I just saw Inception. It was brilliant, and I’m astonished that it got made in Hollywood. It’s not a movie you can watch with your brain turned off – and that’s its glory.
Inception is brilliant on many levels. It works as a science-fiction movie, it works as a thriller, it works as psychological horror. What makes it a true science-fiction movie is that the writers play fair: everything you need to know to understand the mind-bendingly bizarre things that fly by on the screen is told to you in advance, but blink and you’ll miss the exposition. Effects follow causes; effects may come out of nowhere and slap you in the kisser but always, always, there is a terrible inevitability about them when the causes are revealed. And I speak of the psychological level of the action as well as the physical.
It works as a thriller, too. There’s enough gunplay and explosions and spectacular collapses and paranoid tension for the summer-movie crowd. In fact, through much of the movie the characters are in thrillerland on three different levels of unreality simultaneously. But unreality bites, oh yes. The obvious threat is that death in the movie’s deeper dreamworlds can kill you or leave you catatonic in baseline reality. But down at the bottom of the rabbithole…
…the deadliest enemy of all is far subtler, a simple and infectious idea that has already killed one victim and laid waste to the protagonist’s life. There are moments in this film that are epistemic horror. And oh, yes, you will see it coming. And it will move you to awe and pity and terror anyway when it arrives.
Props to the writers for not taking the easy way out. Cobb, our tormented hero, is led out of his coils by a pretty young woman named Ariadne, but not because they fall in love; they don’t. No, her intellect is what saves them both. And the question raised by the climactic moment of epistemic horror is never…quite…resolved. The screen goes dark before the top quite tumbles over.
If the movie has any weakness, it’s the leading man. Leonardo DiCaprio is no longer a fluffy prettyboy, but he is a few points shy of being able to do the kind of tormented intensity the role of Cobb really needed. His performance is credible, however, and he is backed by a strong supporting cast. Ken Watanabe is as always superb playing the Japanese industrialist Saito; Tom Hardy and Ellen Page (two actors I’d never seen before) are similarly excellent as Eames and Ariadne.
If this doesn’t cop next year’s film Hugo, there is no justice.