Inception (2010), written and directed by Christopher Nolan, is the kind of story that is perfect to be told within the medium of film. The landscape it explores is too visually unique for words, and the complex story itself requires a tension and timing that a novel could never successfully grasp. It ventures into the mind and looks for the subconscious. What are dreams? Can they be r-constructed? What is an original thought?
I remember first seeing this film 2 or 3 days before it’s original release date during a staff screening at the CochraneMovieHouse. There was a little bit of buzz around it, mostly because of Nolan’s success with Batman Begins, but the real phenomenon hadn’t hit the headlines yet. I went into it blind, thinking it was just going to be another summer blockbuster with Leonardo and crew running around committing crimes and such. Was I ever wrong. I quite enjoyed the next week selling tickets in the box office recommending this movie to anybody who wasn’t already going to see it.
Inception starts by conquering the task of explaining to you what it is about. In one word, it’s DREAMS, but in order for the audience to fully understand the rest of the film, it needed a more concrete example. So it lands us in the middle of Leo’s latest ‘job.’ A dream within a dream, trying to extract information. In terms of your basic three act structure this is a very long set-up, but given the subject matter of this movie, necessary. Nolan introduces the rest of the characters as quickly as possible by having Leo re-build his team. The film is very narrative driven, but we don’t actually get to the heard of the movie, the real adventure if you will, until about an hour into it. But once we arrive at this point (when they enter the 4-level-dream), we are excited and ready for it. We know the goal, we know the characters, we understand the technology. Check, check, and check. We get to sit back and enjoy the rest of the movie from here on out, simply letting the masterpiece unfold as it should.
The scene between Leonardo DiCaprio and Ellen Page when he is showing her the dream world makes great use of narrative efficiency. Nolan could have made an extremely lengthy dialogue explanation for the whole experience, but instead has Page barge straight through it, exploring this new world. The only dialogue necessary here was Leo briefly answering a question or giving a quick explanation of what she (and the audience) was finding out on their own.
Cobb (Leo) has a deep back story that acts as a subtle subtext throughout the whole film. It is never directly mentioned and explained in full, but because of how it weaves in and out of the story, it wraps the chaotic series of events together in a nice package. The name ‘Maul’ is dropped in many conversations in the set-up, but there is no explanation, no character development for her. Acting for the audience as a whole, Ellen Page’s character gets frustrated with this and literally barges into Cobb’s mind to find out for all of us what the deal is. Finally Cobb offers up an explanation. This is amazing use of dialogue for character development, as well as moving the story forward in natural interaction between characters.
The screenplay overall has a satisfactory ending, despite the many conversations I overheard from the box office as people left the theater. Nolan structured the final scene to make people ask the question if it was reality or simply another dream, so I understand the frustration. But if you really think about it, the answer doesn’t matter. The movie achieved what it wanted to, and the ending prompts discussion. Honestly, post-theatre discussion is as good as watching the movie itself. Thank you Christopher Nolan for taking a brave step in filmmaking and venturing from the beaten ‘Hollywood’ path with this abstract inception of a screenplay.