Inception Review – The Emperor Has No Clothes

The emperor marched in the procession under the beautiful canopy, and all who saw him in the street and out of the windows exclaimed: “Indeed, the emperor’s new suit is incomparable! What a long train he has! How well it fits him!”

Nobody wished to let others know he saw nothing, for then he would have been unfit for his office or too stupid. Never emperor’s clothes were more admired.

“But he has nothing on at all,” said a little child at last. “Good heavens! listen to the voice of an innocent child,” said the father, and one whispered to the other what the child had said. “But he has nothing on at all,” cried at last the whole people.
Hans Christian Andersen in the fairy tale The Emperor’s New Clothes (1837)

Given all the hype and hoopla surrounding Christopher Nolan’s latest film Inception and the hyperbolic praise heaped on the movie, you have to ask yourself what the f*ck is going on here.

Group-think triggered hallucinatory hysteria? Possible.

Insane desire to equate confusion with genius? Certainly possible.

Folks, we just returned from the midnight show of Inception at a theater on the East Coast.

And, here’s our verdict – the wildly over-hyped Inception just does not live up, either, to the stratospheric expectations or the fulsome praise lavished upon it.

As the bard would have exclaimed, Much ado about nothing.

Cockamamie Nonsense – Well, Almost
Unlike our Indian film-makers, it’s not every day that you find big-name Hollywood directors trying to pull the wool over the viewers’ eyes.

But for some decent visual effects and Hans Zimmer’s soundtrack, we’d have been readily forthcoming to completely dismiss Inception as a cockamamie flight of fancy.

Alas, those twin saving graces cannot totally salvage the film from the rubble-heap of a gibberish story, self-inflicted damage wrought by the astonishing hubris of director/writer Christopher Nolan of Memento, Insomnia and Dark Knight fame.

Nolan made his name in Hollywood with Memento, yeah, the one incorporating novel non-linear narrative technique, a method the director first dicked around with in his black and white film Following.

Surely, all ye desi schmucks remember that Memento was also the carrion on which the Indian vultures feasted for the two Ghajini films and helped burnish Nolan’s reputation with movie-fans in the sub-continent.

Heist Redux
Unless you are hiding under some rock in the Maoist jungles of Chattisgarh, the broad outlines of the Inception story are already common currency.

The tedious movie is built within the broad framework of the heist genre although the crown jewels at stake here are of a rather sui generis nature – valuable secrets and ideas buried in the subconscious of targets.

Leonardo DiCaprio is cast as the brooding Dom Cobb, a specialist in subconscious security who can extract ideas and secrets for his shadowy corporate masters through the laughably silly technique of sharing dreams with the victims/targets.

Extraction to Inception
After one of the ‘extraction’ missions fails, Cobb is dangled an attractive bait by a corporate chieftain Saito (Ken Watanabe) – Instead of extracting secrets from the subconscious, Cobb is tasked with the unusual mission of planting an idea into the mind of a business rival.

Assemble your team, Mr.Cobbs, orders Saito and choose your men more wisely.

The goal – to get Saito’s rival, the business heir Robert Fischer (Cillian Murphy) to break up his father’s corporate empire amid vague references to energy dominance in the world (lo behold, the evil corporation is never far behind).

Inception is the name for that onerous ‘planting ideas’ job to be accomplished by sharing dreams – now, don’t you dare laugh again –  with the target.

Piffle of Dreams
Well, there are dreams.

And then there are the multi-layered dreams – dreams within dreams within dreams.

Plus projections of dead people into the dreams.

Fights within dreams.

Limbo states in the dreams.

Oh yea, there are even ‘Kicks’ to exit the dreams and more piffle.

Ah, the sheer conceit of it.

If these cinematic equivalents of the sleights of hand don’t confuse you, don’t blame yourself.

Blame the director Nolan.

Wait, why would Cobb accept the Inception job given that he had planned to head to Buenos Aires and lie low for a while after his previous failure.

You see, the attractive prize that Saito tempts Cobb with for accomplishing the seemingly impossible is to fix his vague legal problems (explained later) that are preventing him from returning to the U.S. and be with his two young children.

As if all these weren’t bizarre enough, we have the strange spectacle of Cobb’s late wife Mal (the fantastic Marion Cotillard of La Vie en Rose) appearing as an agent saboteur on his missions.

