"Dreams feel real while we're in them. It's only when we wake up that we realize something was actually strange." -Inception

Sunday, July 19, 2020

Revisiting Inception, on the 10th anniversary of its release

The 10th anniversary of Inception (2010) fell earlier this week on July 16. The movie had a huge impact in my life, after its release, I had so many thoughts that it pushed me to launch this very blog a few months later. At the time, I was working as a compositor in an animation studio. While I loved working in animation, but after some time, I had begun to feel like another cog in a machine. I hoped the blog would be an outlet for my passion for movies, and one thing lead to another that two years after working on the blog, I finally began working on a television show revolving around films. 

Five years after the blog was launched, I was writing about films full-time, a position I'm still grateful for. I love writing about cinema, and while the world right now is uncertain, in the midst of a global pandemic, cinema is still what we turn to for comfort. Therefore, I decided to dust of the old blog after more than year to check, does Inception still hold up, after a decade? The answer: Abso-bloody-lutely!

The film, written and directed by Christopher Nolan, is audacious and bold in every aspect of filmmaking. Nolan, coming off a highly successful sequel with the The Dark Knight (2008), presented us with an original high-concept story, with an international cast led by Leonardo DiCaprio. 

Opening with the swell of Hans Zimmer's majestic score, and the roar of the seas, Inception drops in the action right away, establishing its inner world with confidence. "What's more resilient than a parasite, or a virus?" asks Dom Cobb. It's an idea! 

Inception is built upon this premise, where thieves infiltrate the world of dreams to steal ideas and secret thoughts, sold to competitors. However, DiCaprio's tortured thief Cobb ends up taking the largest gamble of his life when he takes up an offer from the billionaire Mr Saito (Ken Watanabe), hoping to return to his young children. 

Cobb lives in exile, moving from country to country, as he extracts secrets from dreams. However, one last heist should be enough for him. The mark is young Robert Fisher (Cillian Murphy), heir to a large empire and rival to Saito. The billionaire wants Fishcher, who inherits the business after his father's death, to break it up, and therefore be less of a threat to him.

Cobb and his crew are tasked with infiltrating his mind and planting the seed to do so. A whole enterprise is dangerous and can fall apart at any stage. The intricately layered screenplay makes it so that they very nearly fail, only to emerge victorious at the end, or did they? The beauty of the film is that seed of doubt is planted neatly within it, making us question it, even now. 

What does that ending mean? Cutting away from Cobb's spinning totem, did we leave him in a dream or a reality? We'll never know. There has been no sequel thankfully and it should remain that way. Sometimes we don't need all the answers to the questions we have. 

But back to the film's story, as Nolan lines up his dominoes as Cobb and his team go deep within the subconscious to dream within a dream, for a few layers in. Everything is tied together so precariously, but wonderfully, logic comes into play at every leave. To the ordinary mind, it may seem outrageous, it makes sense all the same.

Cobb, who wallows in his memories, is a tricky character to get behind. Wrapped in his own guilt and grief, he's not very reliable, but we still want to him to get his happy ending. His late wife Mal (Marion Cottillard) swoops in like a mischief-maker to destroy his schemes, or is it his guilt coming in  through waves of his subconscious? Mal, who questions his very reality, becomes the 

To get through to Fisher, Cobb, Saito, Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), Ariadne (Ellen Page), Yusuf (Dileep Rao) and Eames (Tom Hardy) navigate through layers of dream worlds - from a rainy nondescript city, a modern hotel, to a highly-guarded fortress on a snowy mountain before emerging on the other side. The trigger for them to return to the real world is Edith Piaf's song 'Non, je ne regret rien", a statement if there was any. 

Nolan is an old-fashioned filmmaker who likes to shoot with film and loves the big spectacle meant for the big screen. Watching it at home is still thrilling but it does not compare to the experience of watching in the theaters. I loved it so much that monsoon season, that I saw three times in the theatre! The first time was always the best - experiencing it with the early morning crowd as they sipped their coffee in silence, allowing the story to unfold on the screen. And remember being dumbfounded on my seat later, wondering about that spinning totem!

Zimmer's gorgeous score is as much as part of the storytelling. He weaves in these emotional cues to remind us of the stakes and consequences of wading and lingering in dreams too long. Inception released in a crowded year along with A King's Speech, Black Swan, Toy Story 3, and The Social Network. It hauled four technical awards for Wally Pfister's solid cinematography, best sound editing, best sound mixing and best visual effects, (which still holds up today IMHO). 

It's a shame that Nolan's screenplay was denied an Oscar. When people lament over and over the lack of original stories in Hollywood, Nolan continues to deliver. After Inception, he went back to the comic book genre for The Dark Knight Rises (2012) and followed it up with another original Interstellar (2014) and the war film Dunkirk (2017). His latest Tenet (2020), which again reminds us of Inception, is currently in limbo in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. When, not if, it does release in theatres, we all be waiting to watch it, but only when it is safe.

Meanwhile, revisit some old classics while you can, as these films still have the power to thrill and excite you.
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