Written and Directed by: Christopher Nolan
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Ellen Page, Tom Hardy, Joseph
Gordon-Levitt, Ken Watanabe, Dileep Rao, Cillian Murphy
Rated: PG-13 for sequences of violence and action throughout.
The trailers for “Inception” wowed us with mindblowing special effects and intrigued us by leaving out much in the way of story. One might be forgiven for going into the theater to see it assuming that it was an action movie in the same vein as “The Matrix.” While there’s quite a bit of overlap between the two films, what “Inception” is, at its heart, is a heist movie wrapped in soft science fiction and philosophy. It’s also one of the most convoluted, thought-provoking movies to come along in a while. This is a film which assumes its audience is both intelligent and paying close attention.
“Inception” is set in a world very much like our own, with one important exception: the technology exists to share dreams. Hook two or more people up to a special machine (which appears to operate through intravenous chemicals of some sort) and they all share the same dreamspace, hosted by one of the group. It started as a way to train soldiers — you can feel pain in dreams, so soldiers could train full force without worrying about injuries. It can also be used to steal people’s secrets. Bring someone into your dreamscape and they bring their subconscious and their knowledge along, where they can be manipulated and the secrets extracted. The opposite — inception, infiltrating someone’s mind through a dream and planting an idea — is supposed to be impossible.
The best extractor is Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio), so when a powerful businessman needs an idea planted in the mind of his greatest rival, that’s who he turns to. The details of the plan are irrelevant: what matters here is that inception is complex, difficult, and requires a skilled team. Cobb assembles a group of people who are all the best at what they do. He has Ariadne (Ellen Page), a brilliant student who can design dream architecture. Yusuf (Dileep Rao) is their chemist, one of the few in the world who can handle such a complicated job. Eames (Tom Hardy) is a dream forger — he can impersonate anyone from reality inside a dream and persuade their mark he’s the real deal. Arthur
(Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is an old partner of Cobb’s, an experienced extractor. The team is also saddled with a tourist: their employer, Saito (Ken Watanabe), who insists on coming along so he can be sure the job gets done.
Once the film gets to the heist itself, it’s a nonstop roller coaster ride which very quickly becomes so convoluted that it’s hard to keep track of what’s happening. There are dreams within dreams, and events in each dream can affect the events in the one within it. It all hangs together surprisingly well — if you’re paying close enough attention to catch the little throwaway-sounding lines that explain what look like plot holes.
Christopher Nolan is no stranger to the mind-bending, convoluted film; “Memento” was groundbreaking, told in reverse to simulate its protagonist’s lack of long-term memory. If “Memento” was a precisely-built, perfectly-operating pocket watch, “Inception” is a masterfully crafted, smoothly-ticking astronomical clock.
Everything about the film grows organically from the tightly-written script. The performances are supported and given space by the writing, and it’s hard to put any single performance above the rest. This is an ensemble film, and each actor is equally important. The special effects are stunning. CGI and physical wizardry are merged to give us a fight in a rolling hallway, zero gravity, city streets which explode or turn back on themselves, three-dimensional representations of the Penrose Staircase (an optical illusion in which a drawn staircase appears to be a continuous loop), and more. This is a film which deserves to be seen in theaters, on the biggest screen you can find. It’s a feast for the eyes as much as it’s a challenge for your mind.
It’s also a film best seen in a group — discussions of the ambiguous ending are inevitable, and the complexity of the storyline rewards the time and effort of close examination. This is a film I’m looking forward to watching again, but it’s definitely not two hours of mindless Hollywood fun. If you just want to see things blow up, stay far away. This is the cinematic equivalent of a Rubik’s Cube.