INCEPTION – The day before

Let me list a few movies:
Spider-Man, Gone in 60 seconds, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, 2012, The Simpsons Movie, Ice Age: The Meltdown, Date Night, Bruce Almighty, Kung Fu Panda, Iron Man 2, Tomb Raider, Clash of the Titans, Fast and Furious, Forgetting Sarah Marshall,

Think about those movies, what are your feelings towards them? Mine range from enjoyable over hatred to complete apathy. They are those movies that run in the background, you’ve probably seen some of them, maybe you like some and maybe if you catch one of them on TV you will watch it.

And what are your feelings about this quote:

Have you ever had a dream, Neo, that you were so sure was real? What if you were unable to wake from that dream? How would you know the difference between the dream world and the real world?

Remember it?
Remember the Matrix?

Just think about the moment you have first seen this movie, be it in cinema or on television (since internet wasn’t that popular “back then”). Think about the moment the movie ended, when entertainment and intellectualism did no longer exclude each other. When a movie had action sequences beyond belief, was able to reach a vast number of people and when people who never cared about philosophy sat down and thought “what is real?”
Since the original Matrix there hasn’t been a movie as complex that was still able to reach a mass audience, entertaining across many demographics and heating up philosophical discussions around the world for some time.

Now with this in mind look back at the first list.

Why is it that there are not more movies like Matrix?
A movie that treats the mainstream audience with respect and doesn’t look down onto the masses.
A movie that doesn’t feature hollow characters, fart jokes, naked “werewolves” or cheap explosions.

Inception might be this very movie…

Tomorrow might be the day when we once again sit down in the cinema and enter another world. Sometimes we forget the initial power of cinema. Cinema shouldn’t be a place where we see trite hollow characters going through the same motions all over again. Movies are here to explore, to experiment, to take us somewhere else, not only to distract us, but to stimulate us, make us think, feel, make us ignore the fact that this is not real and dive into an unexplored world.

In a year where most movies rely on the brand name, are the reboot of a beloved franchise, are the sequel to a successful movie or just feature known actors in a plot so trite it gives the word “entertainment” an aftertaste like we are talking about porn – in this very year Christopher Nolan, also known as the director of The Dark Knight, gives us an original 160 million dollars blockbuster which he has been working on for over a decade (talk about devotion).

But what is Inception?

A contemporary sci-fi actioner set within the architecture of the mind

February 11th 2009 was the day I first read these words which described the movie and both teasers and descriptions have been vague at best. Apparently the movie is about dreams and invading dreams, so maybe “The Bank Job” meets “Nightmare on Elm Street” with “James Bond” as the main cast?
Maybe yes, maybe no.

Normally it is a bad sign that a studio doesn’t provide much information about its movie, it is an indication that they are aware of their product’s low value, so they gamble on us realizing too late that we have been conned into buying something that is absolutely not worth our time.
But Christopher Nolan repeatedly stated that he wanted to evoke movie experiences from the past when we didn’t have internet access and knew everything about the movie beforehand. He wants us to go into this movie and being surprised what happens.

Wait a minute! You actually believe this?

True this could be a big trick by the studio, acting as if it was a masterpiece but instead they serve us Sex and the City 3. It could be except for the fact, that we have a reliable director: Christopher Nolan, whose filmography doesn’t show the slightest sign of laziness.

So the director is a big selling factor of this movie, even the posters and trailers remind us that this man made a comic book movie that grossed over 1 billion dollars and won the first Academy Award in an acting category for a comic book movie.

But let’s move from the director to the other names of Inception’s ensemble cast

We got Leonardo DiCaprio – probably my favourite American actor – who recently delivered a great performance in this year’s Shutter Island and has a Oscar worthy filmography

Joseph Gordon-Levitt from last year’s (500) days of Summer

Oscar nominee Ellen Page, the girl who charmed us in Juno

Michael Caine a great veteran of cinema who is known to the mainstream less for his early work but more for his roles in Christopher Nolan’s movies (Batman Begins, The Prestige, The Dark Knight)

Ken Watanabe and Cillian Murphy, two actors from Nolan’s Batman movies

Tom Berenger, an actor mostly known for his work on television, but from what I’ve gathered skipping through the reviews is that he might be the ace in the hole for this movie

Marion Cottilard. I personally haven’t seen “La Vie en Rose”, the movie that got her the Oscar in 2007, but she was solid in Public Enemies, even if the overall film wasn’t.

But wait… a lot of big names doesn’t mean anything!

This is true in many ways. Anyone who has made the mistake of watching Valentine’s Day can agree with that. Especially movies that shout out their names might be suspicious. Are they trying to distract from something? Maybe from the fact that this is a bad movie?
Why should Inception be any different to a movie like Knight and Day, which solely relies on the “Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz in a movie” factor?
If we look at the poster for Inception the name Leonardo DiCaprio shouts at us and the tagline “From the director of The Dark Knight” also seems to rely on selling a movie by reminding us of previous movies we enjoyed – I am looking at you Robin Hood!
But where Inception differs from all that junk is one pivotal thing…

The Story
Original stories don’t make big bucks.
Something new might turn out disappointing.
Something new requires that we go into a movie without having a preconceived idea.

