A thief plants a seed: Intrigue abounds in ‘Inception,’ but it’s hard to find a reason to care

December 16, 2013

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Dec. 16, 2013

Dom Cobb is a master of his craft. The man at the heart of Christopher Nolan’s 2010 feature movie, Inception, is an extractor — an illegal operative who is handsomely paid to insert himself into dreams for the purpose of stealing secrets.

Cobb, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, has a problem. Its nature isn’t immediately clear, but it involves his being separated from his wife, Mal (Marion Cotillard), and from their two young children.

The extractor is desperate enough to resolve his dilemma that he plunges himself, his wealthy employer and his team into a daring scheme. The plan hinges upon reversing the group’s normal modus operandi: Instead of stealing information from their target, they will plant an idea deep in his subconscious. The goal is to persuade industrialist heir Robert Fischer (Cillian Murphy) to disband his late father’s global energy monopoly, and to do so in such a way that Fischer believes the idea is his and his alone.

Cobb and his associates — businessman and Fischer rival Saito (Ken Watanabe), deputy extractors Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and Eames (Tom Hardy), dream architect Ariadne (Ellen Page) and sleep-inducing chemist Yusuf (Dileep Rao) — know that inception is supposed to be impossible, even though the extractor says that he’s done it. What most of them don’t know is that Cobb’s obsession with Mal (rhymes with doll) has grown so strong that it threatens to plunge the team into oblivion.

Writer-director Nolan is unquestionably one of the most interesting mainstream filmmakers at work today. That said, I’m not his biggest fan. While I loved Nolan’s Memento (2000) and The Dark Knight (2008), I wasn’t so taken with Batman Begins (2005), a prequel to The Dark Knight, or with Inception. (I think that I’ve also seen Nolan’s 2006 directorial outing, The Prestige; I vaguely recall that I liked it but preferred the source material, Christopher Priest’s novel of the same name. I haven’t seen Following, Insomnia or The Dark Knight Rises.)

A lot of what happens in Inception is exciting, yes. Nolan has devised some outstanding action sequences, particularly a mid-film piece in which Arthur engages in hand-to-hand combat in a luxury hotel in which gravity is shifting unpredictably. (That’s a consequence of an unconscious dreamer’s mind reflecting external conditions as his body begins falling through the air.)

My main complaint about the film is that I never found any of the characters particularly interesting or sympathetic. Cobb is competent and haunted. Ariadne, the young architect whom Cobb and Arthur train to design dream environments, is competent; she’s also compassionate and curious when it comes to Cobb’s obsession with Mal. Arthur is competent and intense. Eames is competent and playful. Yusuf is competent and goofy. Saito is competent and…well, he’s competent and extremely rich.

Saito’s objective vis-à-vis Fischer potentially has a global impact. But that’s just a McGuffin, not something that anyone’s really expected to care about. And that’s the problem: There was nothing in Inception that I found myself caring about. Cobb’s problem, and its potential consequences for his team, struck me as mildly interesting at best, not as an urgent life-and-death matter.

Am I glad I finally saw Inception, which I’ve heard people rave about for years? Yes, I am. Would I recommend it to someone who cares about film? Yes, especially if that someone loves action movies with high-brow concepts.

But I’d recommend Inception because it’s interesting — not because I loved it, and not because I think it’s a great movie. Caveat spectator.

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