I’ve watched a lot of movies in my lifetime. A lot. And yet my film knowledge is severely lacking in one particular area. I haven’t watched a number of ‘big-name’ films: the movies that people praise all the time, the movies that are all over ‘movies you have to watch before you die’ lists, the movies that everyone knows by name … They’re all movies that I definitely should have watched by now, so I’ve decided to take the time and document my first impressions on them. One of these is Christopher Nolan’s “Inception.”

In the time since “Inception” was released, it has quickly become one of the most well-known, highly-praised movies of his filmography, one that has astonished film critics and stupefied moviegoers. And yet, despite the fact that it has been out for 10 years now and has made such an impact on the movie industry, I saw it for the first time just last week. 

I knew very little about the film before watching it, besides the fact that it was directed by Nolan (“Memento”), had a star-studded cast and that its plot revolved around dreams. I also knew that I was “supposed to be confused” when watching it. Finally viewing “Inception” was certainly a strange experience for me, and yet what really made it odd was the fact that I wasn’t that confused. 

So many people told me that “Inception” was a movie that was difficult to understand and that it was meant to be as such. But I think I did understand it, despite its somewhat confusing plot. Or, if I didn’t understand it, I didn’t understand that I didn’t understand it. I’m not sure if that makes sense, but when I take into account what movie I’m talking about, I suppose the confusion is fitting.

I understood that Dom Cobb (Leonard DiCaprio, “Titanic”) and his crew, consisting of Ariadne (Ellen Page, “Juno”) and Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, “The Dark Knight Rises”) among others, could go inside of other people’s dreams … and the dreams within the dreams, within those dreams. In all honesty, I was kind of fascinated by this take on dreaming and the film’s way of depicting it. One of the coolest things in my mind was the movement of the film, especially as the characters were nearing a ‘kick,’ the feeling of falling in a dream that forced them to wake up. I loved watching the strange action sequences that were a result of those ‘kicks,’ such as the now-iconic spinning hallway fight scene starring Arthur. 

The only part of the movie that didn’t necessarily fit in my mind was the end of the movie and the open-endedness of it. Most of the time, if a movie has an unsatisfying ending, I hate it almost immediately on principle. What’s the point of watching a movie that hasn’t really finished? But for some reason, I really enjoyed the odd, incomplete feeling of this particular movie. Until the ending, I was truthfully a tad bit underwhelmed by the movie, especially after hearing so much about it. I was expecting my mind to be blown and my confusion to be almost tangible. And yet, until that point, it sort of just felt like I was watching another movie … a good movie, to be sure, but still, just a movie.

So when I finally got to the ending, a point of the movie that did leave me scratching my head a bit, I thoroughly enjoyed it. I felt like I finally understood just why people watch this movie and why they are so enamored by it. It’s visually appealing, and the characters are interesting and unique, sure, but those are all aspects of almost any and all other movies. What sets this one apart is that it really forces you to leave your comfort zone and actually think. 

When I was watching “Inception,” and especially as it neared the end, I couldn’t help but think of my sister. She’s told me on multiple occasions that she hates watching movies that “make her think.” She doesn’t understand the point and feels that movies are meant to be enjoyed by just watching them. But I don’t think I agree with her, at least not for this film. You can’t be a passive observer of “Inception.” Right from the start of the movie, you feel like you’re in it with the characters. Even if it takes you a long time to understand what’s going on, or even if you never really understand what’s going on, you feel like a part of the crew. 

And that’s what sets this movie apart from the rest, at least in my head. People might say that “Inception” is the movie that it is because it’s “confusing” or because it’s visually interesting, but I don’t think that’s entirely true. It’s a movie that is meant to be absorbed, a movie that every viewer is viscerally a part of simply because they have to reckon with the fact that they are giving it their full attention. Almost nobody — myself included — pays full attention to every single movie they watch. But everyone, everyone gives “Inception” the attention it deserves. How many other movies can compare to that?

Daily Arts Writer Sabriya Imami can be reached at simami@umich.edu.

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