Let’s take some time and look at the trailer for Robin Hood


It more or less tells us:
There was a movie named Gladiator, with Russel Crowe, now the same guy from Gladiator with the same director from Gladiator is making a movie that looks like Gladiator but is based on another story we already know with an actress we also know and love.
And that’s it.
Even worse is the trailer for Knight and Day, which is a prime example of quick money making:


Throw in two stars, remind us that they are stars, throw in explosions for the guys, love for the gals and you got easy money.

Now let’s look at the trailer for Inception


And after seeing this, tell me how this movie is going to end.
Or better… tell me what this movie is actually about.

The Inception marketing tries to remind us of The Dark Knight and Leonardo DiCaprio because they are scared that this movie won’t make enough money. Even the teaser poster is made to look like The Dark Knight so it triggers some things in our heads.
This was mostly to the fact that at first glance this movie doesn’t seem to go along with the mainstream rules: there seems to be no clear villain, the movie seems to be about invading dreams, but what do they actually do, the movie’s centre idea seems to be about the nature of ideas and dreams, this is heavy stuff for a blockbuster.
Sure the trailer shows some explosions and fights, but at 2.5 hours running time there are bound to be some pretty complex things to happen, especially when knowing the movies Christopher Nolan makes.

So what can we expect of this movie?

The fact that this movie has 87% on is a good sign.
Another good sign is that the movie only dropped 30% in its second week in America. Usually blockbusters drop about 50% or more because most movies are massively front loaded (Twilight 2 and Predators both dropped 70% in their second week) and the fact that Inception still dominates speaks for the good word of mouth from the audience.

To be honest, I cannot say much. I have watched the teaser, refused to watch the trailer online until I have seen it accidentally in front of Predators and when skipping through the reviews I avoided any story description since I want to be surprised as well.
So why am I even writing this stuff if I rely on the director, the actors and the reception from critics in America?
Because I love film, I consider it a great form of art.
And because I think that it is time that there is a sign that we can have high quality entertainment and are not content with sparkling vampires even if they are in 3d in the sequel.
Inception is the hope for original blockbusters.
If an original high budget sci fi blockbuster that can only rely on its story (no 3d, no adaption, no sequel, no CGI overkill) breaks boxoffice records, then maybe we get a few more movies like this and aren’t left with nothing else but Breaking Dawn.

Further philosophical ramblings to wet the appetite: Inception’s possibilities?

This is a movie about dreams, which means that there are no limitations. The only limitation we have while dreaming is our mind, which is exactly what Christopher Nolan seems to target. The trailers reveal glimpses of a heist movie where the “treasure” that the gang is after is not money, but an idea. What does this mean? What can an idea do?

Go Sci-fi

From an economic standpoint it might have something to do with new inventions, they break into people’s minds i.e. corporate espionage, to gather the ideas from our heads to create new inventions and have the copyright on them – but can this idea I thought about while thinking of Inception hold an entire movie? Or is it too dry?
Knowing Nolan I doubt that he will focus on economic factors like the one I wrote. Maybe it will be the start into the movie, to show us how this “mind crime” can transform our society. Since Nolan’s favourite movie is Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner it is not unreasonable that we might discover how Nolan views our society in the near future, how we have been shaped by our inventions, the mind crime being the newest state of the art invention.

The architect of storytelling

I guess the movie will also make a statement about the power of the human mind. As an artist it is highly possible that this movie might turn into an ode to creativity and the process of storytelling. The concept of an idea might reflect the story process that authors and directors go through.
In the trailer we see Ellen Page as an architect being recruited to help DiCaprio with his project, so it seems very apparent that she will be used to create the dreamworld where the characters interact.
The architect might be the reflection of Nolan’s work as an author/director. He’s creating worlds out of nowhere, bending the dreamscape after his wish, very much like the screenwriter creates a world out of a piece of paper and the director shapes it to be put on screen.

Go existential

We see people hanging in the air connected to some weird cables. These images evoke memories of movies like Ghost in the Shell, Dark City and of course The Matrix. Which leads us to the question: what is real? What is perception?
Will the movie turn into an “It was all a dream”-thing?
Usually this ending would be a big cop-out and massively uninspired, but Inception might be the first movie to utilize the “it was all a dream” ending in a new, innovative way.
What are dreams?
Can we share dreams?
What is the process of waking up?
How do they exit dreams? Do they have an “operator”?
What happens when you enter the mind of another person?

Go film noir

Since Nolan is a director who is keen on film noir we can expect fleshed out characters with loads of backgroundstory. In film noir no character is a blank slate, everyone comes to the stage with some things that will haunt him, even if you have characters with memory loss (Memento), their past actions will still affect them.
With Inception this might get taken to the next level: dreams are the realm of the subconscious, all the dark deeds, all our secrets are buried somewhere in our mind. Maybe they are strong enough to turn into a nightmare, to overtake our actions.
We don’t know what the people in Nolan’s world can do in their dreams. Are they entirely lucid and do they have complete control over them or are they guided by their instincts, maybe even swallowed by the ghosts of their pasts?

No matter how Inception will turn out, Nolan has already shown that he is not content with what he has done up till now. He could have just produced a standard superherosequel to The Dark Knight and make other Batman copycat movies, but he has refused to do that, he taps into the world of ideas and dreams, tackles a multimillion blockbuster to ponder over ambitious concepts without showing us too much up front.
Whatever Inception is – good or bad – it won’t be boring or unoriginal.

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  1. stephan
    29. Juli 2010

    I have no idea what’s going to happen tonight.
    Best case? We cry like infants, because we don’t know what’s real anymore.

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