Monday, July 26, 2010

Taking Inception For Another Spin

Inception isn't a masterpiece.

But it is a great, great film and a reminder of the difference between the films we watch passively and films that ask something more.

Having rewatched it recently I can say it's much more enjoyable the second time.

There are themes, motifs and clues spread throughout the film I missed (the first time) because frankly, I was struggling to keep up.

Inception is certainly an elegantly constructed movie. Director Christopher Nolan has carefully thought out the rules for this universe of dreams. The exposition littered throughout the film does a decent enough job of explaining it. But if you, like me, still have some lingering questions, here are some great links to explore.

The Ultimate Inception Guide. Over at Salon, Sam Adams begins with a very detailed recap of the film and goes on the explore the various levels and the rules.

Interview with Dileep Rao. On the always entertaining Vulture blog Dileep Rao answers some of the questions surrounding the rules of the Inception world. Dileep would know because he plays Yusuf, the chemist on the team. Read the interview and you'll see he doesn't look too kindly on the "it's all a dream" interpretation.

A Chart! If you're still confused the pretty colours provided by the fine folks at Cinemablend might help.

Interview With Chris Nolan On the always excellent The Treatment show, host Elvis Mitchell puts Christopher Nolan under the microscope in an extended interview.

Multi-layered Muisc. Hans Zimmer talks about how the Édith Piaf song was altered to suit the
fractal nature of the film. Sooooooo cool.


(Spoiler Spoiler, Good God Man for the love of Mary go see it first, SPOILER)

So, is Cobb dreaming in the final scene?

On my first viewing of Inception I was convinced the entire final scene, Cobb returning home, seeing his children, was an extended dream. The evidence: the top/totem was still spinning, the kids looked identical to the previous flashbacks, even the way the scene was lit seemed to suggest a dream-like state.

Now, having watched it again, I have to say I was wrong. But in my defence Nolan has put a lot of red herrings into Inception, ammunition for the "it's all a dream" team. (For example the dream-like chase sequence with the closing walls in Mombasa.) Why did I change my mind? Well, in the end it's all about the wobble.

Cobb returns home. He looks around. He's agitated. He takes out his totem and begins to spin it. Just then he sees his children. Their clothes are similar but slightly different. (Confirmed here.) They turn, we see their faces and he's finally reunited.
Then we cut back to the top, still spinning, spinning. Then just seconds before we fade to black, the top begins to wobble.

It's not much of a wobble. But it's certainly the beginnings of a top that is going to give in to gravity. Ergo, top falls = real life.

However, as Sam Adams and others have suggested in a way it doesn't matter. The ambiguity is part of the larger theme Nolan is playing with as he explores the reliability of perception and the power of memory. Listen to the interview from The Treatment and you'll hear these are themes that have followed Nolan throughout his career.

In the end that's what makes Inception so satisfying. It takes a universal theme (is this real?) or perhaps the oldest of film cliches (it was all a dream?) and builds an entire movie on that quandary. And his way of exploring these concepts? Using the cinematic language of action films. In fact my single biggest critique with Inception is how it abandons the surreal landscape of the dream and instead serves up something like an extended G.I. Joe action sequence featuring an army of Snow Jobs.

That said, what makes Inception so engaging is the way Nolan embraces the basic language of film, and reminds us the difference editing, music and motion can make. Time stretches and compresses. We flash back and forth between levels. The van falls and falls. It's a beautiful ballet of space and time, a dance of booms and buildings falling and in the centre, a haunted man trying to escape his past, but refusing to let go.