"A Maze Within a Maze Within a Maze Within a. . ."
Christopher Nolan, the creator behind the new Batman movies and the indie hit MEMENTO, likes complicated plots. The plot in INCEPTION just may be a bit too complicated for its own good. It seems so complicated that it may distance the average moviegoer too much from its characters and its razzle-dazzle action sequences. Many viewers may begin to wonder why they should care about the characters in the movie, especially Leonardo DiCaprio’s tormented “hero” looking for a way to go home. Don’t get us wrong. The basic story in INCEPTION is easy to describe and understand. It’s just that the situations and events in the plot surrounding that basic story seem to be unnecessarily convoluted. The plot is so convoluted that at one point in this story about industrial spies entering people’s dreams to find out secret information, one character pointedly asks, “Now whose dream are we going into?” The question is a self-reflexive joke; Mr. Nolan is actually making fun of his own plot structure, and he got a good laugh at the joke from the audience at the screening MOVIEGUIDE® attended. Still that doesn’t excuse Mr. Nolan from throwing his characters – and the audience – into an overly complicated maze that seems to empty their story of the proper emotion and dramatic impact that a tentpole movie like this should have. Also, although Mr. Nolan develops ways to create real jeopardy in the dream worlds depicted in INCEPTION, the complexity of the dream worlds seems to undermine that jeopardy, making the jeopardy seem less real than it should. Basically, the story of INCEPTION is about a man, Dominic Cobb, an international thief skilled in stealing valuable secrets by drugging wealthy or important people and invading their dreams, because Cobb and his team are also drugged and connected physically to them. Cobb can’t return to his two young children in Los Angeles, however, because police believe he had something physically to do with his suicidal wife’s leap to her death. A rich Japanese industrialist named Saito offers Cobb a chance to return home, free of any charges. The price? Instead of stealing secrets from the male heir of a dying international energy mogul, Saito asks Cobb to invade the son’s mind and plant an idea into it. This requires, however, an elaborate scheme of creating not one but three shared dream worlds in the son’s mind so that the son (who has had psychological training in fighting such idea extraction teams like Cobb’s) recognizes the idea as his own. With help from his father in law, a university professor whose specialty is the field of dream sharing and creation, Cobb recruits a young female genius, Ariadne, who can design the complicated dream worlds they plan to create in the son’s mind and share with him. The woman discovers, however, that Cobb has a secret about his wife that he is keeping to himself. His guilt about that secret can destroy their plans, and even get one of them killed. Worse, one or more of them might get lost in a dream world, which also could get them killed or seriously injured mentally in the real world. It has been said by some smart film theorists that movies are like a public dream. In a movie theater, the audience sits in the dark watching stories that are so vivid that they actually seem real, which is somewhat similar to our experience of dreaming while we sleep. In fact, movies are so similar to dreams that most, if not all, people who have experienced dreaming, have had at least one dream where people and characters from the movies have invaded that dream. It also has been said that, by teaching people that movies are like a dream that can seriously affect a person’s life, you can encourage people to establish more conscious control over what they have seen and experienced in movies. This suggests that, by comparing a movie to a dream, the moviegoer can eventually recognize more readily how he or she has been overtly influenced by what they have seen in a movie. In recognizing this, the moviegoer perhaps can then make certain that he or she will more readily choose to accept the good they have seen in a movie and reject the bad. Of course, that assumes that the moviegoer also has the wisdom to apply God’s biblical truth to the movie’s content so that her or she is following God’s will for them and not some evil Hollywood fantasy opposed to God’s truth. Be that as it may, INCEPTION is very cleverly done in that it seems to acknowledge the power of dreams and movies in our society. It also recognizes the power of ideas. As Cobb says at one point in the movie, “A single idea from the human mind can build cities. An idea can transform the world and rewrite all the rules.” This reminds MOVIEGUIDE® of the scene in the 1959 classic movie BEN-HUR where a Roman soldier, commenting