Leap of Faith
Sure, movies often dive into the phantasmagorical realm (Remember Johnny Depp’s Pirates series)  in their elusive attempt to dramatize, titillate, amuse and ultimately entertain the audience.

But phantasmagoria is not the same as silly. As in Inception.

Inception also fails, and in big measure, in injecting an emotional, dramatic core into this weird dream-trip, apart from several illogical elements.

For instance, a mere telephone call from Saito is supposedly all that’s necessary to make Cobb’s legal problems go away.

Poof, just like that.

With such magical powers at your disposal, why would you even need to hire some ‘extraction’ experts. Seriously.

The core is so hollow that there’s just no emotional connect with the audience.

All these are compounded by the deliberate confusion of what is real and what’s a dream.

Some have surmised that it takes more than one viewing to appreciate the genius of Inception.

Now, that’s a double-insult to the audience.

Not So Grim, Please
DiCaprio and Marion Cotillard are accomplished actors but you’d be hard pressed to know that given the mono-maniacal grim countenances they sport throughout the film.

The duo never roar to life as the Joker (Heath Ledger) did in Nolan’s last movie, The Dark Knight. Unlike the Joker’s crackling sentences, the dialogs in Inception never rise above the pedestrian.

The diminutive Ellen Page (of Juno fame), roped in to architect the dream space, looks flummoxed. As if a reluctant accomplice in the entire charade.

In the words of Saito, Nolan asks Cobb, and ultimately the audience,to take a leap of faith in his journey. While Cobb readily does that, it’s going to be harder to get the audience to do the same.

You see, Cobb really had no choice. But the audience does.

For the opening show at a mid-Atlantic theater on the East Coast, the hall wasn’t even full. No crowds outside.

An ominous sign not boding well for a summer release.

Hans Zimmer’s soundtrack is one of the highlights of this film.

As are some of the computer-generated ‘gravity-denying’ special effects.

But in the absence of the heft of a gripping story, imagery of a freight train barreling down a L.A. street, an avalanche or Paris compressing on itself can only do so much. And they are nowhere near enough. Mere saving graces.

Guys, if you surrender to the hype machine around Inception and drink the Kool-Aid, the con is on you.

Do not be seduced by the sheen of Nolan’s reputation or the panegyric scribbles of other reviewers.

This weekend, fear not to lift your collective middle fingers to this poppycock assault on the senses!

Related Stories:
Hey, Even Inception’s Actors Don’t Get it
Inception Soundtrack – Good but ain’t Great
Christopher Nolan’s Insomnia Review – Delightful

17 Responses to "Inception Review – The Emperor Has No Clothes"

  1. 1984moviefan   July 16, 2010 at 11:06 am

    Oh no!

    I just booked tickets to watch the movie with my friends.

    Looks like my money is going down the drain. Responds:

    You write: Looks like my money is going down the drain.

    Think of it as your modest contribution to keep the engines of our economy humming. 😉

  2. abhi220   July 16, 2010 at 12:05 pm

    Thank you. This time your review is just in time. Saved my $30.
    ‘Let me sleep’ tonight. Let’s see whether you can figure out. Responds:

    You write: ‘Let me sleep’ tonight. Let’s see whether you can figure out.

    Hey, that was easy.

    We just watched the movie a few days back. 😉

  3. முனிAndy   July 16, 2010 at 3:15 pm

    I would take your midnight reviews (eg. TDK) with a grain of salt.. you should have gone to a theater which allows you to enhance the viewing experience via gin.

    One RT guy says “Inception is either a great, mind-bending movie or one big swindle. Let’s go with the former.”
    Another one says “Are they handing out joints at the box office for this?”

    Will wait for the BD release.. Responds:

    1. Our recommendation for readers is to take all those adulatory reviews cum grano salis.

    2. You write: you should have gone to a theater which allows you to enhance the viewing experience via gin.

    We have seen theater folks serving pizzas inside the hall lately but for Gin, we guess, a second Renaissance is necessary. 😉

  4. 1984moviefan   July 18, 2010 at 1:09 am

    Just finished watching the movie.

    You hit the nail on its head when you mentioned that the dialogues were weak.

    Nevertheless, despite your harsh review I think the movie is a one-time watch a-la masala film.

    It definitely doesn’t deserve its 9.3 Imdb rating. Responds:

    Some SI readers are already predicting it’s a shoo-in for the Oscar. 🙁

  5. cberameshin   July 19, 2010 at 6:50 pm

    Im eagerly waiting for this movie. It’s getting released here in Germany only after 2 weeks.

