Published on August 17th, 2020 | by Kim Kurtenbach0
Lazy Sunday Rewatch – Inception Turns 10
This Sunday, sit back and smoke a joint as you re-experience the trippy visual contortions of Christopher Nolan. Kim walks us through his recent revisit.
I don’t know what I thought would be lazy about watching Inception (2010) again. I guess because I stole the idea outright from fellow FBS writer Noah Dimitre. That part felt pretty slothful and easy. But this movie is a real brain massage, like the kind of deep tissue massage you get from a 90 pound Korean lady who you swear has fingers like an unfeeling cyborg. I mean, I thought The Matrix (2010) was rough on the cognition, but this has more than just two layers (real world vs. Matrix). It has 4 layers x 4 dreamers x 7 participants + a thousand projections. I guess the pot I smoked before watching it was really the only lazy part of what I was doing.
With Christopher Nolan’s new Tenet (2020) set to hit theatres in two weeks (or next year, whatever), I wanted to look at Inception again with what I like to call ‘fresh eyes’ – I know, sexy phrase. When it was first released just over a decade ago, I loved it. When the bluray was released, I watched it again several times. It always impressed me, while simultaneously making me feel like an eager and wide-eyed but witless child, watching the same formula explained relentlessly on a blackboard. I smile and nod because all the other kids seem to understand, but I don’t. The vacant grin on my face says so. Haha, science formulas. I’ve heard of those.
The algorithm of Inception goes a little something like this: Dom Cobb (Di Caprio) is stranded overseas, away from his children in America, where the authorities believe Cobb is responsible for the murder of his wife, Mal (Marion Cotillard). Cobb works as a type of subconscious spy who steals corporate secrets from the unsuspecting. By repurposing military technology, he is able to assemble a team of players that infiltrate the target’s subconscious and extract their most valuable secrets. In a shared dream of treachery and espionage, Cobb and his team slip away like thieves in the night, selling the information to the highest bidder.
Cobb, desperate to see his children again and return to a country he is forbidden to enter, accepts a dangerous deal with a man named Saito. Rather than the usual request to retrieve information, Saito requires Cobb to plant an idea in the mind of his business rival, the heir to a vast fortune of international power. Cobb assembles his team that Christopher Nolan once described by analogy thusly: Cobb is the director, Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is the producer, Ariadne (Ellen Page) is the production designer, Eames (Tom Hardy) is the actor, Saito (Ken Watanabe) is the studio, and Fischer (Cillian Murphy) – their target – is the audience.
We know certain rules of the dream world from Cobb’s previous extractions. If you die in the dream, you simply wake up in the real world. The dream world exaggerates time in the real world twelve-fold. An hour in the real world = 12 hours dream time, and should there be a second layer of dream, that one creates 6 days. Help in the real world with the aid of a wake-up cue (music), or kick, is key. As this mission-to-end-all-missions begins, we soon find that Cobb has been less than forthcoming with the dangers and complications of the dream world he is orchestrating. He has put his team in great peril without their full understanding to consent.
Inception is simply too dense, layered and complex to summarize properly, let alone explain, but the unique and demanding story line is only half the experience. The visual aesthetic of the film is unbelievable and when the effects begin to dance, we are relieved of our duty to struggle with the serpentine plot and allowed to just stare, mouths agape, at the fantastically stunning visuals.
These clever and brilliantly executed scenes are both homage and inspiration. As Cobb tours Ariadne around the dream world, the folding buildings and exploding fruit seem to be clear blueprints from some (later released) OK Go videos. Scenes near the end in the snow peaked mountains reflect an honorary nod to On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969), The Empire Strikes Back (1980), True Lies (1994), and Watchmen (2009), to name a few. All over the place, things echo hints of The Matrix, Vanilla Sky (2001) and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004), all of which are brave, esoteric exercises in alternate reality filmmaking.
Like the formula on the blackboard, I’m sure the logic of Inception can hold up to analysis of explanation, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have questions. To start with, why didn’t Cobb just get his father-in-law, Miles (Michael Caine), to fly the kids to France? Jesus. Problem solved. But on the other hand, USA! USA! USA! I suppose that’s why.
The selfish trickery of Cobb to enlist his team makes me wonder what, specifically, motivated Ariadne to keep working the plan after Cobb says they’ve already screwed the pooch? Eames appeared quite ready to concede the mission and wake up. It must have been the money, as we know the bills are being paid by Saito who, instead of booking the whole commercial flight from Sydney to Los Angeles, simply purchased the entire airline. I assume from this that the payment promised to the team was a lifechanging amount of money.
There are all manner of questions I’ve asked myself – why didn’t Fischer recognize Saito on the plane? Two billionaires and rivals in the same industry on the same flight? Was Cobb’s totem really his wedding ring, and not Mal’s spinning top? Is the difference between reality and a dream simply tracked by the scenes including Miles? And the biggest question of all…does Cobb really return to his children in the end, or is it just another dream? These questions are part of the entertainment, a rare treat for fans of blockbuster movies that are often insipid beyond the explosions and overtly sexualized cast.
The reason that Inception is so re-watchable is because you have to involve yourself! Big budget movies are mostly a one-way exchange, where the audience attends and gets satisfied by the cinematic equivalent of a brainless supermodel, returning to life without much lingering thought of the movie they just watched. It’s nice to be challenged for a change, even though it hardly makes for a lazy re-watch. Tonight, I will balance my cinema diet by indulging in The Adventures of Pluto Nash (2002). That should give my brain the rest it deserves.
Inception is back in theatres this week in Saskatoon. Check your local theatre’s website for showtimes.