Posted by: David Stewart | July 17, 2010

The Inception of a new way of story-telling

One of the things that made The Matrix such a must-see movie in its own summertime was that not only did it create a new language for expressing something fundamental about our existence, it was also a stinking good movie. Overshadowed a bit by its poor sequels, the original made us think deeply about ourselves and our world and see it in a new way.

Inception is much like this, and could become this year’s cultural-philosophical touchstone disguised as phenomenal movie-making.

A good story, we’re assured by Donald Miller, is when a protagonist wants something and overcomes conflict to achieve it. By this measure, Inception delivers, with Leonardo DiCaprio as a sophisticated thief who invades people’s dreams and steels their secrets, a premise which is established with some rapid techno hand-waving without being over-explained.

Like the best speculative fiction (thank you, Neal Stephenson), or a good New York Times crossword puzzle, the world of Inception is not completely explained at first to the viewer. Part of the fun is to puzzle out what’s going on. The challenge of the screen writer is to explain enough of their world’s context to keep the viewer engaged before they can grasp it. I spent the first half hour or so of Inception in this confused state of trying to understand what was going on, so don’t expect to have everything laid out on a conceptual platter.

But the payoff is strong. In particular, the story leaves enough ambiguity to allow for plenty of speculation without being unsatisfying.

Don’t worry guys. In spite of this philosophic psychobable, there is plenty of amazing effects, explosions and gunfire for a bucket of summertime corn. In this month’s edition of American Cinematographer, they describe how an amazing amount of the footage was captured “in camera”, with real sets doing the job of CGI where possible. In one sequence, a hotel corridor is represented by three separate physical sets to achieve the physics needed for the story.

Like Memento, Christopher Nolan’s earlier mind-bending redefinition of story-telling by the flickering light of the movie projector, Inception writes a new lexicon and delivers it nicely.

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