on the Jewish revolt against Rome’s tyranny, asks Stephen Boyd’s Roman character, “How can you fight an idea?” and Boyd replies, “With another idea!” The action in INCEPTION is first rate and often dazzling. The dialogue and acting are also good, despite the movie’s gratuitous strong profanities. As noted above, however, the plot is overly complicated, which tends to drain the movie’s dramatic and emotional impact of its power. Also, it’s difficult to be concerned about the fate of the protagonist and his friends when most of the action takes place in dream worlds that don’t really exist. For example, in the dream worlds, Cobb and his friends are endangered by [possible spoilers] psychological projections of the energy heir’s “subconscious” (an inaccurate pseudo-psychological term, by the way). These “projections” appear in the form of security teams and Cobb’s own projection of his dead wife, who [spoiler alert] wants to trap Cobb in a special dream world that she and he created to (apparently) become closer. According to the movie [possible spoiler], Cobb feels guilty about his wife’s suicide because, when she began to think that their special dream world was real, he planted the idea in her head that it wasn’t and it was this idea that led her to think she needed to kill herself in the real world so she would wake up and get back to the dream world that she thought was the ultimate reality. Thus, Cobb’s guilty feelings about her death [spoiler alert] begins to cause him to create a dream projection of her that keeps telling him to return to the special dream world they created together. This is all in Cobb’s mind, however. Or, is it? One of the main problems with INCEPTION is that all these dream worlds and all this questioning of what is real and what is not, not to mention all the action scenes filled with intense fighting against dream projections that really aren’t there, distance the viewer from the story and the characters. Thus, while there’s a lot of cool things to see and experience in INCEPTION, the movie is not quite as involving as it could have been had the creator, Christopher Nolan (who serves as writer and director), simplified his plot and created a tighter three-act structure for his movie. Another big problem with Nolan’s work is that he doesn’t seem to have a well-defined worldview personally. Consequently, his stories tend to be somewhat morally relative and, hence, not as morally satisfying as they could be. Critics sometimes mistake such relativism for ambiguity, subtlety and great artistry because it’s not “black and white.” More demanding people, however, should see it as just sloppy thinking that misses the mark aesthetically. For example, in INCEPTION, viewers can sympathize with DiCaprio’s protagonist, Cobb, because he truly wants to get back to his two little children, a boy and a girl. The problem, however, is that, in order to do that, Cobb and his team must deceitfully manipulate the young energy heir so that their client not only pays for their services but also uses his power to get the American authorities to let Cobb back into the U.S. without arresting him. Nolan tries to justify this by having the client tell Cobb that, if they don’t get the energy heir to break up his dead father’s company, then that company will grow so big and invincible that it will control the world’s energy policies. The client only mentions this briefly in one scene, however, so the moral imperative for breaking up this energy company gets lost in all the razzle-dazzle, not to mention the movie’s complex plot device of dream worlds within dream worlds within dream worlds. Finally, although viewers certainly can sympathize with Cobb’s need to see his children’s faces again, Cobb’s character otherwise doesn’t earn much more sympathy than that. In fact, his character is a little bit of a cipher full of unknown qualities, perhaps because Nolan has not really given Cobb and his wife, or their children, enough of a background story to fill in their personalities and history more properly. All in all, therefore, INCEPTION doesn’t quite reach the level, in MOVIEGUIDE®’s opinion, of four-star quality. For all of its complicated plot devices of mazes within mazes and dreams within dreams, it’s a bit simplistic. Also, its worldview is not strong morally and even includes a similar type of moral relativism as in Christopher Nolan’s last movie, THE DARK KNIGHT. THE DARK KNIGHT seems to be a bit stronger than INCEPTION, however, mostly because of its anti-terrorist theme and Batman’s having the police arrest the Joker rather than killing him out of revenge. There’s not much religious content one way or another in INCEPTION. The movie is more humanist, or non-spiritual, than anything. For instance, although the movie has the typical Hollywood question of where does