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Cinema Review: Inception (via The Digital Fix)

July 21, 2010 1 comment

Still: the third level of Dom Cobb’s dreamworld © Warner Bros.

My favourite films involve dreams and dreamlike continuums, such as Dead of Night and Mulholland Dr., so when I heard that Christopher Nolan was making a dream-oriented blockbuster, spawning a new genre—the metaphysical sci-fi actioneer—I was intrigued. The results are good to mixed, and whilst the film works well in its own terms, it doesn’t quite achieve the magic of the aforementioned masterpieces.

Depicting dream in film, effectively capturing the nuances of its radically altered physics and metaphysics, is very much a minor art in its own right. Hitchcock was pretty good at it; then there’s the European school that would include Buñuel, Resnais, Cocteau and Tarkovsky; and David Lynch is currently acknowledged as the master of the extended dreamlike state. Together they make a fine peer group for Christopher Nolan to associate himself with as he draws dream into the mainstream with his thriller Inception; and with a track record in reality benders such as the tricksy reverse-narrative Memento and the smoke-and-mirrors prestidigitation saga The Prestige, he would seem well qualified for the job.

But for all its Freudian rollercoaster ride tropes and the occasional Kantian grappling with the nature of reality, Inception proceeds along very familiar lines. It opens with a routine rough-and-tumble mission, which provides a taster for the big one that will form the body of the movie. Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) is an espionage agent specialising in stealing secrets from targets’ minds by means of manipulating shared dreams in scenarios that take the form of 4-D chess games of the id. And he doesn’t work alone. So, in addition to his regular sidekick, Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), he assembles a crack team, including dream architect Ariadne (Ellen Page), impersonator Eames (Tom Hardy) and sedation expert Yusuf (Dileep Rao), in order to go after their ‘mark’, business magnate Robert Fischer (Cillian Murphy) on behalf of rival Saito (Ken Watanabe).

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