Throwback Review: “Inception”

It’s hard to believe it’s been 10 years since writer/director Christopher Nolan’s mind-bending blockbuster “Inception” was released in theaters. Since “Inception” is currently receiving a 10th anniversary re-release as many theaters nationwide reopen for the first time since March, and Nolan’s new film “Tenet” starts an early release engagement in the U.S. today, I thought it would be fun to share my original review of “Inception” way back from when it was first released in July 2010.

If you plan on seeing “Inception” or “Tenet” at an indoor movie theater this week, remember to follow all safety protocols the theater has set up, and don’t go if you aren’t feeling well. And with that, here’s the review:

The average theatergoer goes to the movies as a brief escape from reality.  But “Inception” is not your average summer blockbuster, and while it is a fantasy, the story comes a bit too close to reality for comfort.

The thriller, written and directed by Christopher Nolan, takes place in a world where there is the technology to enter people’s dreams.  Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a master at entering dreams and stealing ideas for his employer.  But his job and accusations that he killed his wife Mal (Marion Cotillard) prevent him from going home to his kids; so when he is tasked with impossible–planting an idea in someone’s head, a process known as inception–in exchange for the ability to go home, he takes it.  Along with partner Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), young recruit Ariadne (Ellen Page), and others, he plans layer upon layer of dreams to convince a powerful man (Cillian Murphy) to break up his dying father’s empire.  However, the mission is put at risk by Cobb’s inability to put his mind at ease regarding Mal.

Leonardo DiCaprio leads the cast of “Inception”

Practically the whole first half of the film is devoted to setting up the big job that encompasses the second half of the movie, as well as explaining some of the rules regarding the dream world. It’s simultaneously fascinating and tedious, and requires more than a little brain work to keep up. It is truly something to watch this endlessly creative world Nolan and his team have created unfold, but we almost need more information. How did this technology come to be, and how exactly does that work? Perhaps that would have been information overload for most, but as the movie is, it feels like more needs to be explained for the viewer to fully grasp and appreciate this universe onscreen.

But then there is that second half of the film. By this time we sort of understand what’s going on, and the mission unravels with increasing complexity and tension. It isn’t until we get to this part—the dream within a dream within a dream—that the full potential of this story is realized, and the addition of a timer of sorts makes the suspense almost tangible. This climax is accompanied by breathtaking special effects that blur the line between dream and reality all the more.

Leonardo DiCaprio as Cobb in “Inception”

Cobb also blurs that line, as his projections of Mal constantly place the mission in jeopardy. All of the other characters—despite good performances from the actors—are shallow except for him. As the story progresses, we learn more and more about Cobb, his relationship with Mal, and how he got to where he is now, and that is every bit as interesting as the big job. In fact, Cobb and Mal are the main reason why this is a great film; their story, a couple whose love is threatened when Mal cannot separate the dream from reality, is haunting and heart-breaking. DiCaprio continues to prove that he has become quite a remarkable actor since his “Titanic” days, while the talented Cotillard is glamorous, scary, troubled, and sweet all at once.

The nature of dreams have always been of interest to people, so it isn’t surprising that the ideas that Nolan puts forth here—the idea that someone could enter your mind and steal your secrets, or that you yourself could become stuck in someone’s dream, or create your own dream world all to yourself—seem to have such an effect on people. Rarely has the final scene of a film provoked such a reaction in an audience: an audible gasp, a half-chuckle, and an immediate buzz of conversation as people exit and the theater and enter reality, trying to figure out what the heck just happened.

Runtime:  148 minutes.  Rated PG-13 for sequences of violence and action throughout.

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