    Your review was quite disappointing, when in contrast to imdb: 9.4

    Usually the understanding part for Christopher Nolan’s plots takes time….give a second watch. May be you’ll change your opinion!! Responds:

    Have been thinking of a second trip to the movie house. Let’s see.

    • முனிAndy   July 19, 2010 at 8:17 pm

      so the movie was indeed good.. it has got you thinking about revisiting.. 😉 Responds:

      Aha, as if we do all we that think about. 😉

  6. amitshetty   July 21, 2010 at 11:02 am

    Inception is huge success in India.
    So is Tere Bin Laden. Responds:

    As of July 19, Inception has done $72.97 million in the U.S.

    We would not consider it a great showing given the hype, star-power (Leo) and performance of Nolan’s previous film Dark Knight.

  7. 1012900   July 22, 2010 at 10:51 pm

    Inception had a bigger opening than the three bollywood movies which released recently. The collections for inception was higher in the weekend. It’s the very concept of Inception that is drawing the audience to the theatres.

    It isn’t a surprise that it’s doing well in India. We haven’t seen or even imagined a movie like Inception hitting the screens here.Also considering that the audience is tired of all the crappy bollywood and kollywood movies they have been exposed to, Inception comes as a cool breeze on a hot summer’s day.

    I still haven’t seen it to comment how good or bad it is. But I’m sure I’ll like it. It’s sure to be orders of magnitude better than the crappy films releasing here. Responds:

    You write: It’s sure to be orders of magnitude better than the crappy films releasing here.

    Not to worry.

    Thillalangadi or wateva-langadi is releasing today. Bound to shatter shitter all records. 😉

  8. 1012900   July 23, 2010 at 9:07 am



    On a serious note, have u seen the trailer?

    Laughably silly.

    I’m totally fed up with Kollywood. When hollywood can come out with brilliant movies like Shutter Island, Memento, Insomnia etc, why are these bozos sticking to the same old stories? Responds:

    No, haven’t seen the Wateva-Langadi trailer. 😉

    No plans.

  9. 1012900   July 23, 2010 at 9:18 am

    Can you recommend any good action or thriller movies?

    I’m planning to watch them with my friends during the weekends.

    As of now only Amityville Horror is on my list. Responds:

    The Bourne movies are alright, if you like action.

    The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Swedish with English sub-titles), Collateral (Tom Cruise, Jamie Foxx), Kontroll (Hungarian) are decent.

    Angelina Jolie’s new film Salt, which released today, is also nice.

  10. 1012900   July 24, 2010 at 12:11 pm

    The Killer is the bollywood copy of Collteral. I’ve seen Killer. Going to watch Collateral too to compare the two.

    I’ve seen the Bourne movies. Thinking of watching James Bond movies like Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace.

    The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo? Hm, let me see if my nimble fingers can do the job 😉

  11. cberameshin   July 28, 2010 at 9:14 pm

    Just returned from Inception premiere here in Berlin. Got a complimentary beer too!!

    Now Im of the opinion that Indeed the Emperor is wearing Clothes suiting his stature and your senses are obscene. May be the beer gave me such an impression, but the thing is I felt that…

    Of course there were several illogical elements…like the one reg Saito as u mentioned, the hypothetical machine that connects the dreams etc…

    As you said, the level to which one can connect the movie to themselves was quite less compared to Dark knight. Leonardo’s wife “Mal” character was quite irritating. Hans Zimmer was outstanding, but still it couldn help bringing the attachment. Dialogues were not to that extent of appreciation.

    Even after all these things, I feel the movie deserves an imdb 10/10. It’s just for the “Idea” Nolan has formulated. He was not quite convincing, that lack of understanding himself is what which made the film Confused. This Consequently makes the viewers inquisitive over this new dimension or perspective.

    I you have noticed, the ideas for some scenes were dexterous. For Eg: The Architect girl testing the dream world by bending it & making the buildings act as pillars connecting the lands @ 180°. The Finishing touch (or the touch for a Sequel), totem !!. The character which can impersonate etc..

    “Some have surmised that it takes more than one viewing to appreciate the genius of Inception.”—Searchindia

    Second Time….ya sure..I will watch it!!…Not to understand the concept..but to make myself linger more in this world and hopefully to help myself form new ideas!!

