Written and Directed by Christopher Nolan
Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ellen Page, Marion Cotillard and Michael Caine
Eames: If we’re going to perform inception, then we’re going to need imagination.
I knew there was a good reason I fought so hard every night to hold on to my conscious mind and not let my unconscious mind take over. I’ve got to make sure no pesky extractors get in there to steal my highly sought after secret thoughts. More importantly, I’ve got to make sure that nobody gets in there and plants an idea that I would go on to believe is entirely my own upon waking up. This latter assault is called INCEPTION and the extremely dangerous process involved in making it happen is the premise for Christopher Nolan’s film of the same name. Nolan’s skill as a director gives him the tools to delve deep into the viewer’s mind but after waking up from the dreamlike state INCEPTION creates so delicately, it doesn’t feel like he left anything in there to hold on to.
In order for Nolan to sell INCEPTION, he has a lot of ideas to implant in the audience from the very beginning. Leonardo Dicaprio and Joseph Gordon-Levitt play professional dreamers, men who, when connected to a fancy box that puts you right to sleep at the push of a button (where can I get this box?!), enter other people’s subconscious minds. It’s way more complicated than that and INCEPTION does its best to ensure the audience understands its complex ideas. To begin with, Nolan starts the action with Dicaprio and Gordon-Levitt in the middle of a mission. This way we get to see first hand what their alternate reality is and it conveniently allows for explanation between characters indirectly aimed to help the audience situate itself. Comparisons to THE MATRIX are not shocking to me. Like that film, INCEPTION is a visual marvel that requires a lot of contextualization to get lost in. And again, like that film, explanatory scenes that stop the action cold are necessary to keep everyone following. THE MATRIX does one thing differently though – it makes it all about us at the same time so once we do get lost, we have just as much to lose.
Once everyone is on the same page, which takes almost half the film to accomplish, the real mission begins. Inception, the concept of that is, is thought to be purely theoretical but Dicaprio is determined to make it a reality. Dicaprio’s team, also including Ellen Page, Ken Wantanabe and the deliciously smarmy Tom Hardy, has been contracted to go deep into the mind of Robert Fischer Jr. (Cillian Murphy), the heir to an internationally successful corporation. Once they get deep enough, they must implant an idea that will trigger Fischer to want to dissolve the company when he wakes up. As the leader of the team, and the dreamer who has been doing this the longest, Dicaprio’s personal issues, primarily the ones involving his secretive past with his wife, Mal (Marion Cotillard), keep creeping into the collectively shared dreams. Here, dreams and memories get easily confused and threaten to bring everything toppling down. The corporate espionage angle though keeps the audience at a safe distance when we should all be able to draw upon the shared experience of getting lost in dreams.
Visually, there is no question that INCEPTION will have you dreaming of the fantastical sets and effects long after you’ve seen it. As Nolan takes us deeper into dreams within dreams, he has total control over all the layers he has designed so deliberately one on top of the other. He wows us with everything going on around us and grips us by making the success of the mission dependent upon a multitude of factors that must align perfectly within a very small window of time. Considering how much work is involved in getting this deep and keeping all these layers balanced though, it seems odd that Nolan doesn’t appear to have any grander a purpose to achieving this feat other than proving he could. In order for inception to work, to ensure the idea really sticks, the subject has to believe that the idea came from himself, like true inspiration. Nolan burrows into the extreme depths of his subjects but leaves little to nothing insightful behind in the viewer to inspire us when we all wake up.
It's still a good time, mind you ...