Christopher Nolan's "Inception" is more than the movie that I thought it was when I first viewed it. It is a story of resolution of emotional pain wrapped up in an action-adventure team-heist caper.
I know that, because I watched it twice. In one day. Back-to-back. I saw it, walked out to the ticket counter and bought a ticket for the next show, and watched it again. Transfixed both times, but comprehending the 2nd time.
I'm not a movie reviewer and I'll leave it to those capable folks to describe Inception to you in their inimitable way. For Roger Ebert's stellar review of Inception click here, and for his Journal entry on the controversy of the negative criticisms of the film click here.
But, I do think that my marathon double-feature of Inception gives me perhaps a different insight into the movie. Here's how I described on Roger Ebert's Journal how I perceived the movie in those two viewings.
First viewing: I recognized instantly that this was a movie that I would just have to let unfold in front of me. Hang with it. See how it played out. Enjoy the acting, and puzzle out the plot later.
2nd viewing: Ah, now it's making sense. I'm seeing the setups. Understanding the dream layers. Hearing a couple of laugh lines that I missed in the first showing. Completely understanding the inceptions, both of them. Wow.
Inception is intricate. Layered. Precise. Just trying to keep all of the layers, and their differential timing, in my head was stimulating.
Intricate, yes. Layered, yes yes. But in more than one direction. Not just deep, but wide.
"The inceptions, both of them". The key to understanding the movie.
Let me just cut to the chase. Inception is to me much more than the layered action heist-caper that I struggled to hang with in the first viewing. It is a rich emotional character study, driven by emotional pain. The sleight-of-hand that Nolan employs is keeping you so engaged in the caper that the emotional heart of the movie is the gem to be discovered in the second viewing.
By now you've seen or heard enough to understand the Caper. A techological mercenary team lead by DiCaprio's character "Cobb" excels at dropping in to their target's dreams to steal corporate secrets. Their challenge, to do it in reverse. To plant an idea in their target's mind through dreams, and dreams within dreams, to achieve a corporate end. "Not strictly legal", he says. Will Cobb's team succeed in it's mission, and Cobb achieve his yearned for reward?
It's all you can do to hang on and comprehend this aspect of the plot. To track the layers "deep" into the dreams, each layer with it's own timescale. You are inundated with the details of the reverse-heist. With the makeup of the team, and their various roles. With the other-worldness and physics-defying complexity of the mazes created by Ariadne, the Architect. By the parallel actions in the different layers of the dreams.
Questions abound as you watch. How do they team-dream? Can inception be done? Who is the dreamer at each level, and who are the dream-sharers? Will Cobb and his team succeed in their mission and earn Cobb his payoff? Or will Cobb's increasingly threatening subconscious projections derail his success?
I say "derail" on purpose. But, I'll come back to that.
It is entirely understandable as you do all you can do to keep up with the intricate layers of the Caper plot hold a criticism that I am hearing that the negative critics have espoused - that Nolan's movie lacks emotion.
I disagree. I think that Inception is driven by emotion. By emotional pain to be precise. And, ultimately, the resolution of that pain.
Perhaps it is because I can relate to emotional pain quite well at the moment that I think that. That I'm sensitive to that. But, it is there.
The line of dialogue in Inception that is key to understanding the core of emotional pain in the plot mostly escaped me in the first viewing. Said by Cobb's main teammate to the Architect, it is this:
"He knows it can be done, because he's done it before".
Forget the caper plot. Focus on that. The first Inception. Follow those plot elements. What does Cobb's elevator ride with Ariadne mean? The hotel room? The train? The 50-year limbo? Why does Mal show up so often? Focus also on Cobb's face, which is a character study in emotional pain.
I said "derailed" earlier. Why?
Why did the train suddenly appear in the first chase sequence out of nowhere? Because the train has significance in the emotional core of the movie. Significance that is coded in this oft-repeated phrase that ties layers together:
"You are waiting for a train. A train that will take you to your destination. You can't be sure that it will, but it doesn't matter. Either way we will be together forever".
Or the second repeated refrain:
"I am an old man, filled with regrets, waiting to die".
The movie is filled with emotion. Mal & Cobb's love. Ariadne's wonder at "pure creation". Primal emotions: Loss. Separation. Disappointment. Guilt. Most of all, guilt.
It's a sleight-of-hand of sorts. While you are distracted with the deep up-down layers of the Caper plot, the emotional core of the movie is unfolding in the back-and-forth past-present layers of the First Inception. That's what leads to resolution, and payoff.
What a rich and fascinating movie. Worth seeing, I think. Definitely worth seeing twice!
Note: photo from Cleveland.com, via Google.