the dream end and reality begin, the movie’s worldview is not strongly nominalistic in the sense that the dream and the mind can manipulate physical reality. Instead, the movie’s characters are able to manipulate people’s minds and dreams by using a special machine and drugging their victims as well as themselves. How this exactly works, however, is left very mysterious. In the end [spoiler alert], the movie’s last shots leave the question of what is real and what is fantasy open ended for the viewer to decide. This has been done so often, however, that it’s kind of a letdown, especially for people who have seen a lot of movies. Thus, INCEPTION doesn’t really have much profound to say theologically, philosophically, politically, socially, or even psychologically. In fact, its approach to dream psychology is rather simplistic. For a classic comparison to INCEPTION, viewers might want to study Hitchcock’s classic adaptation of the popular novel REBECCA. That movie is far more engaging and profound. REBECCA has a psychological depth that INCEPTION seems to lack, but, after all, this is Hitchcock adapting one of the most beloved and popular novels of the last century, in a movie starring two great actors, Laurence Olivier and Joan Fontaine. Even so, INCEPTION probably will get a lot of accolades about how great it is. It’s a good movie that holds your attention, but it could have been a lot better, more engaging, more profound, and more morally or spiritually inspiring. The action scenes seem to go on too long, especially in the third act, and the foul language is very gratuitous several times. The good news is that there are no explicit, crude sex scenes or nudity. There is, however, a disturbing theme of suicide that becomes rather intense, as well as the aforementioned nominalistic moral relativism, so extreme caution is advised
(H, BB, C, Pa, LL, VV, A, DD, MM) Light humanist worldview with some references to humanist dream psychology theories and some strong moral, light redemptive elements of protagonist trying to get back to his children and stop an energy company from being so big that it controls the world’s energy policies, but the protagonist has these moral concerns as part of a group of industrial spies invading people minds to steal secrets and manipulate them, plus movie plays with the nominalistic, sometimes pagan and sometimes humanist question of what is dream and what is reality, where do they begin and end, but there’s not really a solid theology or philosophy behind its questioning, so viewers are left scratching their heads or left to their own thoughts about the subject; 12 obscenities (but no “f” words), nine strong profanities and four light profanities; nearly constant action violence with some blood but not really graphic or gory such as many images of people shooting at one another, man gets shot in chest and there are images of a small splotch of blood on his shirt that grows larger, and he coughs a few drops of blood in one scene especially, explosions, chases, vehicles damage other vehicles, fighting, shots in slow motion in several scenes of van falling off a bridge and into the water, distraught woman on ledge invites her husband to join her and then jumps off the ledge herself to her implied death, buildings crumble, kiosks of food and objects for sale explode, buildings bent on top of one another in a dream, building crumbles around man as he’s shooting and fighting other “people” in a dream; no sex scenes; no nudity; alcohol use; no smoking but people are drugged to get information out of them or manipulate them; and, stealing and industrial espionage justified, moral relativism, lying, betrayal.
INCEPTION, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, is a wild thrill ride that is not quite well thought out by its creator, Christopher Nolan. Nolan also wrote and directed THE DARK KNIGHT. DiCaprio plays Cobb, a mercenary spy who uses drugs and a mysterious machine to manipulate the dreams of wealthy or important people and extract secrets from them. Cobb can’t return home to his two little children in Los Angeles because he’s suspected of having something to do with his wife’s suicide. Cobb gets a chance to return home if he and his team invade the dreams of a young energy mogul and implant a new idea in his head that will protect the world.
INCEPTION has several amazing, exciting action scenes. However, its needlessly complex plot may distance viewers from the story and characters. The plot of dreams within dreams also distances viewers and pulls the teeth from the story’s jeopardy. The movie’s moral relativism and ambiguity, and its use of strong profanities at times, also present problems. Finally, the violence is not extremely graphic and there is no crude sexual content, but there is a disturbing subplot involving suicide.