Movie Review: Inception

by Eric Melin on July 16, 2010

in Print Reviews

The on-camera review with clips is here and the post about plot questions and the ending of “Inception” is here.

A good fantasy film creates a wholly original world or concept convincingly. A good science-fiction film asks questions about our humanity while bending the laws of nature. “Inception” is all of this and more.

In fact, “Inception” is essentially a heist movie. While it never really explores the immorality of planting suggestions in the brain of its one specific victim, it does have a field day pointing out the dangers of this process—called inception—by gazing deep into the tortured soul of corporate dream extractor Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio).

Leonardo-DiCaprio-inception 2010In a weird coincidence, it’s the second DiCaprio movie this year (following Martin Scorsese’s underrated “Shutter Island”) that hinges upon a disturbing unreality, a last minute twist, and his character’s sense of guilt surrounding a wife and kids.

“Inception” is also an action film. But this kind of thematic depth isn’t common in this genre and especially not this time of year. Writer/director Christopher Nolan (“The Dark Knight,” “Memento”) orchestrates the entire ambitious movie like it’s the all-or-nothing back page of the coach’s playbook. It’s complicated and risky and everything has to go just as planned, but if it works—the payoff is everything.

First, Nolan sets up the rules. And honestly, after a crackerjack opening scene that sucks you right in, this is the only part of the movie feels a little lifeless. “Inception” is bogged down by at least a half hour of lengthy exposition. Nolan is the stodgy guy at the party who insists on reading the directions while everyone’s impatient and eager to start the game.

gordon-levitt-inception-2010 hallwayWithout understanding the basic concept, however, it’s impossible to grasp the dramatic complexities of the script, which keep piling on. Dom and his partner (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) are used to searching for secrets buried within the subconscious, but their newest challenge is to go into someone’s mind and plant an idea that will remain once the person (Cillian Murphy, the inheritor of his father’s multi-million dollar fortune), has awakened.

Ellen Page, who plays a newbie dream “architect,” functions as our stand-in, asking questions just when we need answers. And believe me we do need them. Almost immediately as the rules have been established, Nolan delves deeper and deeper into the world he’s created as his characters literally do the same in various dream states. The way this plays out is pure cinema.

“Inception” dazzles with a visual inventiveness that subtly blends CGI with in-camera effects to make everything more relatable, no matter how far out things have gotten. This world isn’t the future, but more like an alternate reality. Like the classy guy he is, Nolan saves the big guns for last, conducting an ambitious final act that’s spread out between multiple perceptions of time and dream states.

inception_cotillard_2010 windowWhat’s truly amazing is this: Despite the fact that some details of the labyrinthine plot are simply too obscure to comprehend on a first viewing, Nolan sells the emotion—and the consequences—visually. It’s just like our dreams. Even if we don’t fully grasp every detail of what has transpired, we instinctively understand the basics of what has transpired.

Have you ever woken up from a dream feeling a terrible sadness and not been able to pinpoint why? There are scenes that play out that way, particularly those involving Dom’s wife (a menacing Marion Cotillard). Characters don’t act like real people because they are figments of the dreamer’s imagination. They don’t need to make sense. They inherently don’t make sense to anyone else—and that’s when things get dangerous.

There is way too much plot and detail to go into here, but without centering the movie on Dom’s own personal journey and his own sketchy motives (a shrewd storytelling move, by the way, to make our hero as dodgy as he is), the audience wouldn’t have someone to root for within this mind-bending maze. And despite the fact that he puts his entire team into danger, we long for Dom’s personal story to be resolved.

inception-watanabe-2010In other words, this ain’t Freddy Krueger. The problem with creating drama out of a world of dreams is that anything can happen. If there are no limits, there’s no real danger. Nolan sets limits and adheres to them. Like “Memento,” “Inception” is a big puzzle that your mind works overtime to figure out while the movie also entertains you on less intellectual levels. (Cue a snowbound action scene with bad guys on engine-powered sleds!)

Underneath it all, “Inception” is another in a long line of films where the main character has to do “one last job.” If movies tend to revolve around the defining moments in peoples’ lives, though, then why not trot out this sturdy genre tenet? After all, it’s not like that idea is the only thing the movie has going for it. “Inception” practically begs for multiple viewings just to see if it can all hold up from a narrative standpoint.

The lengthy, tense final act may go down in film history as one of the most complicated balancing acts ever put on film. The fact that Nolan is able to keep an audience enthralled during the entire thing with very little dialogue is a testament to his prowess as a visual storyteller.

Eric is the Editor-in-Chief of and writes the Screen Stealers column for The Pitch. He’s President of the KCFCC, and drummer for The Dead Girls and Ultimate Fakebook. He is also Air Guitar World Champion Mean Melin. Eric goes to 11. Follow him at:

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{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Kenny July 16, 2010 at 12:12 am

I’ve been talking up and thinking about this film since its inception (pun intended) and am now really excited to witness what Nolan has done with it. He’s certainly one of the few directors that can evoke this eagerness in a moviegoer. Sweet!


