I’m not going to write anything extensive about the movie itself, but if you haven’t seen the movie yet I would suggest you not read this post until you do. It’s a very good movie, and the less you know going into it, the happier you’ll be at the end of it.
You probably know I’m a big Christopher Nolan fan, and as such you probably know how excited I was about this movie. The only movie I can compare it to in terms of my level of excitement is the Dark Knight, a movie I still love and still can’t believe exceeded my expectations. In my mind, Nolan has never made a bad movie, and the only movie he has made that is anything less than great is Insomnia, but even that is still pretty damn good.
I know the reason why I watch as many movies as I do. I always suspected this was the reason, but Inception really hammered it home to me. I don’t know if this is something normal people get, but every once in a while when a movie completely connects with me, I get an overwhelming feeling of numbness as it ends. This can happen to a lesser extent with a lot of movies… just about any movie I really like can send a shiver down my spine at a particularly great moment. But this feeling is different from that. It’s like a thousand spine shivers going right into your head, and all you can think about is what you just watched. The Dark Knight gave me this feeling two years ago, Memento did way back when I was in high school, and now Inception has given me this feeling more powerfully than any movie before it.
When the movie ended, I made my way outside of the theatre, and I just had to sit down again for a few minutes. My brain had been turned to mush. The most beautiful thing about Inception is how it can be as deep as you want it to be: it’s a movie about reality that puts you in the central character’s shoes. Depending on your reading of the film, YOU are the central character. As something that was marketed as too intelligent for most, and reviewers worrying about the casual film fan being able to follow the plot, Inception is remarkable. As much as is happening at any given moment of the movie, you are never lost. It’s incredible. Never was I confused as to what was going on, and the only time I was disoriented were in the very beginning, when it is clear that Nolan and company don’t want you to know what is happening.
Nolan is a master of populist entertainment: his movies are very ‘smart,’ but they are also easy to follow and well liked by the casual moviegoer. He has said that he has always wanted to make big action films, and I think that is what allows him to make movies that connect with so many people. There are many talking points in each of his movies should you want to read into them, but they also function as an entertaining movie to watch on a Sunday afternoon when you’re hung over on the couch. I could watch Inception and talk about my opinions on it for hours afterward, or I could just watch it while falling in and out of sleep and still follow and love it. You always know you’re watching something good, but how much you want to take from it is up to you. And I took a lot away from Inception, only a little bit of which I will talk about here.
Nolan is unmatched when it comes to ending his movies well, and I think that is a huge asset to him. Since Batman Begins, the endings of his movies have always built and built and built on each other until there is one moment and the audience finally gets released from the world they have likely become quite invested in. A movie with a memorable last shot will keep you thinking about it long after the movie is done, and I think Nolan is aware of this. His movies don’t fade out, they cut to black, and then you’re sitting in your seat consumed by the final images. Think of the final shot (and line) of Memento, the cuts to black in his Batman films, the reveal in the Prestige, and of course Inception.
The last shot of Inception is perfect, and exactly what I would expect from Nolan. It doesn’t give a concrete answer, just like Memento and the Dark Knight leave their ideas open for interpretation. My reading of Inception is that it is a dream, and all of the main characters are parts of Nolan’s creative personality. Cobb is a stand-in for Nolan himself, and Nolan’s films are his dreams. Again, I don’t know the man so I can’t say for sure, but it just feels like that to me. It is a fairly simple reading to say that Inception is about filmmaking and creativity, but that was what I thought about it. And this allows me to connect with it more, because I want to do what Nolan does.
His movies are not without their criticisms, however. His characters are never particularly strong, and I rarely care about them all that much. His Batman films are a bit different in this regard, as I want Batman to succeed, but that is partially due to pre-existing attachments to the character. Also, all of his female characters seem to be there to serve the story of the male characters. But, Nolan’s movies aren’t about characters.
Each of his films can be broken down into a short phrase, and all of those phrases have to do with the human mind. Memento is about memory constructing our reality, the Prestige obsession, Batman Begins fear, The Dark Knight insanity (among other themes), and Inception again about how we construct our reality although this time without a focus on memory. Nolan’s movies aren’t about their characters, they’re about our minds. And maybe that’s how his movies can connect with so many people. Or maybe it’s something else, I don’t really know.
Towards the end of Inception, there is a discussion about Mal becoming addicted to the dream world, and that it is the only place she can really feel alive. I am not a particularly emotional person in real life, and am typically more passionate about pieces of media than I am about elements of my own life. The dream for me is to make movies, or at least have control over producing videos of some sort, and maybe this desire is partially because that is where I find the most passion in my life. The feeling of watching a video I have completed (well, for one that I like), is great. I can’t even imagine how Nolan must have felt watching the final cut of Inception. Pride? Excitement? If I had written/directed Inception, I imagine I would have been so excited watching it that I probably would have kicked holes in the walls while repeatedly screaming, “I’M THE FUCKING MAN!”
Is Inception Nolan’s best movie? Honestly, I’m not sure. Memento could be deconstructed for days like Inception, which might be even more impressive given that Memento doesn’t really stray too far from the real world. The Prestige is a perfectly written movie, and the Dark Knight is the most impressive blockbuster since the Matrix (and perhaps until Inception). Regardless, Nolan’s contributions to film are impressive, and personally I’m happy to say that I have been a Nolan fan since the release of his first film. If these movies are what play out in his dreams, I can only imagine how excited he must be to go to sleep every night.