So, I finally saw Inception over the weekend. And I can see why the movie caused so much debate, and occasioned so much praise. It is, like most Christopher Nolan productions, beautifully crafted, and strikingly original. But there were a couple of things that kept me from loving the movie as much as I know many of my friends and co-commentators did.
First, I think most of you know that I don’t care for the actor that Leonardo DiCaprio’s become very much. This movie struck me as a perfect illustration of my basic problem with him: he’s essentially got one expression to communicate all kinds of distress. It may be that he’s only really got one problem in Inception, but I do tend to think that professional stress is somewhat different than dealing with your wife’s suicide and your alienation from your children, even if the two are linked. People sometimes accuse Christian Bale of being one-dimensional, though I think he is much more expressive in The Prestige than DiCaprio is here, and the rest of the characters around Nolan (and Hugh Jackman, in one of my favorite, darkest performances of his career) are much more sketched out than the equivalent rivals and enablers are in Inception:
Second, the thing that interested me most about Inception was the potential for world-building. To me, this was a failure of Ariadne’s character, and of the movie more generally. I think this objection probably has a lot to do with how I experience my dream life. A friend and I were debating this over the weekend, and he said that his dreams mostly look like the interiors and cityscapes Ariadne built for Fischer, and he thought to be compelling, Ariadne’s dreamscapes would have to look as normal as possible to Fischer, so the inception performed on him would simply seem like a idea that occurred to him.. My dreams tend to be more baroque—they have the kind of detail and whimsy that we see in Saito’s initial dream, and what’s compelling about them to me is the ways in which I’m different, or things that are different. There’s an extent to which I think the movie sides with my interpretation: what ultimately convinces Fischer is not the text of his father’s will, but the pinwheel in the safe that promises something different, that is a bit of inexplicable and unexplained whimsy in the sterility of his father’s recreated hospital room.
Creatively, I’d just have loved to see more interesting dreamscapes. As lovely as Tom Hardy is, it seems a shame to take such an engaging concept and create nothing more than a militarized ski resort. And a world in which the architect had a greater, more creative role, would have given Ariadne more leeway to go into all the characters’ minds to create compelling scenarios, and a more central position in the movie rather than being the person to whom things are explained. I thought Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Ellen Page did a lovely, understated job of acting a budding romance. But I would have liked to see what it meant for her to get inside his head to create his dreams.