Gus Mackenzie’s review published on Letterboxd:
I once wrote an essay concerning Inception in high school, and while proofreading it, my teacher commented on how vague I was regarding the plot and premise of the film, saying that I had to go more in depth. At this moment I gained a newfound appreciation for Christopher Nolan and the team responsible for the marketing of this film. I explained to my teacher that if I were to try and explain Inception, it would most likely take up most of the essay, a problem likely dwarfed by the one Nolan faced when pitching the concept of the film to a team of studio execs at Warner Bros. For on the face of it, Inception sounds like a maddening film. So easily could a filmmaker become lost in the possibilities of such a premise, or get bogged down in exposition, but Nolan, at this point a household name for The Dark Knight, is no ordinary filmmaker. Instead he creates a monumental picture that is epic in scope but razor sharp in focus, with a story that peers into the very depths of the human soul.
Now, like Nolan, I’d like to get a bit experimental here. In an effort to better examine this film and what makes it so great in a single review , I’d like to compare it to another high-concept sci-fi film from the 2010’s starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt that received critical adulation, Rian Johnson’s Looper. While both are terrific films, one is the clear winner in this comparison.
1. Handling of concept and introducing it to the audience.
Both these films had a tricky task ahead of them by getting audiences up to speed on the rules of their world. For Looper Johnson had to convey how a world where time travel and telekinesis is a thing. Understandably, Johnson opts for the use of narration from Levitt’s character. The technique is useful, but it shows a lack of creativity, and it’s only really effective in darkly comic films (like Goodfellas). However, Nolan is a tad more creative, and he might have the more difficult task. The rules regarding dreams have (excuse the pun) many layers, and Nolan quite smartly utilizes an audience surrogate in order to get this information across. Many people have complained that the exposition bogs down the movie, but it comes at appropriate times, and certainly doesn’t take away from the experience. The film also utilizes flashbacks quite effectively as we learn more about Dominic Cobb, and interestingly enough, they happen more frequently the more layers they go down in the dream, representing how the film is going deeper and deeper into Dom. The film also shows in a visual way how time speeds up in the dream world in a breathtaking opening sequence. Looper is also, in my opinion, quite lacking in how it incorporates time travel into its world building. Like dream sharing in Inception, time travel is used for illegal activities, but in Looper’s case, only for the disposal of bodies. For such a juicy storytelling tool, Johnson shows a remarkable lack of imagination in how to use it. Inception on the other hand shows how dream sharing affects the people in this world, and how it can be severely psychologically debilitating. Ultimately I’d say that Inception is far better at relaying and utilizing its core concepts and ideas far better than Looper.
2. Visuals and Score
I’ve already briefly mentioned the visuals in Inception, and the film quite rightly took home the Oscar for Best Visual effects that year. However Looper boasts some incredible visuals of its own as well, chiefly concerning ‘The Rainmaker’. And while they are good, Inception has the benefit of a 160 million dollar budget, which allows it to be much more creative and innovative with its effects. And you can’t deny how impressive and iconic that shot of Ariadne folding the city in two is. On a visual level, no one can compete with Inception. And as regards to score, well, the score for Inception was composed by Hans Zimmer, so I’ll just leave it at that.
This one is more tricky. If I’m looking for a straight up action movie, I definitely wouldn’t go to Inception. Looper on the other hand has slick, tightly directed action scenes that pack a punch, with a particular standout being when Bruce Willis goes to town on everybody at Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s work. However, Inception also has that iconic hallway fight where gravity disappears, and if nothing else, I remember that scene better than anything else in Looper.
Inception is an incredible film. It is one of the best, and certainly one of my favorite, character studies. It is an incredibly complex film, with so many layers and meanings packed inside, to completely unpack it would be a gargantuan task. It stands as one of the most iconic and influential films of a decade that has seen Hollywood slowly go off the deep end and lose touch with its audience. It manages to delve deep into the human psyche and plant an idea. Some radical notion. That there’s still such a thing as great, original and innovative stories that challenge the audience.