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10 years later: Christopher Nolan’s ‘Inception’ is One of the Smartest Action Movies

Christopher Nolan’s Inception, which arrived ten years ago this week, is a highly entertaining, sci-fi-tinged action-adventure movie, populated with a first-rate cast and some absolutely amazing visuals and a propulsive score by Hans Zimmer. But beyond that, it’s a tremendous feat of world-building. It tells an extremely complex story, in a way that’s uncommonly satisfying. 

Released in July 2010, Inception was the film Nolan made in between The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises. 

The film, which Nolan both wrote and directed, grew out of an 80-age treatment written by the director. It starred Leonardo DiCaprio as Cobb, the leader of a corporate espionage team that extracts information from the sub-conscience of targets, by physically infiltrating their dreams. The team also includes sidekick Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), young architect Araidne (Ellen Page), and “forger” Eames (Tom Hardy.) 

Inception‘s central caper, which takes up more than half of the film’s 148-minute running time, has then seeking to instead inject (the titular inception) an idea in the head of a corporate scion (Cillian Murphy), that he should break up his late father’s company.They’re doing so on behalf of a corporate rival (Ken Watanabe), who has the power to allow the long-exiled Cobb back into the United States to see his children. It’s a plan that requires multiple levels of dreams-within-dreams, all of which are rendered in different locations and styles. 

Cobb, when the movie begins, has been in exile for years, after he was framed for the murder of his wife (Marion Cotillard), who continues to haunt his subconscious, to the point where it jeopardizes the team’s missions. 

This scene, with DiCaprio and Page, in which he explains the team’s work, may be the best of Nolan’s career: 

Nolan’s film, which I consider the best he has made outside of the Batman franchise, has many virtues, including some breathtaking visuals within the dream sequences, the performances, and that Zimmer score. But probably the best thing about the film is just how successfully it jugglets the many things it’s doing. 

The film has an extremely complex plot, one that I’m not entirely sure I understood the first or second time I saw the film (Sam Adams’ explainer of the film is the best I’ve read, and something I return to on every rewatch.) It’s going on in, at one point, four different stages of reality, at which time moves at different paces, with critical information parceled out slowly. A film like this could very easily have collapsed into endless exposition, or been a confusing muddle, but Inception keeps it all together and makes sense. 

We still have no idea when we’ll be seeing Tenet, Christopher Nolan’s new film, which is currently slated for an August release, although more delays seem inevitable. But Inception- which last month, strangely, had a screening within Fortnite, though it’s no longer available to stream on Netflix- remains a special film that more than holds up on repeated viewings. 

Written By

Stephen Silver is a journalist and film critic based in the Philadelphia area. He is the co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle and a Rotten Tomatoes-listed critic since 2008, and his work has appeared in New York Press, Philly Voice, The Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Tablet, The Times of Israel, and In 2009, he became the first American journalist to interview both a sitting FCC chairman and a sitting host of "Jeopardy" on the same day.

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