Okay, here’s the thing. They need to be kicked out of each layer of the dream, and that works when they jump off the building then explode then get pushed down the elevator then hit the water, but then what’s waking them up from that level? Is it the stewardess tugging on their arms? Or do they just wait around for ages? But won’t the projections get them? Oh, is that okay because the guy who’s dreaming is on their side now? But wait, won’t he figure out…
If you are 1) totally intrigued by the above paragraph, or 2) rolling your eyes and scrolling rapidly down to correct me on what actually happened, then Inception is pretty much your perfect movie. I assumed people like that had all killed themselves after the final episode of Lost (SPOILER: it was shit), but Inception’s box office ratings proved me wrong. People loved this film.
Now, I’m no screenwriter. I’m certainly no Christopher Nolan. So you’ll have to forgive me for failing to properly build up suspense by not waiting until the end to tell you that (spoiler 2) Inception is not going to win the Best Picture Oscar. But let me also rush to say that I don’t mean that disparagingly. I would love to see it happen in the same way I would love Star Wars or Alien to have won Oscars, but that just isn’t the way of the world. Science fiction is a big term, and once a film has been placed in there it takes a lot to pull it out of the genre-movie ghetto. Even 2001: A Space Odyssey had a hard time.
Inception is a lot of things besides a sci-fi – a thriller and a heist movie in particular. But its main genre is that old classic, the Christopher Nolan mind-bender. He did it best with backwards memory-loss-thriller Memento, he broke up his Batman films by doing it again with flashback-heavy stage-magician-mystery The Prestige, and now he has Inception, a script that took longer to write and re-write than bears thinking about.
You probably know the drill – a convoluted plot that probably loses you a few times in the middle, and indeed the start, but tends to make enough sense towards the end for you to go “wooooah”. It sticks in your head and you might come up with a plot hole or two, but you aren’t sure if it’s a plot hole, because when you think too much about it your head starts to hurt and you need to go watch Die Hard twice to feel better. Yet the films are never hard or frustrating to watch, providing all the narrative points of a less richly packed action film. Inception is this formula executed to perfection. As Roger Ebert said, “Maybe there’s a hole in Inception, but I can’t find it”.
All of this is the silver lining to the fact that it won’t win best picture, because in truth there are categories it is more deserving in. Particularly best original screenplay. It actually stands a chance there, as the most technically impressive piece of writing in the category. But then, The King’s Speech will probably beat it anyway. Christopher Nolan should also be a strong contender for best director, seeing as how he not only reigns the beast in and keeps it making sense, but he also makes a genuinely dramatic, exciting thriller out of it. Oh, but he wasn’t even nominated. Yeah, you may have to squint to see that aforementioned silver lining.
But Inception fans shouldn’t really care. This film wasn’t made to win Oscars, it was made to mess with an audience’s mind, push the imaginative and technical limits of cinema, and have an awful lot of fun doing it.
Nolan says as much with the film’s ending – an ending which is unmatched in the malicious glee it takes from screwing with the viewer. It’s almost a joke at our expense, but it’s too good a joke not to play along. Looking back, it’s no surprise that Nolan once made a film like The Prestige. He directs like a classic magician, showing exactly as much as he must to make his trick work and always withholding just enough to keep his audience guessing.
The simplest proof of Inception’s worth is that it does in the end have a “prestige” – the final flourish that makes up the third act of a magic trick. It ties itself up in the end, and even despite its mischieveous ending it provides a real sense of closure. You know what didn’t do that? Lost.
You can follow Michael Fern on Twitter @popmikey