Hello! I'm Tom. I designed a game called Gunpoint, about rewiring things and punching people, and now I'm working on a new one called Heat Signature, about sneaking aboard randomly generated spaceships. Here's some more info on all the games I've worked on, here's the podcast I do, here are the videos I make on YouTube, here are some of the articles I wrote for PC Gamer, and here are two short stories I wrote for the Machine of Death collections.
Jesus Christ. That was a bit exciting.
Tony called it “the Matrix for grown-ups,” which I like. Because it’s important that this isn’t just smart, it’s cool. It’s exactly the film you’d want from a guy with the brains to make something as convoluted as Memento, and the flair to make an action film as spectacular and compelling as The Dark Knight.
I’ve never really seen anything that keeps my higher brain functions chewing on new ideas the whole way through, while still being a ferocious and stylish action film. This guy should be a director or something.
There’s a lot to spoil, so everything from here on out is hidden until you’ve seen the film and clicked here.
It’s a pretty disastrous premise.
Who cares what happens in a dream? Who cares about changing one guy’s mind on some arbitrary issue? Who cares which corporation gets the upper hand? And who wants to sit through a separate backstory plotline to explain why DiCaprio’s on the run?
Apparently, me. Suddenly I give a shit.
I care about the dreams themselves because the film is great at setting out hard, logical rules that dreams follow. It established not only what a dream inherits from the reality it’s nested in (gravity, equivalent physical sensations like rain when you’re wet, music), it even gives specific conversion factors for how fast the relative timelines flow.
I care about changing one guy’s mind on some arbitrary issue because it’s not really about changing it, it’s about making him think it was his idea. The greater and more convoluted lengths they go to cover their tracks make me all the more invested in how the bizarre mind-heist works out.
I care about which corporation wins solely because I care, unexpectedly, about DiCaprio seeing his kids. It’s not that I feel for the guy – he’s a hard actor to sympathise with – it’s just Nolan’s maddening trick of constantly flashing back to the children without ever showing their faces. SHOW ME DAMMIT. I don’t even care, I just, you know, care.
And I seem to want to sit through his backstory when it’s this bizarre, nasty and confusing. You get that she’s dead, and that his previous experience of inception probably led to it. But the exact circumstances are worse than you immediately realise, and her persistent delusion has elements of Lenny’s disturbing quest in Memento.
But it’s mostly about the climax. A quadruple-nested setpiece where some of the team stay behind in each dream layer to deal with its hazards, while the rest go deeper and discover more.
They’re entertaining individually, but the way they’re interspliced is clever in itself. Each dream unfolds faster than the reality it’s dreamt in, so as we follow DiCaprio down into nested layers of subconscious, the worlds he’s left behind run slower and slower. By the time the car-chase of the original dream runs off a bridge, the fall alone gives us seemingly hours in the level-four climax of DiCaprio and Cotillard relationship.
That slowing ought to ease the tension of the faster action scenes, but instead the frantic cuts and honking score let each layer spread its urgency and dread to the others. The threat in one could trap everyone in the layers below it, so the more action-packed higher layers also have the highest stakes. It’s a terrible film to relax to.
I kept thinking the stress, action and emotion levels had got so high that returning to the plane scene could only be comic. But that’s handled with a clever jolt, and you’re too disarmed by the question of “Why then?” too feel comfortable enough to laugh at the calm reality of a long haul flight.
The film never pretends the more dramatic events are anything more than the subconsciouses of a bunch of sleeping people on a plane, but it still feels ridiculous to return to that. Just because it’s been so good at making us care about things we wouldn’t normally care about.
Tweets that mention Inception, by Tom Francis -- Topsy.com: [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Tom Francis and dmosbon, dmosbon. dmosbon said: RT @Pentadact: Why Inception's premise is rubbish and why Inception is not: http://www.pentadact... ...-inception (Spoilers hidden) [...]
Nonomu198: Tom, as a reviewer of things, don't you think saying "product x is y+z" a bit unprofessional?
It's only good for salesmen to associate said product to something good. Doesn't really say anything about the product (unless it rips off two said other products, which is bad).
I didn't watch it, thus obviously didn't read the spoiling part, but a smart action film sounds good. Plus, the first picture looks like it's taken from a hilarious scene.
Tom Francis: I dislike it when it cites two things the reader might not know, but the Matrix is only one thing, and even the few who haven't seen it must have been exposed to its tone and themes by now. It can be an efficient way of setting people's expectations along the right lines, and in some cases can be less vague and arbitrary than the alternative: trying to file them under a genre.
nabeel: Nice to read your reactions to the movie. I really enjoyed the film, and am still going over some of the details and working them out. If anyone hasn't seen it yet, I highly recommend IMAX for the utter clarity of the film, especially during the action scenes.
