(*homocinematically inclined)

Friday, July 23, 2010

Reverend's Reviews: Dream On

We all dream. Men and women do, children do, even animals do. It has even been said that we would die if we didn't dream, our brains so overloaded with unprocessed thoughts and experiences that they would take a detrimental, physical toll.

As my colleague here at Movie Dearest, Neil Cohen, has already pointed out in his recent review of Christopher Nolan's new sci-fi mind-bender Inception, previous movies have introduced and played with the concept of entering the dreams of others. None of them, though, has depicted the human dreamscape as effectively and provocatively as Nolan.

Nolan needs little introduction as the methodical writer-director of such intelligent and entertaining contemporary classics as Memento and The Dark Knight. With Inception, he has crafted the best, most believable entry to date in an inherently imaginative genre. From the film's opening sequence — in which the action careens wildly from a third-world village under siege to a lavish party thrown by a Japanese tycoon (played by Ken Watanabe) — to its haunting final shot, Inception holds and rewards the attention of alert viewers.

Leonardo DiCaprio stars as Dom (short for Dominick) Cobb, the leader of a crack team of "extractors" who are paid well by rival business and political leaders to drug the competition and steal their best, subconsciously inspired ideas. Watanabe's character, however, charges the group with the never-before-tried task of implanting an idea in the mind of his chief competitor's son and heir. This process is referred to as "inception."

From there, Nolan's seamless script twists and turns as it introduces other characters (including Cobb's father, played by Michael Caine, and an architectural student winningly portrayed by Juno's Ellen Page), explores multiple levels of consciousness, and uses impressive visual effects to literally turn reality in on itself. While I would love to read what a psychologist or dream analyst makes of Inception, it perfectly reflected my experience of the surreal figures and action that normally occur in recognizable settings within my dreams.

Of course, one is led to wonder throughout Inception exactly which characters' dreams are being played out, or if the whole movie might be a dream. This brain-teasing on the part of Nolan and his excellent cast (which also boasts great turns by Joseph-Gordon Levitt, Oscar-winner Marion Cotillard and the long-MIA Tom Berenger) never feels manipulative, gratefully. Rather, it feels natural, even organic given the subject matter. I detected enjoyably intentional nods to James Bond adventures, especially during the team's invasion of a snow-covered fortress in the mountains. Composer Hans Zimmer often seems to be knowingly channeling Bond score stalwart, John Barry.

Inception also reminded me in spots of the very effective, Martin Scorsese-directed thriller Shutter Island released earlier this year, and not just because DiCaprio stars in both films. Both play with their characters' and audiences' perceptions of reality and sanity, as well as the mental toll that loss and grief can take. Shutter Island also benefited from a game, top-notch cast and crew.

Many critics are passionately, even vociferously, divided over Inception. It's been a while, though, since the critical community has had a large-scale debate over a movie. I think this isn't only a testament to Inception's high profile but to Nolan's complex, visionary achievement. See it, and feel free to weigh in here with your own reactions. Like dreams, movies can linger and haunt long after they're over.

Reverend's Rating: A

UPDATE: Inception is now available on DVD and Blu-ray from

Review by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and the Orange County and Long Beach Blade.


  1. The cast was the worst part of the movie, I thought. Ellen Page was just terrible and Joseph-Gordon Levitt, while adorable, does not belong as a lead role in a blockbuster action movie. Part of the problem was how under-written all the characters were, but I don't think Levitt or Page changed facial expressions the entire film.

  2. Dear Anonymous: Thanks for your thoughts. I agree with you that J-G Levitt remains pretty one-note in the film, which I interpreted as an intentional sign of his character's intense focus and/or cool detachment. I disagree completely, though, re: Page. As the youngest and less-experienced member of the "Dream Team," I thought she conveyed numerous and varied expressions of amazement, fear and concern. I also liked the brief but amusingly romantic scene Page and J-G L have.

  3. I think the first poster needs to rewatch with an eye towards the last scene and an ear on the earlier explanation of the dream world, most specifically where the people who populate it come from. While they aren't exactly one dimensional, they are different representations of an idea, so the one-note feel that people are getting from many of the characters may actually be intentional.

  4. I feel that it's very sad Marion Cotillard has been receiving so little attention. She plays Mal, brilliantly.