The big problem with Inception is that it’s a 21st-century heist movie. I’m going to try to get through this without spoilers, but basically one tycoon needs to get another tycoon to do something, so he turns to a rag-tag team of mercenaries. They spend half the movie figuring out a plan to get Tycoon B to do the thing in question, and the other half of the movie executing the plan. It doesn’t quite go according to plan. They must improvise. Gee, I didn’t see that coming.
And the plan is ridiculously ornate. Really all they needed to do was kidnap Tycoon B, shoot him in the kneecaps, and yell at him. But then the movie would be 10 minutes long and it would have no CGI footage of Paris folding up like origami. And then where would we be?
Basically we’d be in The Score, to me the ridiculous progenitor of the ridiculous 21st-century heist movie, with Robert De Niro as a Montreal jazz-club owner (don’t get me started) who needs something fancy out of the Montreal customs house, assembles a rag-tag team of mercenaries, and spends many times more money on his ridiculously ornate plan than the fancy thing in the customs house is worth. You had the same thing, with better clothes, in Soderbergh’s assorted Danny Ocean movies and in that thing with the Minis in the subway (again with Edward Norton. No wonder he always looks scruffy: his profit margins are no good.)
Anyway, Christopher Nolan has now taken it to the point where, if we need something fancy out of the customs house, we need multiple dream dimensions, Paris folding like a pipe cleaner, freight trains down the Champs Elysées, what have you. Where, again, all he had to do was kneecap the mark and he’d be good to go.
The other big problem with Inception is that it is rigorously faithful to the logic of the dream worlds it creates. It is an exquisite little puzzle box, gears within wheels, all pristine, all following the rules everyone keeps explaining to Ellen Page in all the endless tell-me-doctor scenes. If they tell you in the first reel how a dream behaves, you can rest assured that in the helter-skelter final reel, the dreams will actually follow those rules. Which is nuts, because when did a dream ever follow rules? You’re talking to your neighbour and suddenly he’s a chipmunk, and then you’re onstage with Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers at Budokan but you’re wearing a dress and you don’t know the tune they’re playing, and then you’re falling and mmmmm, custard pie. That’s how a dream works. Nolan’s dreams are like one long Ph.D. thesis defence.
I can’t imagine the story pitch: “And then they have these things called ‘Dreams.’ A dream is an extremely linear experience that follows a half-dozen rules faithfully…” At that point any self-respecting executive would have said, “Get back to us when you figure out what a dream is actually like.” Which is why it took Christopher Nolan to make this film: You needed a director of such stature that studios would swallow his most absurd premises.
Anyway, as usual, the lighting was superb.