Posted on December 7, 2010 at 8:00 am

Stop right now. I mean it, stop reading. If you have not already seen “Inception,” there is nothing I can tell you that would not diminish your experience of this film. The less you know going in, the better you will appreciate the unfolding, doubling-back, and overall mind-bending stories within stories in one of the year’s best films. So, go see it and then come back and read what I have to say and share your thoughts about what you think it is all about.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Okay, welcome back.

Christopher Nolan (“The Dark Knight,” “Memento”) has written and directed that rarest of movie pleasures, a fantasy action movie for people who like to think. It’s kind of, sort of, “The Matrix” crossed with “The Sting,” “Fantastic Voyage,” and “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.” On crack. It’s the kind of movie people will argue about all the way home, go see again, and argue about some more. Nolan understands that the power of movies is that they allow the audience to plug into a kind of Jungian collective dream and he takes that idea to the meta-level, and then metas it a couple more times.

Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) is part of a renegade team that has taken corporate espionage to the next level. They do not steal secrets from the offices and memos of corporate executives. They steal secrets from their minds. Cobb has taken techniques developed by his professor father (Michael Caine) and come up with a way to enter into the subconscious of these people by literally entering and manipulating their dreams. This, of course, has led to the development of a whole new industry of counter-dream espionage through bolstering the subject’s psychological defenses. Within a dream, as with other abstract concepts, they are made explicit and concrete as armed assassins. Being shot by them affects the physical reality of the avatar-like representation of the person entering the subject’s dream. It can hurtle them out of the dream entirely. Or, it can push them into an endless mental limbo.

Audiences may feel (enjoyably) as though they have toppled into an endless mental limbo as the characters’ journey takes them into dreams within dreams, each with its own setting, time (moments in one dream level equal weeks in a deeper one), and properties. Sometimes those properties seep across dream boundaries, with vertiginous shifts in physical properties. In one extraordinary sequence, characters in an otherwise-standard-looking hotel become weightless and fights take place as though they are all under water.

The team knows how to extract thoughts from dreams, even the subjects’ most guarded secrets, made material within the minds’ fortresses and vaults. “Create something secure and the mind automatically fills it with something it wants to protect,” explains a character.

A new client insists that they must do something far more difficult — implant an idea, and do it so quietly that the subject will believe he thought it up himself. All of this is in the context of a slyly chosen, well-worn set-up, the last big heist. Dom wants out. He wants to go home. He wants to see the faces of his children. And this is his last chance.

The visual razzle-dazzle is breathtaking, especially as new member of the team Ariadne (“Juno’s” Ellen Page) is introduced to the world of dream architecture. But what makes the film so enthralling is its own fully-realized intellectual architecture, the rules and consequences of its world view that seem so complete they extend far beyond the borders of the story. This is a film that will reward repeated viewings. It will be the subject of late-night dorm discussions, application essays, and possibly some scholarly exegesis because of the way it poses provocative concepts of identity, responsibility, and consciousness. “Reality is not going to be enough for her, now,” Dom says as Ariadne explores an architect’s ultimate fantasy of creation. Yes, and that’s why we have movies. After all, dreams and reality feed each other. As Humphrey Bogart said in “The Maltese Falcon” and Shakespeare said long before that, they’re “the stuff that dreams are made of.”

Related Tags:


Action/Adventure Drama Fantasy Science-Fiction

21 Replies to “Inception”

  1. This movie Inception seems like it’s a good film. I can’t wait to watch it.

  2. I don’t get how none of the critics are saying this film dragged, because it did. The first 75 minutes blow by, and then some the scenes that were needed to allow the story to make sense went on way too long. I have had several friends agree with me on this.
    Is it worth paying for, yes, it is not worth paying $12 for. I did not clap at the end, unlike 90% of the audience Tuesday night. It takes an awful lot for me to clap at a movie, and this didn’t do it.
    I do think this is one of the most original movies of the last 10 years at least. I understood everything on one viewing, but I could see why people would want to discuss this.

  3. I agree with Mike on a lot of what he says, though I am thrilled you liked it so much, Nell. For a dissenting review, readers can check out the link to my review above.
    I love Christopher Nolan as a filmmaker, but this time I believe he bit off more than he could chew and failed at what he was trying to do. To me, he surrendered well-developed characters worth caring about for a plot he spent two and a half hours trying to spoonfeed mainstream audiences. He showed a distinct lack of understanding of the unpredictability of the dream world and one’s subconscious, and also failed to externalize them for the camera. “Last Year at Marienbad,” “A Nightmare on Elm Street,” “Mulholland Drive,” and “Inland Empire” all are far superior pictures that really captured the legitimate look and feel of dreamlike states. To me, the dreams in “Inception” looked like action scence sets.
    As Mike also mentioned, just as the film should have been taking off in the final hour, it seemed to get stuck in quicksand, unable to build momentum and pacing in a way that was genuinely exciting and thrilling.
    I’m sure I will be in the minority with my opinion, but I found far too many seams in Nolan’s design to overlook them.

  4. I appreciate your thoughts, Mike and Dustin! And I do recommend that everyone check out Dustin’s very thoughtful dissenting view as well as the one from David Edelstein at New York Magazine. I think this is a film that will reward a second viewing.

  5. Nell, I can’t help but to notice that you’ve basically told us not to read you’re review, just go see the movie, it’s that good, and yet it’s only an A-. What’s a movie got to do to get an A+ around here?

