well it happens every year, there are a few movies that come out that instantly jump into the top 25 of all-time according to imdb.com. this year we’ve got toy story 3 and inception. neither really belong in the top 25 films ever for me at this point, but inception is the one that threatens the most. christopher nolan has three films in the imdb top 30, with memento (his best film) at the 29th spot. note that dark knight was at the #1 spot within a couple weeks of its release.
there are times when you’re watching a movie and you think to yourself “holy shit, i’m really watching something here.” films like boogie nights, memento, matrix, and now inception come to mind. when i watched the trailer i knew this was going to be great and after that first time i would close my eyes and plug my ears so i didn’t ruin the film in any way. by the way, that trailer (#3) gets added to my list of best ads ever. possible spoilers ahead.
the film itself reminded me a lot of dicaprio’s last film – shutter island – which was also about an alternate reality. a tortured man trying to live in an alternate world because of a traumatic event involving his wife. same basic setup as this film. it also reminded me of the matrix, both because of the feeling i had the first time i watched each film and because of the basic, but life-changing, idea that we could be living a falsehood – all of us in a dream or in a jar in a lab somewhere, thinking that this is reality, when it really isn’t. and then there’s total recall which had layers existence within the mind just like this did. this film has a familiar setup at its core – a pro and his crew pulling off one last job. we’ve seen a million of those films, but this one has a (fairly big) twist to it.
about 30 minutes into inception i thought it was all a dream. depending upon your interpretation of the ending, i was right. everything within it, even the “true reality,” felt unreal. in the end when he sees his kids, in the exact same pose he’s seen them in throughout the film, it just bolstered my belief that even his reality was fake. i thought that as he greeted his kids michael caine would go over to the spinning top and stop it. dicaprio would look back and see it had stopped and “realize” that indeed his life was real. instead, he didn’t even look back. it was memento-esque in that he didn’t even want to know the truth. he thought he did because he spun the top, but once he was with his kids i don’t think he cared about truth anymore. it’s this idea that is also seen in memento and shutter island, but rejected in the matrix – that ignorance is bliss. we choose our reality and live happily with it, instead of seeking Truth.
one thing i didn’t like about the film is that all of this is ostensibly done to help saito take out his business competition. it’s not exactly noble work. it’s not the crime fighting of batman or giving truth to the world like the matrix. of course for dicaprio it’s, much more so that’s really why we want them to succeed.
after watching the prestige i wrote that nolan would never be as good as memento again, i stand by that. however i wrote that a bit cynically because i didn’t think that the prestige was a great film. though dark knight and inception aren’t as good as memento in my mind, they’re certifiably great films. kubrick never did anything as good as paths of glory, but that doesn’t take anything away from dr. strangelove or full metal jacket. same is true here with nolan.
in the film it’s said that an idea is like a virus – it spreads and takes hold and can change a person forever. great films like this are indeed like a virus. and for me iconic films become a part of my vocabulary, they become reference points. in order to understand me, where i’m coming from, and what i’m saying you have to see the films i’ve seen so we can “speak the same language.” this film is going to join my lexicon and that’s about as much a complement to a film as i can provide.
edit 9/22/11: nolan confirmed my point that the end is more about the fact that leo doesn’t care about the truth of the top (he looks away from it): “There can’t be anything in the film that tells you one way or another because then the ambiguity at the end of the film would just be a mistake … It would represent a failure of the film to communicate something. But it’s not a mistake. I put that cut there at the end, imposing an ambiguity from outside the film. That always felt the right ending to me — it always felt like the appropriate ‘kick’ to me….The real point of the scene — and this is what I tell people — is that Cobb isn’t looking at the top. He’s looking at his kids. He’s left it behind. That’s the emotional significance of the thing.”Watched in theater