Inception: Sci-Fi Success Without E.T.

inceptionThis weekend I saw Inception, the latest Christopher Nolan film (with music once more by Hans Zimmer – I’m calling them the new Burton-Elfman, except Zimmer’s been around forever).  The movie, which stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Ellen Page among others, is proving to be quite successful – and, perhaps not coincidentally, quite polarizing amongst the geeks I know.

My review, in a few words?  I really, really liked it.  I don’t know if it’s the most watertight plot in the world, but it’s well-thought, which is more than I can say for most big-budget movies made today.  It’s proof that an increase in resources doesn’t have to decrease the IQ of the intended audience.  And, perhaps most interestingly, it’s proof that a film can be speculative fiction and big-budget without relying on aliens or the future.

And still be successful.  On its surface, a film about a concept that is half science, half fantasy, that takes place mostly in the mind with the subconscious as the villain is not really the stuff of big box office returns.  And yet, this film manages to deliver.  Yes, there are a few car chases and gratuitous uses of anti-gravity effects, but this film is almost more amazing in what it implies than in what it shows.  After all, it would be impossible to show every potential reality that could be constructed in a dream – so Inception uses a few well-placed examples that get our own imaginations firing.

Some have said that it’s a film about reality, and I won’t really argue.  For me, however, that’s focusing on a symptom and not a cause, and I feel the film is more about inspiration and imagination.  Inception might not feature killer robots or a biological weapon, but the mind is a tool that has just as much potential for destruction.

In fact, the only thing I wish Inception had covered in more depth is the potential harm to Robert Fischer, Jr.  The movie spends much of its time addressing the sinister fallout from the first attempt at inception, but they gloss over the ramifications of this second attempt (unless I’ve missed something; there is a lot going on).  Much is made of the “alert system” that activates and destroys at the slightest hint of messing about in the mind; will any inception, even a successful one, prove ultimately self-destructive?

I don’t mind asking these questions, though, because to me, these are the questions that are fun to ask.  Not “what the heck just happened?” which, sadly, some seem to experience after seeing this film (while others deride it because it hasn’t turned their brains to mush).   No, the questions I’m thinking about are more of the “what if” variety.  And in my book, that’s the best kind of speculative fiction.

What about you?  Have you seen Inception?  I went into knowing nothing of plot or reviews; has word of mouth altered your experience?  And do you consider this a victory for speculative fiction in film?

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