Film review – Inception (2010)


Knowing the details of how Inception unravels will not ruin the film for you but going into it as a blank slate is still the most rewarding way to initially experience it. So it is enough to simply say that Leonardo DiCaprio plays Cobb, an expert in extraction, which is the art of stealing secret information hidden in people’s subconscious. He and his team face their biggest challenge yet when they are tasked with inception – the seemingly impossible act of implanting thoughts into somebody else’s subconscious.

Inception: Mal (Marion Cotillard) and Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio)
Mal (Marion Cotillard) and Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio)

Films depicting different levels of reality that projections of the mind can occupy are now reasonably familiar. The Matrix first introduced the concept to mainstream cinema audiences and this concept has since appeared in films as diverse as eXistenZ and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Inception owes something of a debt to all these films, plus Dark City, but it is still a boldly original work that takes the idea in a new direction. Director Christopher Nolan has worked with complex narrative structures before in Memento. Batman Begins and The Dark Knight demonstrated his stylishly cold spin on the film noir aesthetic in his portrayal of the hostile city. All these elements come together perfectly in Inception to make it Nolan’s masterpiece to date.

Part of what makes Inception so remarkable is that it has been made to appeal to the broadest audience possible. The film’s internal logic in the way it depicts how the subconscious operates is carefully thought-out and explained in terms of how different levels of the subconscious can have temporal and spatial effects on the others. These ideas end up facilitating the extraordinary lengthy action sequence that takes up the final act of the film. It is conceptually complex but written so well that you are never confused about what is happening. There is nothing wrong with cinema that leaves you puzzled, perplexed or confused but it is also extremely impressive to experience a film that is mind-bending in such a digestible way. At the same time, at no point does Inception feel dumbed-down or overly explanatory, which was the significant flaw in Nolan’s The Prestige. In 2010 both Toy Story 3 and now Inception have demonstrated that big studio films don’t have to be disposable products only aimed at short attention spans.

Inception: Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt)
Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt)

Inception is cinema at its most rewarding. Hans Zimmer’s score complements the visuals and the emotional rushes throughout the film. It contains a lot more characters of importance than in most films of this nature and yet they are all fully fleshed out and identifiable. Inception is the sort of film that future films will be compared to for its structure, writing, concepts and action. Cinema is rarely this engaging on so many levels and if you have any doubts then they will be gone by the final shot that cuts to the credits at the most perfect moment possible.

© Thomas Caldwell, 2010


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  1. Inception was the first time I was sorry I didn’t wear a watch. Why? Because, had I been wearing one, it would have given me something else to watch other than this movie. Improbable plot apparently made up on the fly with people making or breaking consistency rules as called for, no likeable characters, a lead who’ll probably be strangled later by one of the people he knowingly put at risk, not to mention an ending telegraphed from light years away. It doesn’t get much worse.

  2. I’ve just seen it a second time, and it was worth it. Picked up more clever details, and was able to pay attention since I knew what was coming. It’s a masterful plot, and the set-up for the final act, with 3 simultaneous plots, is impeccable. See this movie and disbelieve the nay sayers!

  3. What blew my mind was when it came upon me, about halfway through the movie, that it MIRRORED what film making is all about; getting one to leave their own reality and enter the world of imagination that is created for them by someone else (the film maker.) That blew my mind. What I don’t know was did Nolan set this up for the film goer to discover, or did I just invent a cool little side trip for myself? Perhaps I’ve taken one too many cinema classes. LOL Otherwise, even MORE kudos for that nugget! :)

  4. I love good sci-fi but this was complete baloney. I wasted money and two hours of my life on this boring, self-indulgent nonsense. By the end of the film, I really didn’t care what happened and I just wanted to get out of the theater.

    [CINEMA AUTOPSY – comment edited; even though you were being light-hearted, there’s no need to insult other people.]

  5. Thank you for the great review. This movie looks absolutely amazing. Pretty much anything that Leo touches is golden the days. I think the concept of Inception is pure genius. I really enjoy movies that make you think and also take you to places in your mind that you haven’t traveled before.

  6. Inception is a tricky treatment of memory; memory of subjects, both within the film and also of those watching it. The point is, it recognizes different layers of memory at work, “sensory memory,” “working memory,” and “long term memory” and brings them all together for the sake of inception.
    While different chunks of experience are to be treated by different layers of memory, we step by step go deep and deeper into the memory, from conscious to subconscious and finally to the mere unconscious of the subjects, where they have no control over what they’re experiencing. Thus, psychologically, one may think of it as a great work, as I do.
    It is also worth mentioning that though plots and subplots are intermingled within layers of memory, though a complex web of incidents are at work, yet it is easy for the external subject to follow the trace of the events within all such complexities, still without any oversimplification from the director. Nolan, bringing in the complexity by means of simplicity, points up the fact that simple processes at work do end up in complexities hard to decipher, as in progress in our very own mind.

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