Inception is one of the most complicated stories I have ever seen on the big screen, but if you can figure out what’s going on, it’s an amazing movie filled with mind-boggling visuals and an intriguing exploration of how our minds work and the subconscious. It might also be the best movie of the summer, if not 2010.
The story takes place in a near future where companies send agents to steal secrets from within people’s dreams and the military are trained in artificially constructed dream worlds where they feel pain, worlds indistinguishable from reality, but from which they wake up if, in the dream, they die or are killed.
Leonardo DiCaprio plays Dom Cobb, a rogue dream extractor who believes that in addition to exploring other people’s dreams, it should be possible to plant ideas in their subconscious too. Called “inception”, it’s highly controversial, if even possible.
He’s hired by Japanese industrialist Saito (Ken Watanabe) and assembles a team to plant an idea in the mind of competitor and troubled conglomerate heir Fischer (Cillian Murphy). Cobb brings together an unlikely group: Ariadne (Ellen Page), a young “architect” who creates the dream worlds, Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), his point man and long-time collaborator, Eames (Tom Hardy), a likable, sarcastic forger and Yusuf (Dileep Rao) as a chemist.
In a world where dreams can be embedded in other dreams, nothing is ever quite what it seems, people aren’t who they seem to be, and the very fabric of reality can bend and distort without warning. It makes for one heck of a movie, and is one of the first I’ve seen this year where I’m ready to see it a second time to ensure I understood the layers of what was happening on screen. It’s that good.
Cobb has troubles of his own, though. His wife Mal (Marion Cotillard) constantly appears in his dreams, along with his two adorable tow-headed children. We learn more about why she haunts his dreams from his father-in-law Miles (a nice Michael Caine cameo) and it’s, well, complicated.
By the way, Inception works better if you have no pre-conceived notions about the story, so it’s a bit tricky to write this review without spilling the beans. I’d go as far as to suggest you skip previews and trailers too, going in and letting director Chris Nolan tell the story will maximize your enjoyment of this intricately plotted movie.
Like the best heist films (I’m thinking in particular of the amazing Nine Queens, which warrants a frame-by-frame examination of the last three minutes of the movie), as Inception proceeds, seemingly random scenes from the beginning of the film fit neatly into the puzzle and even the somewhat baffling opening scene suddenly makes complete sense in the story.
Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) defies gravity in the mind-bending Inception
As Cobb explains to Ariadne in the film, the fascinating thing about dreams is that “we create and perceive our world simultaneously”, though time passes far more quickly: an hour of dream time transpires in five minutes, and when there’s a dream within a dream, time passes even faster.
Watching a film is inherently a deceit where we, as the audience, are complicit in the voyeuristic world projected on screen. Most films studiously avoid examining this dilemma, where questions like “whose point of view does the camera represent?” are critical. Alfred Hitchcock reveled in this with his sly masterpiece Rear Window, and Nolan has again brought it to the cinema with Inception. Whose dream are we watching, anyway?
Inception also has one of the most satisfyingly ambiguous endings of any film I can remember, and certainly offers a far more powerful “wow. damn.” wrap-up than the cliché diluted ending of DiCaprio’s previous film outing, Shutter Island.
With its eye-popping visual effects, Byzantine story line, splendid performances from the entire cast (notably DiCaprio, who has matured into a superb actor) and thought-provoking world, I can’t speak highly enough about Inception. Go see it on the big screen – or look for an IMAX screening – and be prepared to be stunned by this amazing movie.