The first thing I want to say is that I’m probably going to pay to see it again (especially since I may have only dreamed that I saw it the first time). I suspect I’ll be only one of a great many who will see it again, so repeat viewers are surely going to be a big part of the kajillions of dollars this movie is going to rake in. I enjoyed the heck out of it but I’m not going to pretend I followed every twist and turn of the plot. Still, there’s a lot to like there – compelling psychological concepts, likable/interesting characters, terrific visuals, and good old-fashioned thinking person’s science fiction.
Of course, we are in an era when eye-popping visuals are turning up in a lot of movies, good and bad. It has always been true that fabulous visuals don’t make a movie good by themselves; they must be accompanied by quality storytelling and, if possible, good acting if the movie is going to be an engaging experience for the audience.
The acting in Inception is generally very good, though a couple of people deserve to be singled out. Joseph Gordon-Levitt, in the role of resourceful team member Arthur, takes a character that probably didn’t seem like anything at all on paper and gives him a clear, subtly quirky identity. Also praiseworthy is Ellen Page as architect Ariadne. She possesses a quality I once heard attributed to Gene Hackman; of being a Human Truth Serum. Which is to say, I believe every word and every emotion that she brings to her scenes. I don’t see her Working; I see her Being.
Which brings us to the tricky matter of discussing Inception’s star, Leonardo DiCaprio. I’ve seen him in enough movies that I think Leo has clearly demonstrated he is not a great actor. Oh, he’s not a bad actor. Let me put it this way: He embodies Alan Swan’s line in My Favorite Year: “I’m not an actor, I’m a movie star!” He knows how to be a movie star, but I’m afraid he shows very little range of style and expression from one role to another. Like Tom Cruise (and a good many other actors one could name), he will need to choose his roles with exceptional care, lest he find himself in roles for which he is ill-suited.
I don’t want to dump on Leo too hard here; he generally brings a clear, intelligent sense to his characters, but there were simply too many moments during Inception when I found myself feeling that Leo had stopped acting and was just saying words, or that he didn’t understand the subtler implications of what his character was saying. Fortunately, we in the audience were engaged in the story and the characters enough to fill in some of the blanks left by the acting gaps, so Leo’s lapses weren’t fatal flaws. Also, to give brief illustration to one of his limiting factors, he never quite achieves in any of his roles the instant likability that, say, Jimmy Stewart or Tom Hanks bring to most of their roles (not that his role in Inception calls for this trait; I’m merely using it as an example). Leo’s persona is usually more one of making us want to like him, which is subtly but importantly different, though a useful trait in its own right.
On a less serious note, Leo spends a lot of time in the water this time around – shades of Titanic! Leo has used getting wet on the road to stardom more than perhaps any actor since Johnny Weissmuller (with the possible exception of Jennifer Beals).
Detail that may be of interest only to me: Marion Cotillard plays the wife of Leo DiCaprio’s character. In 2007, she played Edith Piaf in La Vie en Rose. Prominently featured in Inception is Piaf’s recording of “Non, Je ne Regrette Rien,” a song I know very well (but that’s another story). Coincidence? Or conspiracy? You decide!
Obscure historical connection: Ellen Page’s character, Ariadne, distinguishes herself by constructing mazes. In Greek mythology, Ariadne was known in some legends as the “Mistress of the Labyrinth.”
Advice to those who haven’t seen it yet, but who plan to: When you see it, there is an excellent chance you will become confused at certain points. Don’t let it faze you. Take a leap of faith and stick with it. I can’t promise that all your questions will be answered – not all of mine were, which is part of why I want to see it again – but you’ll be glad you stuck with it.