The general public and critics alike like to speculate what made Inception such a buzzword this past summer. Could it be that the film offers so many pop-psychology discussions and what-if debates in Hollywood moviegoers that hadn't been seen since The Matrix? Or is it the fact often stated that it came at a time when big budget action movies emphasize spectacle over story, and audiences at large were hungry for something a smidge brainier? But the same was said of Nolan’s own The Dark Knight just two years prior, and the still-sky-high box office returns of the braindead entertainment it’s supposedly replacing certainly knocks a few pegs off that theory.
Or maybe the answer is much simpler. Maybe the film just hits a universal chord. And I'm not talking about that BWOOOMP sound Hans Zimmer kept making.
My initial impression of the film can be read here. Generally positive, with reservations on the emotions behind its busy plot. A look at the film again on Blu-ray is a chance to revisit that side. Another viewing is in fact kinder to the characterizations, which I had trouble with originally. "Cold and mechanical," I accused it being. "...More fun to follow than to contemplate," I concluded. Yet many months later, here I am finding myself contemplating a lot about the scenario presented in the film, particularly that of Leonardo DiCaprio's Cobb's relationship with his kids.
The action movie spectacle remains just as big be it on IMAX or my modest home setup, and that's an aspect of Inception that needs no further praise. Great special effects, grand images and thrilling stunts, obviously, but what's become more obvious on the second go is the meticulous scripting. Like Memento and The Prestige, Nolan makes heavy use of foreshadowing and dialogue callbacks. The first thing Marion Cotillard's Mal says in the movie is, "If I jump, would I survive?" To which Cobb replies, "A clean dive, perhaps." An oblique film noir exchange between a playful femme fatale and a dry anti-hero, the first time. Knowing their history together going in, though, the meaning of those words obviously changes. It makes Inception itself a carefully planned heist: Nolan implants several pokes teasing at the relationship between Cobb and Mal before he ever reveals the backstory. Looking at it that way, shortchanging developing that relationship in favor of p-l-o-t makes a little more sense. We were being—pardon the cheese—incepted by Nolan in the build-up to the big flashback. The film practically begs multiple viewings by being so busy, so as to force upon looking at this relationship with a knowledge of what happened. Doing so, the important "jump" in the flashback hits harder.
By the same token, the ending requires the same line of thinking. Once you've accepted and expected the film to ask you to choose the reality of the ending, the answer ceases to matter. Dream or no dream, for the entire movie, Cobb's "reality" is that he can't get his kids to "turn around" and reunite with him, and Inception's whole complicated journey, every single action, is designed just to make Cobb understand that he has to let go in order to get anywhere. Basically, Inception is an overly elaborate 200 million dollar grief counseling session.
I still believe there's a way to tell this story that doesn't feel so rigidly architectural (despite the theme of the movie), but to say the emotions are flat is a bit unfair. Like Joseph Gordon-Levitt's Arthur in the movie, Nolan is just playing with perspectives, and the heart of the story becomes more obvious from another angle.
Blu-ray Bonus Features
Lately, WB has been pushing a Blu-ray feature called the Maximum Movie Mode, where the director would pause the film, appear on screen and talk about the making of that particular scene. The Extraction Mode, found on the movie disc, is similar, but Christopher Nolan doesn't play host or control the movie. Instead, at certain hot spots, the film would dissolve into a making-of video of the scene we're about to see. It's surprisingly not annoying, as they've chosen some pretty good moments to insert these videos. Alternatively, you can watch these videos separate from the movie, but that's not really as interesting. Watching Inception with Extraction Mode on brings the total running time to 3 hours and 10 minutes.
It's a very nice feature to have, but comparably lite to the usual Maximum Movie Mode. It goes into the making-of, but not a deconstruction of the film. This sort of goes in line with Nolan's keen refusal to explain or offer his interpretation of the movie. Fans of the movie's ambiguity would want it that way, anyway, lest risking ruining a dream you've pieced for yourself based on your own understanding of the story. For simply a behind-the-scenes look at the magic of the production, the Extraction Mode is more than sufficient.
The Bonus Features disc contains the fun stuff. As usual with Nolan's movies, the features favor quality over quantity. You won't find boring deleted scenes or outtakes here (Nolan believes that if a scene is left on the cutting room floor then it should stay on the cutting room floor). The main featurette is a 45-minute documentary on lucid dreaming, which Nolan researched for the movie. This is reminiscent of the inclusion of a documentary on insomnia on the Insomnia Blu-ray. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is the charming host, interviewing real people with very interesting stories of strange dreams.
The prequel comic book The Cobol Job that was previously released online is included, in animated motion comics form. If you snap a picture of the totem sticker on the Blu-ray cover and text it to the listed number, you'll get a text back telling you to press a sequence of buttons on your player's remote, which unlocks a secret feature. This gives you a second prequel comic, bridging the end of The Cobol Job with the beginning of Inception. Both comics are written by producer Jordan Goldberg and illustrated by Udon studios. They're not exactly necessary—showing the espionage that went into how Cobb and his team replicate Saito's love shack in Venezuela.
Other supplements included are the trailers and posters from the marketing, 40 minutes of the soundtrack (for those of you who like to listen to soundtrack albums on your Blu-ray player?), and a BD-Live feature that takes a look at the film's fictional dream tech.
The set also includes a barebones DVD disc that contains just the movie, as well as a digital copy.
"Inception" is on sale December 7, 2010 and is rated PG13. Action, Sci-Fi, Thriller. Written and directed by Christopher Nolan. Starring Cillian Murphy, Ellen Page, Joseph Gordon Levitt, Ken Watanabe, Leonardo DiCaprio, Marion Cotillard, Michael Caine, Tom Hardy.