It's interesting how so many really dark ideas and themes are in Nolan's films, but he never spends time to spell them out or explore them. The things that Cobb and Mal go through together, quite messed up. The goal that the team is trying to accomplish, and what Fischer goes through, dark and completely left to the viewer to realise. One of the possible interpretations of the endings and the film as a whole, quite quite dark and film noir. I love it. I hope you get the things I'm referring to as I didn't want to spoil it all in the comments.
Bret: Indeed. Amazing movie.
But the names Cobb and Mal, in retrospect? Well, first time in my life I regret seeing Firefly, if only for the associations those names carry.
LaZodiac: Why the spoiler tags? All you did was tell us the premise, which is something we probably learn in the early moments of the movie, and the "team splits up as they get further into the mind" which is something that is pretty sensible to see coming.
But I digress, people might get mad at you for saying even that much. At any rate, this movie does seem good but I'm waiting for DVD.
Ronin08: (SPOILERS. SO MANY SPOILERS, YOU'VE BEEN WARNED.)
This film was literally one of the best I've ever seen. I went in expecting good, I came out with fantastically, amazingly, astoundingly amazing. There were a couple audio hiccups that bugged me (Film major with friends who work in audio), but once it got rolling, oh my GOD I was constantly on the edge of my seat. I've never thought DiCaprio was fantastic, but I was rooting for him and his team the whole way--I like how they were all very subdued characters, and not cariactures---but bits of personality would creep in to flesh them out, like Arthur's dry sense of humor and how he managed to wing an excuse to make out with Ellen Page's character. (Ariadne, was her name.) I liked how she managed to be a smart Ellen Page character without the usual quirky hipster twist---Eames was just badass and likable. The Indian guy won points for his capable action-hero driving abilities, and even Saito got some likable points for being more involved than the typical "Mysterious corporate figure who pulls the movie's strings."
Just so, so so so much good stuff in this movie. I'd need hours to recount it all.
Scoopsy: It was an incredibly well-made movie and I enjoyed seeing it, but I had a different reaction (and markedly opposite to Ronin08).
I found I couldn't connect with any of the characters on the screen. DiCaprio's plight seemed awfully generic to me and we knew nothing else about him. We had even less to go on for the supporting cast.
It's a shame that the movie included so many great character actors, as I felt there were awfully few characters to be played.
No arguing that it's very clever, very smart, and very beautiful. It definitely had brains, I just felt it had no soul.
DiscountNinja: Indeed, it was amazing! Can't praise it enough - the ideas, dark and complex were brillient.
I agree completely, in that I don't know WHY I cared, because De Caprio is not easy to care about ... but the incredible four-layer scenario was so tense (and I usually have a barrier between me and what a film wants me to feel, not so here) that I actually did.
Cobb was interesting enough to keep me in the main plot, and the support characters were very compelling. Arthur's sense of humor and his rivalry with the bad-ass Eames was brilliant, the chemist and Saito were compelling to watch as well. Saito particularly got even more interesting in proportion to the level of the dreams and his injuries.
Adriane was also good - a smart female character, and not in the way that some characters in that arch-type are annoying. I actually wanted to know more about her the most (with Eames a close second, followed by Saito). She's also a pretty lady, which helps, but I was glad to see that neither she or Mal were used in the usual "Enter-Sexy-Character" way that most action films seem to treat women.
As to the allegation that it had no soul ... I completely disagree. It had plenty of soul, I mean, the entire Fischer plot was nothing but soul, emotion and feeling and the manipulation of that. It doesn't have soul in the sense that it makes YOU feel what they feel, but it has soul in the sense that it makes you feel and think something about them (an altogether harder task, I think) - whatever that emotion and your opinion might be. More than that though, the soul of the film itself is in the ideas presented rather than the characters. Frankly, the acting could have been atrocious but as long as the plot remained unchanged it still would have been a hell of a film.
Concept over character here, I think. Not always the way to go, but here the concept was a goose that laid a golden egg.
verendus: Spoiler warning:
did anyone else get the sense that Cobb wound up becoming trapped in "limbo" forever, and that he only dreamed he woke up on the plane (and everything that comes after)? I mean, the top did spin and spin and spin at the end, while it clearly doesn't in the real world. This, of course, means that we have absolutely no idea of what happened to the other members of the group...
