Untimely Movie Review – Inception (OR: At Long Last, The End)

It has taken me eight-and-a-half years, but the cinematic odyssey that began in early 2014 has come to a close.

That was when I purchased the Warner Bros. 50 Film Collection, vowing to review every single movie in the set.  I arrogantly assumed I would knock it out in a couple of years.  Maybe even under a year!  After all, that’s only one movie every week or two.

As it turned out, a rapid start gave way to a much more leisurely pace, thanks to a career / job change and a move up to northern Virginia from my lifelong home of Richmond.  Weeks became months became years, and the promise to review every one of these films became slightly more of a burden than a pleasure.

The biggest speed bumps were those epic-length features in the 1960s, like Doctor Zhivago.  The prospect of losing the better part of an afternoon to watch a film about which I wasn’t enthusiastic made it all-too-easy to find an excuse to avoid it.  That ease of rejection prevented me from resuming my journey when I always had the option of watching a tight, hour-forty-five movie from outside the confines of the collection.

Eventually, I became more intentional about finishing, which led to the more recent rededication to the project.

Now, finally—finally—I am done.

I actually watched Inception a few months ago, but I’m only now getting around to completing the review portion of the equation.  This was the second time I had seen Inception, having first viewed it on disc in 2012.

As I watched it again, I was struck by how much concepts related to time and perception are central themes in nearly every Christopher Nolan film.  The straightforward Dark Knight trilogy aside, most of Nolan’s works play with these concepts in interesting ways, regardless of the substance of the plot.

The obvious example is Memento, which requires significant focus by the viewer just to be able to follow what’s actually happening in the movie.  But a similar trend has continued up to the present day, with Dunkirk featuring three parallel tracks of time that ultimately converge, while Tenet includes a mind-bending lattice of time and anti-time events that make repeat viewings almost mandatory.

Inception requires a comparably heavy “lift” for the audience, as it plays with dream-within-a-dream(-within-a-dream!(-within-a-dream?)) concepts that leave the viewer guessing about what, exactly, is real, right up until the final frame.  As an aside, for the record, I believe DiCaprio has woken up at the end—but, ultimately, it doesn’t matter, which I think is the point.

Thankfully, these ambiguities aren’t tedious in the capable hands of Nolan and the all-star cast that includes Leonardo DiCaprio, Marion Cotillard, Tom Hardy, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ken Watanabe, Ellen Page, Cillian Murphy, Tom Berenger, and Michael Caine.

Nolan has consistently demonstrated his mastery of how to present a potentially confusing movie premise.  Namely, he has a (sometimes minor) character explain it to an audience-surrogate character.  This explanation is always logical and organic, avoiding the “exposition bomb” problem that sometimes plagues even very good movies.

In Inception, Page is the uninitiated, receiving guidance from DiCaprio and Gordon-Levitt.  In Tenet, John David Washington’s protagonist spends basically the entire movie learning about this strange, secret world of reverse-time and the forces that control it.  In Memento, Guy Pearce explains (and re-explains) his condition, and the audience is left to piece together the story.

In the case of Inception, the inherent ambiguities of the underlying dream-related technology add a layer of potential additional complication to an already-complex story, but, as I said, Nolan handles those aspects deftly.  The ostensible main plot is actually a bit of a red herring, with the true crux of the film’s story being DiCaprio’s battle to reclaim his full measure of sanity.

The film is riveting from start to finish, first because of the intense action, next because you don’t really understand what’s happening, then because the storytelling possibilities of this world become apparent, and, finally, because you want to see if the team pulls off this extremely complicated caper (and if DiCaprio is able to wrest himself from the depths of despair).

I’ve never seen a Nolan film I didn’t like, and Inception is at or near the top of that very stacked list.  In fact, while I’m eagerly awaiting Oppenheimer next year, I may give Inception and Tenet another whirl to see if I spot anything new.  These films force viewers to expend significant mental energy, but the audience will be glad to do it.

Films that are mindless fun certainly have their place, and I love many of them.  But there’s also something to be said for mindful fun, and Nolan always delivers movies that are both entertaining and intelligent, while maintaining their mass-market appeal.

And, with that, I conclude this near-decade-long project.  Whew.  I guess I can finally finish Ms. Marvel and begrudgingly watch She-Hulk now.  Yay?

All of the reviews I’ve done in this series may be found below.

Grand Hotel (1932)
Mutiny on the Bounty (1935)
The Wizard of Oz (1939)
Gone with The Wind (1939)
The Maltese Falcon (1941)
Mrs. Miniver (1942)
Casablanca (1943)
The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948)
A Streetcar Named Desire (1951)
An American in Paris (1951)
Singin’ in the Rain (1952)
Gigi (1958)
North By Northwest (1959)
Ben-Hur (1959)
How the West Was Won (1962)
Doctor Zhivago (1965)
Cool Hand Luke (1967)
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
Bullitt (1968)
Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory (1971)
Dirty Harry (1971)
A Clockwork Orange (1972)
The Exorcist (1973)
One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)
Superman: The Movie (1978)
The Shining (1980)
Chariots of Fire (1981)
Risky Business (1983)
Amadeus (1984)
The Color Purple (1985)
Lethal Weapon (1987)
Full Metal Jacket (1987)
Driving Miss Daisy (1989)
Goodfellas (1990)
Unforgiven (1992)
The Bodyguard (1992)
Natural Born Killers (Director’s Cut) (1994)
The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
The Matrix (1999)
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (2001)
Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)
Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002)
Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)
Million Dollar Baby (2005)
The Departed (2006)
The Dark Knight (2008)
The Blind Side (2009)
The Hangover (2009)
Sherlock Holmes (2009)
Inception (2010)

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