Over the weekend, I stood in a line wrapping the block outside the theater, waiting along with everyone else to get in to see Christoper Nolan's new film, Inception. The wait was worth it. The film is entertaining, visually stunning, and for someone who loves thinking about design, it's a must-see.
POSSIBLE SPOILERS BELOW:
For starters, the characters have names like Eames and Ariadne (the Greek "Mistress of the Labyrinth"). Cobb, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, is a thief of subconscious information who hires Ariadne (Ellen Page) to become an architect of dreams, building endless staircases and Brutalist structures that seem to expand as they go further inward. (Look for a well-placed 2001 reference in the third level of the movie's central dream.)
The film is full of witty comments on style and replication. In one of the first scenes, Saito (played by Ken Watanabe) realizes he's dreaming when his face is pushed into the carpet in his mistress' apartment and he notices that the green shag is polyester, not wool. In another scene set in a hotel hallway, Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) confronts a subconscious projection in a graceful anti-gravity fight that mimics some of the moves from Fred Aistaire's famous dance on the ceiling in Royal Wedding.
Several critics have noted that there's a lack of satisfactory character development — the New Yorker's David Denby calls the film a "strenuous process" and says a few scenes between Cobb and his dead wife Mal (Marion Cotillard) "are the only humanly involving elements in the movie." I think a review from Architizer frames the film's cool temperature really well: "In a film somewhat devoid of human emotion, the subtle characters let architectural emotions go wild. Maybe Inception's buildings are mugging for an Oscar or something."
Like 2001 or Blade Runner or The Matrix, Inception relies heavily on sets and visual clues to tell the story and, if you like that kind of thing, it's an engaging movie. The dreamscapes are brilliant, there are plenty of layers to unpeel, and it's the kind of film that opens up space for questioning how and why we design our worlds — both internal and external.