“Inception” is the kind of movie where the previews don’t tell you much, but something about the presentation, and the fact that its a Christopher Nolan film, makes you know you’ll be in for something amazing. Before going to a movie, I like to keep my expectations in check, because my initial thoughts on movies always relate to how well they meet my expectations. For Christopher Nolan films, I have no qualms about letting my expectations run wild, and once again, like “The Dark Knight” in 2008, he did not disappoint.
The main plot of the movie focuses on Leonardo DiCaprio’s Dom Cobb, a thief who enters people’s dreams to extract ideas. If you bare with me on these details, like the viewer does while immersed in this film, the specifics won’t bother you. In fact, they’re presented in such a way that it makes complete sense. That is another thing Christopher Nolan does well – in dealing with fantastical plots that require a suspension of disbelief, we as viewers never question the premise, because it’s presented in a way that raises no doubts. It’s explained as well as humanly possible. In the case of “Inception,” it’s understood that these are people who have been taught how to share dreams, and are hired to use this method to invade a subject’s subconscious and take ideas or secrets.
Cobb is the leader of this team, hired by Ken Wattanabe’s Saito, a wealthy businessman, with Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Arthur, Cobb’s right hand man and a series of other characters with different responsibilities – Tom Hardy as Eames, the Forger who can morph into someone else’s identity in the dream, and Dileep Rao as Yusuf, the chemist who creates the concoctions that allow the dreamers to stay in a deep enough sleep to pull off their heist.
Saito hires Cobb for a special job, one that requires a great deal of preparation and execution, and since his previous team member, Architect Nash (Lukas Haas) failed on a previous mission, Cobb goes to his father-in-law, (Nolan film regular Michael Caine) who taught him everything he knows about shared dreaming, to recruit a young, genius architect – Ellen Page’s Ariadne. Together, the team must perform an “Inception,” the act of planting the seed of an idea into someone’s subconscious, as opposed to stealing one. Saito’s mark is Robert Fischer Jr., (Cillian Murphy), who’s the heir to a business rival of Saito’s , who wants the team to convince Fischer to take down his dying father’s empire.
Hope you’re still with me. Cobb and Arthur teach Ariadne the ropes of shared dreaming, and creating a realistic-enough dream world where their mark will believe it to be reality – the catch of shared dreams is if something within the dream is too out of the ordinary, the subject will point it out through their projections – the masses of “extras” within the dream, that fill out the realistic world – unnamed co-workers, passersby, the general public, etc. Once the dream gets too out of control, the projections will attack the dreamer who’s changing things – much like white blood cells attack foreign objects within the body. Ariadne takes to her task with ease and a sense of enthusiasm, to the point where Cobb is forced to warn her of the negative effects of using her new-found powers too creatively. Her curiosity causes some tension between her and Cobb, as she finds out about his disturbing past and how it constantly affects his dreams and subconscious. Aside from confiding in Ariadne, Cobb keeps these issues to himself, but because of the shared nature of the task at hand, threatens to destroy the team’s entire plan.
I’d better stop there, or I’ll delve into spoiler territory.
Christopher and Jonathan Nolan do many great things with this script, but what really is apparent is the strength of their reasoning and scientific explanation of this fantastical premise. Every bit of explanation makes sense in the realm of real life – for example, waking up from a dream thanks to a “kick” i.e. the feeling of falling. Also, if you’re killed in a dream you wake up from it. (unlike how if you’re killed in the Matrix, you die in real life. This is not 1999 science-fiction people.)
Once the specifics of shared dreaming are covered, we’re treated to some visual and psychologically stunning film-making. One of the things I loved about this movie was that none of the special effects were considered showy – sure, they were breathtaking and awe-inspiring, but all of them had purpose and were never like “hey, check this shit out!” Psychologically, due to the mysterious nature of dreams, you’re left with both the wonder of whether something like this could actually be possible, and the recurring thoughts of what your own subconscious is telling you in your dreams.
The pacing of the film is great too – there isn’t a dull moment, and it’s not completely covered by tension and action, like it was in “The Dark Knight,” (not a knock on Dark Knight, they’re just different kinds of movies). The nature of the film and its premise keeps the viewer on the edge of their seats – it helps that dreams are inherently a fascinating subject to wrap your mind around. Nolan does a great job of both confusing and immersing the viewer in the action. The confusion is never to the point of giving up, its enough to keep you guessing until the very end, which is exactly what Nolan does.
Writing and directing aside, the film is wonderfully cast and the main actors, especially Leo, provide incredible performances. Thank God Martin Scorsese let Nolan borrow his muse for a film. Not sure who else would have been better in that part (although I have to admit, parts of his character’s emotional struggles reminded me of his “Shutter Island” performance). I’ve always liked Ellen Page, and she’s great as a young and enthusiastic addition to this team of professionals – adept at her job, but curious enough about her leader to bring about a good level of character drama that really solidifies the dramatic tension of the film. Marion Cotillard, who plays Cobb’s wife Mol, does a great job of toying with Cobb’s emotions throughout. I found myself locked in on her character whenever she would show up. If you’ve seen the movie, you’ll understand why. If you haven’t, seriously – stop reading this and go see it now.
My only criticisms of the film is that during the main action sequence of the triple-deep-dream, the dramatic tension follows the characters down through each level of dream, but the previous dream levels remain the same until one big culminating moment that makes up for this. Also, I had a bit of an issue with Saito’s character getting injured during this sequence – to create more tension they could have played up the consequences of this injury more, which would make the resulting payoff between Saito and Cobb hit a bit harder.
It’s been said a bunch, but this is definitely the kind of movie you’ll have to see again, which fits right into the trend of recent Christopher Nolan films. You’ll read it over and over about how great the film is, but a review like this really can’t do it enough justice. I’ll go see it again with you, just so you can see it for yourself. Seriously.