DiscountNinja: I think it was intentionally left open at the end - the top was spinning,but it wasn't very stable and looked like it might tip, but before we could know either way it cut to the credits.
Probably left open for sequel, frankly :P
DiscountNinja: Erm, by which is mean SPOILERZ for my last comment.
DoctorDisaster: Spoilers may follow.
I think one of the movie's great strengths is that in almost every case, your impressions of the characters aren't based on dramatic plot points, but simply the dialogue and acting; the way they interact with each other tells you everything about them. Like the movie itself, the specifics are often ambiguous, but what little is shown creates depth with the efficiency of haiku. This allows for a single, incredibly clear emotional through-line: the main character's need to come to terms with what happened to his family. I think without the clarity of that touchstone, the movie would be a confusing mess rather than a fascinating riddle.
Other wonderful, unexpected things:
The movie's best action sequence by a mile rests on the shoulders of its least plausible action hero, and spotlights the fact that he isn't a particularly good fighter. And yet: BADASS.
The way people were talking about their reactions to the film, I was expecting a twist ending, not unlike Memento. There was sort of a twist, but you saw it coming a mile away, you knew its consequences throughout, and it wasn't hard to guess correctly. It worked not by being shocking, but by resonating so perfectly with the emotional through-line of the entire film.
All the insane machinations of the mind-heist, despite their moral ambiguity, culminated in an empowering moment of actualization for the "victim." This emotional highlight of the film again rested almost entirely on the strength of the acting and parsimonious dialogue.
The weirdness of the dream worlds didn't rely on tricky editing or discontinuity. When weird stuff happened in dreams, the camera sat there and very carefully showed it happen. Changes aren't arbitrary, so you don't feel unmoored and the action doesn't feel hallucinatory.
1stGear: I'm confused as to why people are calling Ariadne a character because she wasn't one, not in the traditional sense. She had very little significance in terms of the overall plot and what little she had was pretty quickly discarded once the heist got underway. She didn't have a clear personality like Eames or Arthur beyond "curious about Cobb". The majority of her dialogue was asking the other people what was going on. In other, less skilled hands, she would have been called flat and two-dimensional.
The reason Ariadne works and makes an already interesting and complex movie even more so is that she isn't her own character, she's the stand-in for the viewer. It's why she says what you're thinking the moment you think it. Its why she's as confused and desperate for answers as you are. It's why she's the only one pursuing the mystery of Cobb, because you are every bit as curious about it.
The few moments she breaks back into the main plot and has an actual effect on it (being the Architect, "kicking" Fischer out of Limbo) are moments of necessity, and I found one in particular, where she comes up with the plan to get Fischer out of Limbo and save the heist, to be jarring because it wasn't consistent with what I was thinking at the moment. But it was the only hiccup in what was an extremely smart and well-done "character".
Also, revolving hallway scene: best fight scene ever or bestest fight scene ever?
Dante: Most of the characters in the film are pretty light, they have personality and charisma, but no real depth. This isn't a bad thing, if we'd spent time delving into Arthur's backstory and motivations the plot would have been slowed down heavily and we wouldn't have really gained anything.
One of the reasons Inception is a masterclass of how to construct a film is because things that aren't important are cut, everything we see is important and everything fits together. Cobb and Fischer's characters are important to the plot, so they are developed (but we only see these aspects when it makes sense for us to see then, rather than having them explained to us) the others don't matter, so they're kept light and simple.
Jaz: 1stGear: She's certainly the embodiment of an age old exposition device, but I wouldn't say she was two dimensional. You don't need her life story to pick up on her personality - she doesn't stay out of people's business, she doesn't listen to warnings, and she's crucial to Cobb's arc in that she's always meddling with his shit. I certainly wouldn't have been making infinite mirrors while Cobb was telling me not to - nobody in the audience would have. I think she's as much of a person as Nolan needed her to be - which is good writing.
Coded One: Spoilers ahead.
I was thinking about the movie, and it's ambiguous ending, and I realized something.
Remember the van scene, when the group is floating underwater? All the members of the group escaped from the van, EXCEPT for Cobb. This leads me to believe that he's still stuck in Limbo at the end of the movie. That's why the top keeps spinning.
Kind of a depressing ending really.
Inferno: That was hands down one of the most enthralling movies I've ever seen. I can't really put it into words but that was incredible.
The only thing I didn't really understand is that when they miss the first kick (breaking the barrier), Arthur isn't woken up. Did they plan to intentionally miss the first one or just use it as a warning for time running out? I would have thought arthur would have been woken up by the first kick as they broke through the barrier. The only reason I could see him not waking up is due to the headphones in some way? And if that's the cause then how did the chemist (I forget the name) know that they would miss it?
