Ash’s review published on Letterboxd:
Inception. There is so much I want to say that has been said about it because it’s just that good and it deserves every sense of praise it can get, but I’ll try to keep this short and refrain from much, though in my terms that’s still a lot.
Nolan’s most ambitious work pre-Interstellar remains his second best, obviously only behind his most ambitious work. But even in that, he strikes quite the film out of his mind-bending action-thriller-blockbuster. It’s easily one of the greatest films in my opinion, and certainly one of the most entertaining and thrilling films I’ve seen. It’s fun, and beyond that fun, thrillingly fascinating and thematically a deep rooted film.
Rooted in its core are themes of realities and discovery - another prime example of Nolan once again exploring the bounds of the human mind, in all it’s creativity, imagination, ambition, and emotion. He once again puts forward his love for the exploration of the human self by looking at realities, specifically reflective realities such as dreams; how we interact with the ability to explore dreamscapes; how we as humans interact in this dreamscape and how this changes our perception of ourselves and of how we look at our reality. If our reality is considered real, where does our reality start and end with the existence of new realities such as dreamscapes. I think his exploration of realities and the difference of real realities and dream realities is particularly significant and especially, profoundly pronounced as a main theme and exploration for Nolan here. Cobb loses his sense of reality in Limbo, dream space beyond his own years, infiniteness beyond his own existence. A conscious meet unconscious of mind space, dream space, an infinite abyss of unconstructed thought. Far beyond his own human limitations he and Mal lose themselves in limbo, to come back decades after (in mind minutes as I’d like to say) to a reality Mal does not recognise as real anymore - a reality she believes to be dream space, but a reality in which Cobb - convinced by the reality of his kids being with him and Mal - is ordinarily back into. It’s an interesting perspective on what alternative realities, including undiscovered, habitable dream spaces, can evoke in our perceptions. How do our perceptions of real life change with the discovery of realities far beyond our own little minds? How does that change our outlook on our current reality and of what limitations we can go past with this.
It’s interesting how dreams have affected Cobb in particular. It hasn’t particularly shifted his perception on real life, blurring the lines between the dream state and real life, but it’s shifted those around him, like Mal, whose death is a product of her shifting perspective on reality from her own grasp of normalisation with the dream state being her own reality. It has had a profound impact on his fears for certain, in how he constantly scours for proof of reality - a sense of security from his totem that he is out of his dream state. It’s changed his outlook to that of a more serious one, a man with a mission, determined to get his life back to where it was, back home with his children.
And perhaps that’s where the ending of the film takes us to. A hopeful, not fairytale, but rather cathartically suiting ending. A rather decide-for-yourself ending, that perhaps is less about the instance of the outcome, on wether Cobb is in reality or dreaming, but rather on the actual outcome itself, on the fact that Cobb is content with being back with his kids no matter what reality it is, because wherever he is right now, he is with his kids, his home and his life, and to him, that is the reality he chooses to live in.
Personally, in the hey-ho contemplation of where Cobb is, I do believe he is back in real life. Yes, the spinning top totem starts to shake at the end, but also, that isn’t his totem, it was Mal’s, which he now claims for himself, but his totem was the wedding ring he wore on his finger, which wasn’t there at the end, which meant he wasn’t dreaming and was actually back in real life, having successfully completed the job and bringing Saito back. But what does matter most with the ending is that he is back with his kids and is content with that reality.
Perhaps with this message of content and final realisation of the self, Nolan is implying to us that we should focus on the present instead of living so far ahead with the future - that we should live in the moment instead of in the future that we so desperately are curious to explore in our human ambition because the present, this certain pointed dot in time is where we are at now, and that’s what should matter to us, the now, because c’est la vie.
Inception might as well be Nolan’s love letter to the human mind - our deep passions, our extensive ambitions, our unending imagination, our flaring creativity, our determination to far exceed our own limitations and boundaries, and the emotional complex that drives us with these human aspects of life. He has a deep love for humankind, and the idea of how far our limitations can be exceeded, and I think with Inception, he truly does justice to his love for our perception of the human self, and truly does act as an ode to our existence as beings who dare to aim higher and reach for the stars, and as such, Inception is a perfect companion piece to his magnum opus, Interstellar, a film that chronicles humankind’s ambition and our strive towards an evolved sense of discovery and exploration, far beyond our own lives and our own planets. If my instincts are right then there will be another film joining this trilogy of human ambition, evolution and exploration very soon so I truly can’t wait for that.
But on the final note of Inception, let’s dare to dream, dream big and aim higher than we know we can go, because that’s how we go as far as we can, and how we flow with the bouts of out natural human instinct to be ambitious and to explore far beyond our own lifespans (yes, a quote form my favourite Nolan film which is also my favourite film in general). Dream, that’s where we strive as humans, in our emotions, in our ambition. As Eames says here, “Don’t be afraid to dream a little bigger, darling.”