Talk of Christopher Nolan’s latest film Inception seems inescapable; the buzz alone propelling the film into the top spot opening weekend. Granted, the only notable competition was Disney’s truly dreadful Sorcerer’s Apprentice. Inception isn’t doing The Dark Knight numbers at the box office, but in a summer of uninspired remakes, reboots and franchises, it doesn’t have to. Wildly derivative—evoking The Matrix, Minority Report, 2001: A Space Odyssey and several mediocre heist films not worth mentioning—Inception seems downright revolutionary when compared to the rest of the dreck being screened in neighborhood multiplexes this summer.
1. Inception is very long.
Despite being four minutes shorter than Nolan’s 2008 outing The Dark Knight, Inception, clocking in at a punishing 148 minutes, feels much longer. Distracting expository detours, which often derail the story and painful repetition are the chief culprits here. Forty minutes of footage could have been jettisoned without adversely altering the film’s story or visual impact.
2. Shocker! Female characters are poorly utilized.
I counted four female characters in the films, two of which had barely more than a few lines. The remaining two—Academy-Award nominee Ellen Page and Academy-Award winner Marion Cotillard—are tasked with the thankless job of serving as plot devices or emotional mirrors for Dicaprio’s Dom Cobb (who is written with the emotional depth of a piece of lightly buttered toast). Cotillard’s beauty, maturity and soulful depth (remember, this is the actor who won an Oscar playing Parisian icon Edith Piaf) exist to suggest similar qualities of Cobb. Page’s presence works to make Dicaprio seem older; doing a much better job than Dicaprio’s fuller face (he seems to fill out when a role requires him to appear aged), creative make up and access to an array of what appear to be his grandfather’s suits. Inception requires little of its talented female leads; it is unsurprising the film is tracking poorly with older audiences, particularly women. Expecting nuanced female characters in a Christopher Nolan film is about as fruitful as expecting the same from a Kubrick film. Nolan’s films haven’t managed to position women in thoughtful or empowered ways. In Inception, the women exist to provide the audience with analysis of the male lead, lacking individual motivations for their actions, thoughts, and feelings.
3. Ken Watanabe and Cillian Murphy give the strongest performances of the film.
There is already Oscar talk about Inception and to be fair, most of it is not warranted. It’s a great film, but it’s definitely not Oscar caliber, the Academy’s bias against sci-fi notwithstanding. Even the dazzling visual effects borrow from more interesting films. That said, Watanabe and Murphy offer interesting performances in Inception, completely inhabiting the construct while also infusing their characters with the desperately needed humanity devoid from many of the other characters.
4. Enjoyment of Inception requires lowered expectations.
Whatever preconceived notions one holds regarding Inception you’re better off leaving them at home. Inception is a tricky piece of cinematic machinery, which can both thrill and frustrate—often at the same time. To mitigate some of the inevitable disappointment that often accompanies unreasonable expectations, resist the urge to attempt to unravel every mystery surrounding Inception and instead surrender yourself to its complexities, riddles and inconsistencies.
5. You’ve seen Leo play this character several times before, but this time he truly nails it.
Leonardo Dicaprio was interviewed by NPR’s All Things Considered and gave the impression his role as Dom Cobb in Inception was a departure for him. It’s not. He’s been perfecting this emotionally lightweight, technically masterful character since The Aviator. While drinking the Dicaprio Kool-aid is not a requirement, it certainly does help. Dicaprio, like Johnny Depp, is an actor I wished I loved as much as I am supposed to. Dicaprio’s involvement in a film does not typically get my butt to the theater, but when I do, I’m usually impressed by his highly developed acting abilities. The deciding factor in seeing Inception was Dicaprio’s brilliant performance in The Departed. (I have never seen Titanic!) That said, I kept wondering what Christian Bale, Daniel Dae Kim or Will Smith could have done with the role. (I believe the role required a bit more age and gravitas) Dicaprio’s perpetually youthful appearance (ditto for the glorious Ken Watanabe who it appears hasn’t aged in a decade) is not nearly as distracting as it was in films such as Gangs of New York or The Aviator. Dicaprio has wonderful body awareness, he moves beautifully and is fascinating to watch in Inception, saving the character in places where the script and plot fall short.
Inception is an intriguing, frustrating film, but ultimately satisfying. The paucity of marginalized folks, particularly women, makes the film difficult to embrace as a feminist film critic. As a heist flick, Inception is unsuccessful as it opts to eschew well-established tropes of the genre without offering inspired alternatives. As a character study, the production design and visuals overwhelm the human element; you’d do better to check out either version of Solaris for a nuanced examination of themes Inception attempts to explore. But as smart, sexy eye candy, Inception triumphs.