2 Tony Taylor July 16, 2010 at 11:56 am

Just skipped a couple hours of work to see this fun, mindtwisting, gem. Eric, you hit the nail on the head with your review. A little slow as the back story is uncovered but that’s only because, I think, we are excited to see what’s next. Hollywood may not be dead!


3 Eric Melin July 16, 2010 at 2:56 pm

Thanks Tony! AS more people see the film this weekend, I hope they come back to this post to talk about it and get any questions/interpretations answered by our smart readers!


4 Josh July 19, 2010 at 10:49 am

Great review Eric! This was my most anticapted movie to see this year, saw it Saturday at AMC Mainstreet & it delivered – actually BEYOND my high expectations. From the visual effects, to the plot, to the way it was complex, yet not impossible to follow (ala Matrix), to the awesome action scenes, this movie was fantastic! Immediately goes into my personal top 15 & may climb even higher after a couple more views & as more concepts come together.


5 Oliver July 19, 2010 at 11:24 pm

Hey, great review Eric! I have one question though, d’you think its possible the film is a metaphor for filmmaking in itself? I do. It dawned upon me the day after I saw the film, when I woke up from an Inception-influenced dream. Here it is: Dom is the director, JGL is the producer, the Indian guy is the technician, Ellen Page is the screenwriter, the British guy is the actor, Ken Watanabe is the investor, FIscher is the audience and Cotillard is the (potentially dangerous) personal issue that a director brings up in everyone of his films…


6 paul July 20, 2010 at 11:12 am

Good review and sums up my own feelings about the film, last time a movie affected me this deeply it was vanilla sky. Loved the ending which *mild spoiler*

lets you make up your own mind (wont go into too much detail for obv reasons)

*end spoiler

definitely a film which needs to be rewatched as you said the film itself is like a dream in which you know whats going on you just cant put it into words when you wake up. Its not a perfect film by any stretch of the imagination but unlike most of the pap out today its a film which is ambitious but will appeal on several levels


7 Ravi July 21, 2010 at 3:25 am

Prima-facie Inception does look like a perfectly scripted Sci Fi but if you go little deep into the subject, planting an Idea in someone’s mind isn’t new. We all have seen, done, and also been on the receiving end of this mind game. We have no control where we are born, but the religion we follow is the idea that is implanted and it grows bigger and bigger over a period of time.
Interviewee plants an idea in interviewer’s mind that he can/can’t work for the company, falling in love is implanting an idea that one can spend the rest of their life with his/her lover.

Many of the great leaders like Martin Luther, Mahatma Gandhi, Dhirubahi Ambani did the same thing. They planted an idea in their followers mind. However there are two things that the successful implanters did differently. They fueled the idea persistently and secondly they protected the idea from the storm which could destroy it.

By fueling I mean keeping the Idea alive, giving it further direction, creating zeal to follow it. Without fueling the idea would fade and die its natural death.
Not to offend any community or group, but terrorist and extremist are implanted with an idea of mass destruction and it is fueled every single day of their life. This is definitely not a good example but this goes on to show the success of the implanter.


8 Xavier July 23, 2010 at 8:34 pm

@ravi, yes implanting an idea in someone’s mind isn’t original, but just because people have ideas, doesn’t make the concept of inception unoriginal. I’ve certainly never seen the same concept as used in the movie anywhere else, the concept of entering another’s dreams in order to subtly plant a basic idea that will take hold in the mind, the subconscious fighting back and creating projections, these are all far more creative aspects to the film, that go much further into the idea of ideas as it were


9 Michael July 31, 2010 at 8:38 pm

I’m not sure which version you saw, but I called the last 5 minutes of this movie exactly as it happened. It was kind of obvious to me. The concepts in this film weren’t the slightest bit complicated for me to comprehend. The only time I got confused was when there were fights going on in multiple dreams and they kept flashing between all of them. I just didn’t get the point of that. It was a fascinating concept, but I think it was a bit overdone. I, personally, do not feel that showing unnecessarily slow shots to support the time difference was necessary. In fact, if they had just illustrated it more effectively, one time, they could have shortened the length of the film, and my lower extremities would have been more thankful not to have gone numb. It was far too hyped up. 3 out of 5.


10 Elina August 3, 2010 at 4:28 pm

i think this movie has alot going on with the wonders of the mind i agree with Micheal that while watching the movie i was able to fully comprehend the story i was fully engulfed in trying to see why you want to plant and idea or image in someones mind, don’t you think its kind of pyshco.


11 Hobbes August 23, 2010 at 6:56 pm

yeah, i could tell what was going on the entire time – including the times when i could tell that i was temporarily *supposed* to not understand what was going on. plot holes were minimal. sometimes you need a minor incontinuity as leverage to make a great set piece happen. Inception is not without those, but who cares? the movie rocks.


12 Hobbes August 24, 2010 at 11:50 am

Have you seen the Inception green screen video site? You can make a video where it looks like you’re in a scene from the movie.


13 prabir k. chaudhuri July 11, 2012 at 4:29 am

Dear Sir,
Today, i feel really resuscitated when i read thru all the articles about Inception.
Now my view will follow shortly.


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