And it is no wonder.
Inception is a masterly film in both cinematography and concept. Plot-wise, the story primarily focuses on Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio), the best extraction expert in the dream business. Meaning, he knows how to retrieve information from someone’s subconscious while that person is dreaming. Now—for a chance to return to the United States and reunite with his children—Cobb must place an idea into someone’s subconscious. That is called inception, and apparently it is well-nigh impossible to accomplish.
It is difficult to describe much more of the plot for fear of tainting the experience. The film is visually stimulating. In one scene, an entire Parisian street folds on top of itself. In another, giant buildings slop off like rocks in a mudslide, crumbling into the crashing ocean below.
For me, the main brilliance of Inception is Christopher Nolan’s creative treatment of that mysterious event we all undergo each night: dreams. Sure there are dream almanacs and dream interpreters. Freud tackled the subject of dreams, as did Jung and Griffin. Neuroscientists have studied the subconscious and have developed fascinating theories on the nature of dreams. The bottom line, however, is that we do not have foolproof answers to our dreams. We can guess and hypothesize all we want. But from whence do dreams come? What do they mean? Just how many layers of dreams are there? What is it about the sensation of falling that generally wakes us up? What part do memories play in the construction of our dreams? Can we manipulate a person’s subconscious?
The last question drives Inception forward. In this reality, the answer is Yes. And it is intensely interesting to watch the process. In order to plant an idea in the subconscious, Cobb needs three layers in the dream, which works out to be ten hours of sleep in reality. In theory, you fall asleep to enter Level 1. Achieve that level’s objective. Fall asleep again, still in Level 1, in order to enter Level 2. Then again to reach Level 3. At each level, one member of the team needs to stay awake so he can monitor and initiate The Kick (i.e. the sensation of falling which wakes you up). The further you go in the dream, the longer time stretches. So ten seconds in reality can feel like an hour in the third level. Oh, and then there is Limbo—the purgatory of Dreamworld. I could attempt at an explanation here, but I feel that would ruin that wrinkle. Suffice to say, it is a frightening, if not mesmerizing, concept.
Nolan’s creativity continues: Each dream team has members with specialized roles. There is the Architect who creates the world of the dream (in this case, Ariadne, an architecture student played by Ellen Page); each team has a Forger (Tom Hardy), someone who can impersonate or reflect a specific individual within the dream. Every dream needs sleep, and who better to induce sleep than a Sedation Expert (Dileep Rao). The Mastermind, who is obviously Cobb, and his Second-in-command, Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) partner to lead the dream set to its completion.
As if all this were not enough to scramble your brain matter, Inception also employs a subplot—and a bizarre, cryptic one at that. Marion Cotillard shines as Cobb’s deceased wife, who still exists in Cobb’s subconscious. From the beginning it is obvious he feels guilt over her death, and that guilt brings Mal into any constructed dream as Cobb’s projection. It is this subplot that touches upon issues of reality, illusion, and time…what we wish to be versus what actually is.
I am sure that there are aspects of Inception that I will dislike in future viewings. But last Friday, I walked out of the movie theater thoroughly satisfied with the film. That is such a rare occurrence that I can count the number of satisfying movie theater experiences on one hand. Moreover, the film ignited discussions about the art direction, choreography, and underlying philosophies immediately upon exiting the building. (If you see Inception, I highly recommend that you bring a friend with you, purely for post-movie conversation.) I plan to see Inception again and possibly write another blog that focuses on the philosophical elements of the film.
But really, I just want another excuse to experience Inception again.
Five out of five stars.