What do you get when you add 5/12 Matrix, 1/4 The World is Not Enough, 1/6 Shutter Island, 1/3 espionage/thriller, 1/12 original story? Inception in a nutshell.
For Nolan’s follow up to the successful reinvention of the Batman franchise and the noir thriller genre in general Inception is a spectacular disappointment. On the positive side, Inception is visually stunning. The bending sets, stairways to nowhere, and fight scenes that would make the Wachowski brothers wonder if Hugo Weaving zipped himself up in a Gordon-Levitt suit do not disappoint. On the other hand, if you’ve seen an Escher or gone to any of the major action films of the last decade, you’ve seen everything Inception has to offer before. Even the love plot is rehash, oscillating between epic French drama and another movie starring DiCaprio, Shutter Island, that has barely left the theaters, The plot of Inception is only less thin than the science fiction aspects of the story which, though present, are not the thrust of the story.
In essence, Inception is a corporate thriller in which the head of one corporation manipulates the father issues of the new head of another corporation in order to gain control of his assets. He does this through the invasion and manipulation of his rivals dreams. The love story subplot comes into play because the team of dream thieves he hires is run by the mentally unstable Cobb whose subconscious continually destabilizes his work due to unresolved issues with his dead wife. These issues, though rehash, are far more interesting than the espionage plot particularly because Nolan provides no context for either corporate player and thus, no investment in their success or failure. Worse, while invading the multiple layers of the dream world Nolan’s film quickly loses directions, descending into a completely plagiarized snow battle with literally no point whatsoever.
People of Color
There are two people of color in this film played by Ken Watanabe and Dileep Rao. While the Asian businessman engaged in corporate espionage is all too familiar in the thriller genre, Watanabe’s character is not an offensive stereotype. His is intelligent, shrude, and holds his own in both the dream world and the real one while never resorting to “wise old confuscious-bastardization” nor “Kung Fu master.” Watanabe’s Saito is, at best, simply a man trying to manipulate business interests through new technology that ultimately bests him. His character is as benign and tangential as Cyllian Murphy’s counterpart, Fischer, the other shrude businessman, who is taken for a ride.
Dileep Rao’s character is equally predictable and yet inoffensive. On the one hand, Yusuf is the dealer who mixes the drug cocktail necessary for the espionage to work. In this sense he could be interpreted as stereotypical in as much as he is an international drug mixer. On the other, his skill is specific to the task of dream manipulation that everyone in the film is working on. He is all an integral part of the team sense without the drug no one can enter the dream world, and without “the kick” he devises and the others help carry out, no one can escape it. His knowledge more science than criminal and his science is tempered by an equally adept engagement in the action sequences. It is Rao’s skilled driving that keeps the dreamers alive in the first layer of the dream.
(the tag for Barcroft Media is inaccurate. copywrite is held by Warner Bros)
There also two women in the story played by Ellen Page and Marion Cotillard. Ariadne (Page) is the brilliant architect who replaces the less competent Nash (played by Lucas Haas). Her skills in design seemingly rival only DiCaprio’s character, Cobb, and his wife, Mal (Cotillard). While there is a very faint undercurrent of sexual tension and subsequently less faint competition between Ariadne and Mal it is never so overt as to become an important plot point. Ariadne sees Mal as a dysfunction of Cobb’s disturbed mind and encourages Cobb to reject her solely for the restoration of Cobb’s sanity and the safety of the group. Mal, on the other hand, has a pathological dependence on Cobb that is acted out both through violence against other people in the dreams and Cobb himself. She is played as an independent character, both in terms of the backstory of his actual wife and as an actor in the dream. Mal is also a projection, a piece of Cobb’s mind whose job it is to defend the dream world against intruders. The complex, Freudian psyche, of the dream world is meant to mediate the crazy-woman in the attic that is Mal’s character in life and dream. Yet the engendering of her madness is only really undone in the final scenes where Cobb admits both that Mal is not real and that he is the cause of her insanity in both the real world and the dream. The cruelty with which he talks to her in the end if supposed to mediated by the fact that she is not a distinct person but simply a part of himself; as filmed, I am not sure that mediation is successful any more than the fact that Cobb is guilty mediates the fact that Mal’s main dialogue, and how we know her, is implanted by Cobb. In other words, the staging of the character retains sexist elements, even while the writing and revelations about her serve to destabilize them.
There are no women of color in this film and no out queer characters. There is the flimsiest of homoeroticisim between both Cobb and Saito and Arthur and Cobb but only if you really, really, reach for it.
While Nolan offers a film that is inoffensive on almost all levels, he also offers us a movie that is entirely too long and too dependent on worlds, techniques, and plots we have all seen before. His actors all do a stellar job but from the cameo by Haas to the starring role by DiCaprio, most of his actors are underutilized. Given the level of acting everyone in this film capable of, from Cillian Murphy, to Joseph Gordon-Levitt, to the brilliant Ken Watanabe and Marion Cottilard, the waste is a travesty and never more obvious then when Dileep Rao and Tom Hardy delightfully scene steal. If you like action films and gun battles, or special effects devoid of much compelling plot development, this film won’t disappoint you. It is easy watch, only drags when they reach the 007 moments in the snow, and many of the scenes are visually stunning both in terms of special effects and noir staging. While I would not go see Inception again I do not regret having watched it. In a summer full of bad movies and throwaways that makes Inception better than most Summer 2010 releases so far.