Inception ★★★★★

This was my first viewing of Inception in a little over two years and I watched it with my (soon-to-be) 13-year old brother who was seeing it for the first time. I still remember my first time with Nolan's instant classic — it was a midnight showing in a 25% full theater. My Dad (ironically) fell asleep halfway through, but I sat, completely wrapped up in this story of dreams and reality, guilt and redemption.

It was magic. Pure magic. I had never seen a mainstream blockbuster anything like it and the film inhabited my mind for a long time after. I went back for a second taste and was subsequently drawn into a new fascination with dreams, writing short stories on the subject (which I haven't looked at in years), joining an online forum (which I no longer frequent) and starting a dream journal (which I still keep). Six years on, I am still spellbound by the allure and mysterious nature of dreams and it all goes back to this film.

Looking at my brother's face and speaking with him throughout the night (pausing the blu-ray player every couple of scenes to discuss what was going on), I could plainly see that same inspiration. He excitedly told me that it was the most clever story he'd ever seen in a movie, and I recall thinking something similar six years ago.

Following my experience with Interstellar in 2014, I was afraid that a revisit to Inception would reveal the film to be not as clever as I had remembered. Perhaps Nolan had hoodwinked me this whole time into buying something that was actually quite flimsy.

Well, this didn't happen when I re-watched Memento a few weeks back and it certainly didn't happen this time either.

I still absolutely adore everything about this film. So much complexity in the construction of the narrative as well as in the editing and how it relays information. Sleek, efficient action sequences that still make my jaw drop in certain moments (the hallway scene is an all-timer for sure). A script that disperses meaning in ways both overt (banter & exposition) and subtle (motifs that gain more weight each time we see them). Philosophical issues that arise in the film's conversations about fantasy and truth, escape and consequence.

The concept itself of a dream heist and one man's inner journey throughout it is so unbelievably layered and creatively thought out — every scene is essential and the pieces fit together so smoothly (with that one beautiful caveat at the end forcing the viewer to entertain the possibility of the unreliable narrator). Yes, real dreams are much more spontaneous, trippy and illogical than those portrayed in this story, but one has to understand that the dreamers in this case are essentially expert lucid dreamers with the ability to shape their surroundings to what fits their needs. Even if that isn't a satisfying enough excuse, I don't think the movie's relatively inaccurate grasp on dream logic is that big a deal when you have a plot with this level of intricacy.

Also, the most frequent accusation that Nolan's has faced as a director has always been a lack of empathy for the characters, a real struggle for the audience to emotionally invest in their plights. However, for me personally, this movie is the biggest exception to that notion. The pathos is real in Inception. I love how the stakes are raised and how Cobb's emotional conflict and quest for relief is weaved into the central narrative of another man's quest for relief and the artificial means of bringing it about. I can't speak for anyone else, but it just works for me. The second-to-last scene in the airport is enormously cathartic in particular.

I'll only briefly get into theories about the top. I've gone back and forth on it and I think the film has plenty of evidence to support both sides. Some have argued that the ambiguity undercuts the spirit of the moment, but I think it adds an extra layer to it. The reunion satisfies the heart, while the spinning top agitates the mind — it's a conflict I find oddly fitting when juxtaposed with the film's recurring themes and it's a feature that sets it apart from other summer tentpoles that often chooses to do one or the other. Considering Cobb's weaknesses and personal delusions, his serenity is basically assured. The top isn't even his totem, so it's actions are inconsequential for him anyway — perhaps behaving only as he subconsciously wills it to. Is the "validity" of a reality all that important when the person living within that reality gets what they've always been chasing?

Instead, the top is for us, the audience — an enigmatic question mark, or maybe an ellipsis, that encourages us to go deeper, and explore the puzzle as we see it. A spark for lively discourse that has the potential to expand into broader topics of subjectivity and personal happiness.

If only more blockbusters could have such power.

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