedatives necessary to build a multi-layered dream.  It’s a summer blockbuster film so eventually one of these guys also ends up functioning as a demolitions expert.

The team decide that to plant the necessary idea into the target’s head, they must construct a dreamscape that has three layers of depth and perform something called inception to convince the target to disband the corporate empire.  Since getting lost in a dream is an occupational hazard, the team are encouraged to take a unique token with them called a ‘totem’ to help keep track of when they are dreaming and when they are in reality.  This becomes important later in the story.

If I was feeling uncharitable, I’d say that this is less of a film and simply a Rube Goldberg machine with special effects.  Cobb is the film’s protagonist and we do not learn anything about him other than that he has a wife who has passed away and he is driven to re-unite with his children.  This is the film’s Macguffin to drive Cobb from point ‘A’ to point ‘B’ by the end of the film.  The rest of the cast function as narrators that verbalize to the audience what is happening throughout the film.  You don’t learn anything about any of them at all.  Such is the film’s structural complexity, Inception‘s dialogue consists almost entirely of a bunch of people running around explaining a logic puzzle.  Since this would be boring by itself, its punctuated with lots of stuff blowing up and people shooting at each other.

This is perhaps the most useful diagram I’ve found on the Internet to explain what happens:

At this point, I had been successfully following the film’s mazelike structure to get to its conclusion when Cobb is reunited with his children.  However, the kicker is the film’s parting shot which shows Cobb’s wife’s totem, a perpetually spinning top.  We establish earlier in the film that if the top spins forever, Cobb is still dreaming.  If it stops spinning, then he is in reality.  In this shot the top appears to be buckle a couple of  times and then we fade to black.

I haven’t felt this way about a film since Mulholland Drive.  By adding that final moment of ambiguity, Nolan has turned the film on its head.  Lets say that Cobb is still dreaming.  If so, then where is he?  Is he still in limbo?  Because the implication in the earlier scene is that he and an elderly Saito kill themselves to ‘kick’ back to reality.  Unless this means that Cobb or someone else has been an unreliable narrator in explaining the rules.  We assume what everyone says to explain the rules of the film should be taken as gospel.  What if they are wrong?  If they are, then what does this mean for the rest of the film?

Conversely, what if the top is about to stop spinning and Cobb is in reality?  Then it becomes an unnecessary addition to the final scene.  A red herring.  Is that all it is?

It was about this point that my brain exploded.

Then I think about my own experience watching the film.  If my gut feeling was that the film is mostly a labyrinthian logic puzzle yet by the end of the film I don’t ‘get’ the puzzle’s solution then have I really got anything out of the film at all?  I’m convinced that Inception‘s conclusion can be understood without any ambiguity and I’m just not getting my head around it.  I think I’d have a far greater measure of satisfaction if I felt certain that I understood the meaning of that final shot.

I think I might need to go back and watch it again.

Nolan with my homies

Review Overview



Summary : A visually spectacular blockbuster that has some interesting ideas and occasionally wobbly execution. The film takes you on a fun ride but it weighs you down with far too much exposition.

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About Edo

Edo currently lives in Australia where he spends his time playing video games and enjoying his wife's cooking.


  1. what i got out of the final shot is that it really didn’t matter to Cobb whether or not he was in reality – because he finally got to see the faces of his children. Would have had more weight if his character had been better fleshed out, but still a decent pay-off nonetheless.

    of course, i can totally see the argument that it was perhaps all just Cobb stuck in limbo. I’ve even read theories that Cobb was the actual target of the Inception, but they’re a little harder to swallow.

  2. Did you rate the film overall though?

    I think upon further reflection I enjoyed the film but didn’t feel blown away by it. I think the main reason is the lack of characterisation.

    Other movies like Bladerunner, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Dark City all managed to do a story about dreams/memories/mind-fuckery and still found time to develop their characters also.

    A lot of the reviews and responses I’m seeing to this film is categorizing it as ‘The Best Thing Ever’ and I’m not quite feeling that.

  3. yeah, i thoroughly enjoyed the film but i felt from the get go that it wasn’t nearly as perfect as people are raving about. there was far too much exposition at the beginning, and i’m not a fan for being spoon-fed every little detail, unless of course it’s done tactfully. and i didn’t find it all that confusing either, your layer diagram summed it up well, but that’s not really very complex lol.

    I will say that i walked out of the cinema with a feeling that i can best only describe as “affected”. This doesn’t happen often when i watch films so i generally take that as a sign that the film was tops.

  4. Hey Edo – I was interested in what you would have to say about this.

    I think you can interpret this film as a large metaphor for film-making. One of the oft-repeated “rules” in Inception was that the architects (producers) designed the dreams, the dreamer (director) realises them, and the subject (audience) fills them with detail from their own subconscious. I thought exactly the same as you when it came to characterisation – it felt like the weight of virtuoso storytelling took its toll on this side of the story. But it sort of engages the audience as the “subject” in the equation, by requiring our subconsciousness to flesh out the story. Good novels work in this way, by having open-ended exposition.

  5. It seems a weird thing to say, but I pretty much agree word-for-word with Mike here.

    The clunky spoon-fed dialogue stopped me from really committing whole-heartedly to the film, and the general consensus that it ‘needed to be like that to explain the films’ concept’, I think that Edo’s point about BladeRunner and Eternal Sunshine disproved that aspect.

    As always I am not a fan of action flicks and therefore my biggest gripe is the 30min Rambo-in-white segment. Things like this are completely wasted on me in films and I think to sacrifice further character depth inorder to have ANOTHER skiido fight scene is prime example of producers throwing too much money at the film.

    I was also disappointed with, my boy, Leo (*squeals* Leo!). I very much agree with what was written above. I found Cobb rather two-dimensional. So secretive, but on the slightest probe from Ariadne he divulges everything.

    What is weird here is that despite what reads like a brutal dissecting of the film.. I came out of it satisfied with my heart pumping.

    I thought the pay-off worked allowing, as Nick said, the audience to draw their on conclusion to the film especially after it being so emotionally involving.

    I’d take Nolan more-or-less hitting the mark over most other directorial attempts anyday.

  6. Lol @ ‘another skiido fight scene’.

    TFW consensus: this film is overrated and has tissue-thin characterization. It’s also pretty awesome.

  7. Just saw this yesterday at the IMax. Highlight being that exposion scene in Paris!

    For me its about expectations going into the film which were pretty high given all the hype about it.

    I wasnt blown away however it was a very good storyline with fairly impressive effects! Yes lack of characterization was an issue. However it got me thinking about an hour after the movie and got people talking a lot.

    We actually enjoyed Shutter Island more – hadnt even heard of the film before watching it and I haven’t seen a twist like that since The Sixth Sense.

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