Written and Directed by Chris Nolan
Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Ellen Page, Tom Hardy, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Marion Cotillard, Ken Watanabe, Cillian Murphy, Lukas Haas, Dileep Rao, Michael Caine, Tom Berenger, Pete Postlethwaite
In all the films I have seen in my life, maybe three made me feel like I needed to be an adult to understand and appreciate it. These films are The Player, Goodfellas and now Inception. Of these three, the latter may just be the best. Starting with ideas formed while in his late teens, Christopher Nolan wrote an 80 page treatment for a horror film based around dream stealers around the time he released another classic film, Memento. Realizing that his vision was beyond his resources (including film making skill) at that point, he took on the big budget Batman films to ramp up on both. During that time he continued working on the script, working in elements around the heist and giving the protagonist more emotional stakes. Eventually he moved the story from being horror to more a straight up thriller.
Although straight up is hardly the word to describe the world that inhabits this film. From the beginning, when we realize that we are in some sort of dream state, the viewer never quite gets the sense that they are on solid ground. Totems are explained to be the basis for reality. In the case of the protagonist, Cobb (DiCaprio) the Totem is a spinning top. He spins it, and waits for it to fall. If it does, a sigh of relief. He is in reality, according to the rules explained in the film. Given that every dream presents its own set of rules, however, one cannot, likely, guarantee that this is so.
One of the givens in this world is that dying in a dream brings you out of the dream. Being injured or maimed allows your pain receptors to pass through to your present conscious. This can be problematic.
In the roughest sense of the word, the story is about idea stealers who, because of interference from an unexpected source are caught and ultimately, tasked by their initial target (Watanabe) into taking on a new target. This time, instead of extracting something from that person’s dream, will instead plant an idea in the head of the target. This is the inception of the title.
The person they are out to plant the idea in is Robert Fischer (Murphy), an heir to a fortune of a company on the verge of dominating the field that Watanabe’s own corporation is in. What their companies do really is not all that important, though, to the task at hand.
There are several people in Cobb’s team tasked with different roles. Point man and partner is Arthur (Gordon-Hewitt). He
continues working with Cobb, even though Cobb has been compromised. He finds the job as a meditation. He is good at it, and ultimately reliable, because that is what he does. He provides exposition, and it turns out, keeps a cool head when things take an unexpected turn.
The architect is Ariadne (Page). She is new to the game, and a quick learner. Quick enough that she immediately raises a red flag that is not being raised so prominently by Arthur. This is not enough to keep her out of the job, though, as Cobb is well aware. The challenge alone is enough for her.
Eames is the identity forger, and is an essential piece to the team. His ability to take on other characterizations is integral to convincing Fischer that the ideas are his own. How this is true, I really can’t explain. One really has to see it to know.
Yusuf (Rao) is the man who makes everyone stay sleeping through a series of sedatives. This allows one to realize that they are in a dream, but still be unable to leave. Sedatives present a big problem, though. If you die in a dream while on sedatives, you end up in a perpetual dream state. Lost in limbo.
“You’re waiting for a train, a train that will take you far away. You know where you hope this train will take you, but you can’t be sure. But it doesn’t matter – because we’ll be together.”
These words have a haunting effect on Cobb, for reasons that become clear when viewed through the lens of a myriad of dream states. These dreams are too fantastic to be believed. They are simple, yet inspired by the dreamer. To describe them would be a disservice for the simple fact that they weave together like the finest tapestry.
This is the rare movie where the story is so good, the acting so flawless and the special effects are so seamless, you forget that you are watching a movie. DiCaprio long ago stopped being just an actor around the time he did The Aviator. His work here should earn him an Oscar.
The other two I would like to see nominated are Hardy and Gordon-Hewitt. Not only did they push the physical limits of acting, but they managed to infuse personality at every level, through every stunt. Gordon-Hewitt alone has probably the most remarkable scene in the film, going from a rotating state to zero gravity all the while acting like he was not too surprised at any point, but forever working to figure a solution for each new predicament. Hardy portrays a professional so witty and enthusiastic that his energy helps to carry the viewer through the film, even though the mind was ready to shut down by the second frame due to overuse.
To concentrate on these three seems unfair. Everyone in the film seems to have been born within this world and accepting to the mind-bending experience. The cohesion between the characters is so intense, one gets the feeling of an impartial but completely enthralled viewer of another world.
Christopher Nolan was already one of the best directors alive, but this movie pushes him up to the upper reaches. Curious that last year there was such a debate over The Hurt Locker vs. Aviator, which were movies of different genres, when
viewing Inception, you see a film exceeds the acting, story and emotionality of the former and makes so much more a realistic experience than the latter that it is hard to imagine that you have left their world when you exit the theater.
Nolan’s breathtaking use of special effects was tied to more traditional methods, and the computer generated stuff is impossible to
distinguish. More than this, that he developed this movie over such a long period gives the impression of a true artist, using every bit of their free time to create a myriad of projects in their head. That the concepts of this movie began while he was so young is truly inspiring. His future is the future of Western cinema.
So far I have seen this landmark film twice. What I thought I understood the first time, I am now not so sure. What I was unsure of before, I now feel I can grasp a little more firmly. The next time I watch it, which will be soon, this all could change. This is a film that adds something to life, while making you question where the you begin and if the movie really ever ends. Or if the Totem ever drops.
(***** out of *****)