Other than that confusion. Wow, just wow. the shots and the way they all came together and built up toward the end, the characters and the dabbles of humour to keep it entertaining and the ending (I chose personally to take it as being unstable and about to fall :p); it was all mindblowing. A brilliant experience.
Bad Inception Reviews, by Tom Francis: [...] did it in two sentences, and I play computer games for a living. For my next trick, I will know what the word alibi [...]
Chris: Saw it last night! Really enjoyed it. Still thinking about it, and it's the first film in years that I'm considering seeing again in theaters.
My main gripe: Dicaprio. He is so fucking bland and uninteresting. There appears to be nothing going on in his head but an effort to recite his lines in the correct order. He's not terrible, he's not bad, he's just like a blank-eyed, frowning, line-reciting placeholder for a more skilled actor. Bleah! Still, he couldn't ruin the film, he just made it less great than it could have been.
Seondary casting gripe: Ken Watanabe. I like him but I could not understand 90% of what he said. I just sat there thinking "Oh dear I really hope you're not saying anything important because I'm not getting a damn word of this."
Casting goodness: Joseph Gordon-Levitt. He's so damn cool in his damn cool tailored suit that even hanging him upside down from a fucking wire doesn't make him look uncool or even less cool. It may have made him more cool. How can you be cool in zero-G? It's unpossible. But he was. We need to send him to the space station and have him float around and generate cool-rays to power our cities with. You could drop him into a tub of yogurt and cover him with bees and he would still be cool.
As for the movie, I loved that Nolan didn't make the dreams super-trippy and magical: having all those seemingly persnickety rules in place initially felt a little overkill but at the same time ensured the climax wouldn't end with, "Well, this is a dream so anything can happen, so I dreamed up a spaceship that flew us to safety, so we're saved, hurray!" And using those rules he built a wonderful layered structure you could see all at once and know how the levels were all tied together. Great stuff.
I loved that it was a mish-mash of a lot of different types of films. It was a heist film, a con film, an action film, a psychological thriller, even sort of a ghost story. And it succeeded at most of those elements, except maybe some of the standard action stuff. I found the suspicious unarmed subconscious citizens far more threatening than the heavily armed, can't-hit-the-side-of-a-fucking-barn subconscious guardsmen. And anytime you've written in snow-skiing with machine guns, I think you've gone too far. But the zero-G hallway punchout made up for the Call Of Duty snow level.
I love that the film moved at a brisk pace, trusted the audience to keep up, and started out complex and got more-so, and then more-more so. There were a lot of ideas at play and I think they all meshed together nicely. Kudos on not making it 3D, not cramming in some kind of lame twist ending, not dumbing it down or spoon-feeding it.
Chris: Inferno: I think maybe the first kick, with the van going over the side, was too early? Because the Chemist was being shot at so he jumped the gun. And that's maybe why Arthur missed it, because he (and everyone else below) were still sedated. I know there was some discussion of missing the kick on the snow level, but I can't recall the details.
Jason L: Just (finally) saw it. First, yes. The planned first kick came far too early, because Fischer's subconscious was more trained-militarised than they had expected, and the preparations to transmit the kick down to the next level weren't complete.
I had two opposing moments of fridge logic an hour after the film. The first: A man who is trained in extraction resistance and therefore knows about extraction just had a nightmare about being interrogated by the exact group of people with him on the plane? That seems super suspicious. The second: Oh wait, they wore masks. I love you Christopher Nolan.
In theory it shouldn't help that the snowmobiles and skiing weren't part of the original plan, but somehow to me it does. That was 'supposed' to be a heist, not a Bond sequence. The army of mooks and equipment is down to bad intelligence, and the urgency to Saito's condition and the kicks situation.
If I understand correctly... Assuming we choose to believe that the SPOILER SPOILERs, Cobb has just essentially become the world's first Operating Thetan, having managed to claw himself and another out of another person's dream's Limbo through some unimaginable, fundamental advance in the art of positive thinking.
verendus: It's cool how every single person who's seen the movie knows exactly what you mean by "the SPOILER SPOILERs."
TooNu: Hey Tom!
The missus and I saw Inception yesterday afternoon and we had a conversation about it that lasted almost the entire length of the actual film. A great movie by any accounts. I just wanted to get that on record, on the internets, here on your site...ok bed time.
Will: Why did you bother to describe the plot when you said this article was supposed to be for people who have already seen the movie?