I rewatched Inception. Some thoughts:
Sometimes, you see a movie that other people are raving about and you just don’t get it. Inception was one of those for me back in its theatrical run.
When I first saw it, I thought the idea was cool, but the clunky implementation turned me off. The exposition was so dialogue-heavy that the characters often seemed to be narrating plot summary to one another for the audience’s benefit. The various scenarios presented throughout the story were called dreams, but they bore little resemblance to actual dream logic. Plus, being a high-energy thriller, Inception’s visually confusing action sequences were a poor choice. They were impossible to read from shot to shot.
I think those objections still hold up. And yet, when I rewatched Inception last night, I came away thinking that maybe I underrated it just a little bit, that maybe its good marks hold a little more weight.
It really is a cool idea, and if you ignore all the stuff about dreams and rethink the movie as a narrative about shared storytelling or shared fantasy, it starts to make more sense. When the film does get visually imaginative, the results are stunning and surreal, especially in the standout sequence with Joseph Gordon-Levitt in the hotel. There are bits of foreshadowing that are more clever upon retrospect–entertainingly clever, not obnoxiously clever. And while the visual style falls apart from shot to shot, it does keep us oriented when transitioning between the nested worlds.
Even taking its flaws into account, Inception is well worth seeing. I’ve said it before: I’d rather see a movie whose reach exceeds its grasp than a movie that doesn’t reach at all. Inception is similar to The Matrix in that regard. But while the Matrix explains itself and dramatizes its internal logic more cinematically, it doesn’t pursue its ideas very far. The Matrix opts instead for a relatively conventional action narrative once the first act is over. Inception wrings an action-packed heist yarn from its ideas, but unlike with the Matrix, Inception’s ideas retain their integral role in the film right up to the end. Take away the nested worlds and anthropomorphic anxieties, and the movie goes with them.
One thing I don’t think I weighed in on before is the ending. I don’t know that I have a strong opinion either way regarding the famous insoluble dilemma. All the same, I will suggest invoking the Tethercat Principle. To wit: we never see Dom wake up and we never see the top fall down.