    “For the opening show at a mid-Atlantic theater on the East Coast, the hall wasn’t even full. No crowds outside”–Searchindia

    I say: Bullshit!!….This analogy doesn work out!!

    You make yourself obsessed with the negative points . Have a positive outlook my Friend!!…May be its time we accept that its the idiotic obsession which makes you unique!! 😛 Responds:

    You write: Even after all these things, I feel the movie deserves an imdb 10/10. It’s just for the “Idea” Nolan has formulated. He was not quite convincing, that lack of understanding himself is what which made the film Confused. This Consequently makes the viewers inquisitive over this new dimension or perspective.

    Guten Abend, mein Freund!

    Well, since you currently live in Deutschland let’s start with a local analogy.

    Hitler must surely get was a 10/10 for his unique “Idea” of the ovens that killed a mere six million and Stalin a 12/10 for his mass extermination “Idea” of friends, family, enemies and strangers.

    After all, it’s the “Idea” that counts, right?

    Who cares about the execution, content, morality or the clarity of an “Idea”….Wait, except those at the receiving end.

    Idee über alles!

    – mit herzlichen grüßen
    Deine SI 😉

    • cberameshin   July 28, 2010 at 10:57 pm

      Nicht nur der Idee meinen Freund, auch die Auslegung und die Fähigkeit der Geschichte an das Publikum denken zu machen!!

      History… the things you mentioned are indeed cruel, but its those things (read ideas) which got their names everlasting (in the negative sense though) in history. Whatever they did, im not justifying it, they were committed towards what they believed in or obsessed with….The commitment!!…its the thing, I think, we should learn!!…Also their strategies–political & war!!! & misc ideas…like Autobahn etc..

      Human Birth and Death, I would say insignificant. Rather I would give importance to their capability—the extent to which they can think and do.

      Better analogy this time…but not the best one!!…These ideas were executed well unlike inception which according to you is not!!

      Good to know that you know some Deutsch…!!… Kelvi gnyanama?? illa??? Responds:

      Ja, wir haben Deutsch gelernt aber total vergessen.

      To borrow from JFK, Wir alle sind Berliner.

      Gastarbeiter raus. 😉 (a popular slogan in the late 1970s and early 80s.)

  12. முனிAndy   August 1, 2010 at 9:59 am

    Watched it on IMAX.. It does not deserve a middle finger.. as usual, my suggestion, please don’t go to midnight shows.. especially these long ones.. especially the ones that need you to engage your brain.

    Having said that, I don’t have the urge to visit the theater again – like the one I had(and curbed) after watching TDK and Avatar.. But I will definitely rent the DVD when it’s out, to understand the pieces that flew over my head.

    The crowd was good, but nowhere near those two monsters. Responds:

    The biggest crowd we’ve seen ever was for that stupid vampire nonsense. In our current hung-over state, can’t remember its name.

    The smallest crowd – Salt (just three people).

  13. 1012900   December 26, 2010 at 10:21 am

    Thanks to my nimble fingers, I got the bluray version of Inception.
    Yes, it is pretty damn confusing at first, but all the answers to the viewers’ questions are in the movie, if only you had the eyes and ears for it.
    I found it funny that if all Saito needed was a phone call to free Dominic Cobb of all the charges against him, then why the hell would he need Dom’s team to perform Inception to win over Robert Fischer senior’s company?
    But if he didnt’t then you won’t have Inception, right? But all the same, it’s a jarring note.
    You need to use your mind a lot if you got to understand the concept and various confusing elements in the film.
    The one question at the end is, Was Cobb in the real world or still in limbo?
    The answer to this question lies in the simple fact that, while in the dream, Cobb has his wedding ring, which is absent in the real world. At the end, Cobb doesn’t have his wedding ring, so he’s in reality all right. Plus, his kids from his memory look younger than the kids shown at the end. Responds:

    You write: You need to use your mind a lot if you got to understand the concept and various confusing elements in the film.

    Bravo to the nimble-fingered one who can make sense out of confusion.

  14. dontilak   April 5, 2011 at 9:08 am

    dude u are the most messed up reviewer in the entire internet……..i can understand about some movies but i bet even in a zillion years u cant even conceive a fraction of an idea from inception….. Responds:

    You write: i bet even in a zillion years u cant even conceive a fraction of an idea from inception…..

    You are so right.

    Such unadulterated nonsense is beyond our ken.

    Hey, Even Inception’s Actors Don’t Get it

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