Inception is the new high-water mark in movies. For reference, that last one that gob-smacked audiences like this was The Matrix (1999).*
Inception has some similarities to The Matrix and What Dreams May Come, but that's like saying Star Wars has similarities to The Hidden Fortress and the Buck Rogers serials. Yeah, seeds of ideas and some of the film vocabulary are borrowed from these predecessors. Which would you rather see, though?
I've read reviews (at least Ebert and Travers) that mention how hard the plot is to follow. Myself, I found it was delineated very clearly, to the extent that I could actually devote some thought to whether or not Christopher Nolan (author and director) ever "cheated," meaning used the plot device to confuse and trick us so he could move forward with the story when he'd painted himself into a corner, or purposely fool us into thinking something was a dream state when it wasn't and vice versa.
The whole movie would fall down like a sandcastle hit by the tide if he ever cheated, so I'm thrilled to report he never does. (Another movie that never cheats on its premise, and is the better for it, is 50 First Dates.)
The plot device? Well, the military invented a means to invade people's dreams and extract information from them, which is now used for corporate espionage. Experienced dream spies can even create dreams within dreams, which has the benefit of allowing another level of subterfuge where the spy can spin the target so completely that they can't tell whom to trust. Also, time moves much faster the further down you go, meaning 5 minutes of real time equates to an hour of dream time, but dream-within-a-dream time equates to one week for every hour of dream time. Believe it or not, the movie does a great job of making this crystal clear so you don't have to risk an embolism to keep track of it all.
Like all great sci-fi (or other genre) flicks, the core of the story is a love story. Several, actually.
Oh, and it provides the answer to the question, "What the hell ever happened to Tom Berenger?"
I've all but stopped buying DVDs, having long ago collected the ones I'm likely to watch again, and this movie is one of the few I can't wait to own so I can watch it over and over again to pick up things that slipped by in previous viewings.
Inception is not to be missed. It's worth the cost and bother of a babysitter. Fandango probably has your local showtimes.
*I almost pulled an "I'm Listing" post as a result of researching a few "best films" lists to confirm my claim, but decided to spare you. My sources were Ebert, IMDB.com, and the AFI lists (requires setting up an account). Here are the other arguable high-water marks since The Matrix, in chronological order, most recent first:
- Avatar (2009)
- Gran Torino (2008)
- A Prairie Home Companion (2006)
- Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
- The Lord of the Rings (2001 - 2003)
- Fight Club (1999)
- The Sixth Sense (1999)
- American Beauty (1999)
Yeah, there are probably other films that you would put on this list, and by following the links to my sources, you'll find some to quibble about. That's what the comments are for! I'd love to hear from ya.
I purposely left animated films off, which is ironic for me as they have always been my favorite, the most near and dear to my heart. I feel they really are a league of their own and should be considered separately. Had I not been born at the right time, I would most certainly have moved to California and tried to break into the industry as an animator. Throughout my childhood I poured over any and all animation stuff I could get my hands on (alongside watching any I could find, save for the sucky Saturday morning TV animation). I would even bike to the library which had 16mm prints of animation; I still marvel that the librarians were so patient and sweet with this little kid who would show up and watch these in the viewing room all by himself. I took and deeply enjoyed what was essentially a graduate-level class on all things animation in college. For all practical purposes, I am an amateur animation historian.
Here's a glimpse into what was going on in the animation world around the time I was in college (early 80s), and thereafter:
- Wizards (1977)
- The Rescuers (1977)
- Watership Down (1978)
- The Fox and the Hound (1981)
- The Secret of NIMH (1982)
- The Black Cauldron (1985)
- The Great Mouse Detective (1986)
- Oliver & Company (1988)
- Akira (1988)
- The Little Mermaid (1989)
Note this is when the animation universe simply tanked, a near total wasteland from '77 to '88 (with the possible exception of "NIMH"). It wasn't until the 90s that animation came back into its own with The Little Mermaid, released at the end of 1989. Nearly a whole decade and a half without a good animation industry. It still saddens me.
TV was worse. This was when Ronny Raygun deregulated things so that all TV cartoons immediately slithered into the slums of glorified commercials for toys. "He-Man and the Masters of the Universe" was the leading show of the time. Even the classics were being re-edited and slaughtered because someone thought that seeing Wile E. Coyote smashing into the canyon floor and kicking up a mushroom cloud of dust was somehow traumatizing rather than freakin' hilarious. This idiocy was wonderfully parodied by "The Simpsons."
But, I'm a big believer in "Unanswered Prayers," as the Garth Brooks song goes. While I might have had the joy of being involved in the creation a few of the greats in animation, I think the path I did take has ended up where I should be. I think my soul would have died had I been part of the movie industry.
And as Jesus said: "What do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul?" - Mark 8:36-37