Inception (2010, dir. Christopher Nolan)
Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Ellen Page, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Cillian Murphy, Tom Hardy, Ken Watanabe, Dileep Rao, Marion Cotillard, Tom Berenger, Michael Caine, Pete Postlethwaite, Lukas Haas
Don’t think about elephants. What are you thinking about? Elephants, right? That is a very basic form of an inception, mentally influencing another person’s thoughts. But for a more complex idea, an idea that will cause someone to make a life-altering decision you have to do something a little more elaborate. As Cobb (DiCaprio), an expert dream infiltrator tells us early on, its much easier to steal an idea than to insert one in a person’s subconscious. With his seventh film, director Christopher Nolan takes the heist film formula and tosses it into an imaginative blender. The result is yet another highly complex and intelligent film that respects the intelligence of the audience, a rarity for a summer film.
Dominic Cobb is a professional dream infiltrator. Along with partner Arthur (Levitt), they use a special device to sneak into the subconscious of others and steal their ideas, primarily working in corporate espionage. However, Cobb is visited by his wife, Mal (Cotillard) in these dreams and she always seems to foil his plans. During the opening heist, Cobb loses his architect, the person whose job it is to design the key structure in the dream. He visits his father in law (Caine) who hooks him up with a young architecture student named Ariadne (Page). Cobb teaches Ariadne how to manipulate dreams, but warns that the subconscious will attack like white blood cells if an invading consciousness is detected. Their new job is much more difficult than an extraction (taking an idea), they are hired to perform an inception, planting an idea in the heir to vast corporation to split it up. Cobb gathers his team and begins the heist which involves multiple dream layers, but Cobb may be his own worst enemy.
Inception plays like a wonderful literary science fiction novel more than a film. It is so dense and full of ideas you can’t help but feel overwhelmed at first. Nolan has definitely produced a film that begs for multiple viewings and intelligently leaves its ending open for interpretation. So often that twist in a film comes off a as sloppy writing, but here the ambiguity is the trigger for Nolan’s inception on us. The seed of questioning our own reality begins, and is much better presented that The Matrix. Here there is no hard sci-fi overlords, rather we are our own jailkeepers, constructing realities that make us feel safe, when we knew if we woke up we’d deal with unpleasantness. The dream infiltrators all have a totem, an object that no one else should touch, that they carry in the waking and dream world. If the object obeys the laws of physics when used then they know they are awake. Cobb’s is a small silver top, he spins it and, if it doesn’t wobble and fall over, he knows he is still trapped in a dream. The dream layers in the film are incredibly complex and amazing. At one point they are in four separate layers of consciousness.
The performances here are stellar. While Nolan doesn’t ask for incredibly emotional performances, he does push his characters to show depth wordlessly. Both Page and DiCaprio give complex performances where a lot is told to us about them and they never go into expository passages of back history. The supporting cast is excellent as well, and I enjoyed the smarminess of Tom Hardy’s character, as well as the straight to the point workman Levitt plays. Cillian Murphy also delivers, with a bit of very believable emotion in one of the final scenes. Marion Cotillard was one of the biggest standouts in the supporting cast, both her performance and her characters play such a huge part in the story. This is one of those film you have to see, not an “if you like this then”, no. Go see this! You have to! No questions asked!