Watching a movie is like dreaming in the dark with eyes wide open. This oneiric element of film has a long tradition. I had planned to write a lengthy, somewhat academic, and very clever review of Inception, the new Christopher Nolan blockbuster about dream-spies - one that would reference Freud, Lacan, Kubrick, Welles, - you name it. I am less sure I need to now.
Having read Cosmo Landesman's review in The Sunday Times, I think we concur on the following: 1. Inception's representation of dreams, and dream states, is unconvincing - a weird mistake, since everyone dreams and will recognise this problem - in the sense that the film refrains entirely from any sexual or much repressed or symbolic content in the dreams; and also, presents very few non-linear (non-narrative) episodes. 2. The film's filmic references to Kubrick and Welles (i.e. the new Rosebud in the safe at the end, the Lady from Shanghai mirror references, Mr Arkadin billionaire-quest plot), Hitchcock (Vertigo etc), and Francis Bacon (in the bath) - are visually clever, but perhaps too obvious, as is the Ken Adam-style winter HQ. 3. The movie is yet another Leo flick with a dead wife where what is real is uncertain, and questioned using the medium of film - perhaps one too many. 4. It is self-important to the extent that it becomes boring at times, and almost insanely complex.
On the up side, it has some fun Cronenberg moments, where the dream-thieves are like junkies, seeking "kicks", and the Ouspenskyian swirl of time and place becomes deliriously funhouse madcap. It is also ambitious for a Hollywood movie, in that it tries to explore emotions, ideas, film history, and suspense, as well as violence. Unfortunately, it is not the amazingly mind-blowing cultural moment that The Matrix was. However, by beginning and ending the film with a "surf-tormented shore" from the Edgar Poe poem, "A Dream Within A Dream", on which the film's central agon is based, it has the credentials to be deemed poetic. And that is worth celebrating.
Further, a few gags ("you mustn't be afraid to dream a little bigger"), a speeding train down a main street, some floating bodies in an elevator, the stirring Hans Zimmer score, and a nice role for Tom Berenger, add value to the whole. On a last point (spoiler alert): the film's twist is in the title - it's "Rosebud" being that the "Inception" is Nolan's, on us, the audience - planting in our minds doubt as to whether what we have seen is "real" or not - clever since, within the film-as-film, at all layers, it is actually filmic artifice, yet at stake is the main character trying to break out of that (by dying and rebirth) into actuality. See Deleuze for the way in which the filmic can be seen as a becoming.