Whether or not you like Christopher Nolan as a filmmaker, he deserves praise for assembling movies that get people talking. And in this age of tiresome reboots and pointless remakes, a flick that stirs the senses and arouses debate should be both treasured and respected. Enter Nolan’s latest mindbender, Inception.
I went into Inception expecting to be challenged and wasn’t disappointed. Nolan continues to be a maestro at weaving together unconventional and extremely detailed narratives. After exiting the theater on Friday, I went home and did something out of the ordinary for me: I drew a chart.
Sounds a bit strange, I admit, but I needed to wrap my head around what I had just witnessed. I was fairly certain Nolan had pulled off a remarkable coup. My haphazardly composed drawing was all the proof I needed. What he had done was create a movie within a movie within a movie. It makes sense considering the crux of Inception‘s plot deals with the protagonists engineering a dream within a dream within a dream.
Actually, by my count, Nolan layered six separate narratives into a 148-minute story. How did I reach the number six? Allow me to consult my lovely chart, which I took the liberty to clean up.
Reality (didn’t know what else to call it) is the movie as a whole; it begins with Cobb washed up on the beach and ends with him reuniting with his children. After he and his crew sedate Fischer on the flight to Los Angeles, the second movie begins inside the dream world. Then the dream world gives way to four separate short films, which I’ve labeled according to the different dream states. Each one of the dreams embodies a stand-alone three-act narrative. Each one is also set in an entirely different location from the last. Add all these levels up for a total of six unique films embedded within one amazing screenplay.
Now, extracting just the dream world section or an individual dream sequence would be confusing without the exposition provided in the reality portion, but they still operate as close-ended stories. Take Arthur’s zero-gravity adventure in dream number two for instance. By itself, it would make for a kick ass flick; it’s got action, intrigue, suspense and a logical conclusion. It’s also one of the most visually and technically brilliant sequences I’ve ever seen.
Nolan remains fearless when it comes to structure. In addition to his meticulous layering, he also utilized a circular or bookend narrative by starting and ending with a haggard Cobb meeting with an aged Saito. This technique was also employed in Memento and The Prestige and serves as an excellent device to guide the audience. A glimpse of the destination makes the impending journey that much more exciting.
Inception reminds me of a complex mathematical equation. Solving it can be tricky, but the payoff is utterly satisfying. It’s one of the rare movies worth seeing twice or even three times. Not because it’s so difficult to comprehend, but because it’s so damn good.
Don’t forget to check out the rest of FlickSided’s Inception coverage.