  6. Dave, I don’t give an A+ until I’ve had time to think about it. So, stay tuned! And if you see the movie, let me know what you think!

  7. Hi Nell,
    I always say, a little bit of Nellatonin before the movie always helps my receptors;)
    My 12 year old daughter and I saw it last night. I concur with you that its a multi view situation with the multiplicity of nuances that are offered. Last scene had the audience ahhhh….boooo….laughter. Any director would love to hear that as a collective response.
    First take is that its not the Matrix as I have heard some suggest the comparison. I am huge fan of both the movie and the conceptual ideas brought forth with the 3 films offered.
    While some of this is very much in a comparative mode based on CG and the dream state created…I’m not sure the characters are nearly as strong as were created by the Wachowski’s. Perhaps in my even using the comparison….the idea was planted into my subconcious? LOL
    Even so, the two hours is well worth a 2nd visit. Visually stunning and you do go for a ride. I’m going to go with the Fold over 3-D city as one of my favorite pieces.
    All in all…between Middle Earth, Neo, and Hogwarts, we have been spoiled and it takes a great deal to measure up. Thanks so much for your help and opinions.

  8. Nell,
    I did enjoy the film quite a bit, but I thought it was just way too complex. Characters were not able to be explored very much. The only backstory we got was for Leo’s character and it was due to the fact that it was also a subplot.
    Maybe it’s a pet peeve of mine, but films that make me feel like I HAVE to watch it again to fully understand instead of WANT to annoy me. Nolan’s ‘Inception’ is such a film. Nearly impossible to pick up every detail the first time through and it’s frustrating since you know there’s a lot you forgot about by the time the necessary info has been given.
    Other than that everything else gets highest marks: acting, visuals, score, etc. Just too complicated.

  9. I saw the movie a couple nights ago and I walked out thinking, “WOW!”. I agree with your assessment of the film. Rarely is it we see a movie with an original plot line, requires a little thinking and is thoroughly entertaining. While I have two girls, I don’t think it would be a movie I would take my kids to see. It’s far too complex. Thanks for the great review and I’m going to subscribe to your blog.

  10. Took my 12-year old son to see this last night. His immediate reaction – “Strange”. I asked if he would recommend it to his friends, and received an unequivocal “Yes”.
    Was it complex, multi-layered, and a bit too much to follow the first time through? Yes. There were a couple of lines of dialog I had a hard time hearing, which didn’t help. Visually the movie is stunning. It will take a few more viewings to fully grasp the “rules” that apply in the entering of the dream worlds. It’s worth watching more than once, although I’m sure it will lose a lot if watched on a home screen once out on DVD – you won’t get as much impact from the Escher-like sequences.
    The ending is definitely controversial – and, not surprisingly, was a topic of conversation for us all evening. And will likely be a frequent topic of conversation with anyone else who has seen the movie. What does one’s interpretation of the ending say about their general outlook on life?
    Not sure if it’s because of the presence of Michael Caine, or this movie just made me think about twisty plots, but now I feel a need to go rent “Sleuth” – one of my favorite “plays with your mind” movies.

  11. I saw Inception and I loved it! I loved the suspense and action! The ending left me theorizing with my friends about what it really meant. I recommend it to people who love sci-fi and fantasy.

  12. I saw Inception this afternoon with my son and husband and enjoyed it very much — it was the second viewing for my son — count him in the WANT to see it again camp.
    Later, we had dinner with another family, whose teenage daughter remarked about Inception that “you had to think” — something she didn’t associate with movies. I think this might be one of those wonderful movies that not only is “a fantasy action movie for people who like to think”, as you said, Nell, but also introduces a new generation to the pleasure of movies that leave you still thinking.

  13. Another movie it brought to mind when I finished viewing it was Wim Wenders “Until the End of the World,” another movie asking about the significance of dreams, though in a far less ‘action-filled’ way.

  14. My husband and I went to see the movie. We truly enjoyed it. Definetly a movie you had to pay attention very closely to and think. It’s unfortunate that the majority of the audience when we went didn’t appreciate. Honestly, I think all guns, explosions, crashes was not necessary. The movie has great dialogue and plot. It sad that the younger generation don’t appreciate movies that you have to think about. There were plenty of them in the audience when we went. Mind you, my husband and I are in our mid 30’s.

  15. Thanks, letin — I hope that the movie’s success — with many people going back to see it a second time — is an indication that there is an audience for movies that make us think. I’m glad you and your husband enjoyed it!

  16. I didn’t care for this movie. Too convoluted. My own dreams are already weird enough without paying to be a party to someone else’s suspended reality. I doubt if this film is still playing in the theaters, but for those who would prefer to rent it when it’s available in DVD, that’s probably the best way to go. Then, if you have no patience with its tangled, improbable story line, at least it won’t cost as much.

Comments are closed.

THE MOVIE MOM® is a registered trademark of Nell Minow. Use of the mark without express consent from Nell Minow constitutes trademark infringement and unfair competition in violation of federal and state laws. All material © Nell Minow 1995-2024, all rights reserved, and no use or republication is permitted without explicit permission. This site hosts Nell Minow’s Movie Mom® archive, with material that originally appeared on Yahoo! Movies, Beliefnet, and other sources. Much of her new material can be found at, Huffington Post, and WheretoWatch. Her books include The Movie Mom’s Guide to Family Movies and 101 Must-See Movie Moments, and she can be heard each week on radio stations across the country.

Website Designed by Max LaZebnik