Prepare to be blown away.
“Inception,” the new sci-fi/action film from director Christopher Nolan (also responsible for “The Dark Knight” and “The Prestige”) is a stunning, mind-bending masterpiece that surely ranks among the greatest thrillers of all time. It’s a dark, multilayered odyssey through the human mind that defies description, and must be experienced to be properly understood. It works on every conceivable level – as an explosive action movie, a psychological drama, an innovative science fiction film, and a tragic romance.
In the not-too-distant future, technology has been developed that allows multiple individuals to experience the same dream. While the underlying structure of the dream is controlled by one person (the Architect), other people populate the dream with manifestations of their subconscious, or Projections. And Tom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) knows exactly how to exploit this system. He is a mercenary thief of ideas, a corporate espionage agent who specializes in invading dreams and extracting vital information. However, his greatest challenge is to perform the opposite task.
He must infiltrate another person’s mind and plant an idea there.
Business tycoon Saito wants to break up an energy empire, in the interests of promoting competition. He hires Cobb to insert an idea (the concept of dissolving the conglomerate) into the mind of young Robert Fischer (Cillian Murphy), the incoming owner. This, unfortunately, is more difficult than it would appear – in order for the idea to take hold, it must appear to have come via inspiration, not suggestion.
Cobb and his team promptly set to work devising their reverse-heist operation, with some help from Ariadne (Ellen Page) a remarkably skilled dream Architect. Their plan – to lure Fischer further and further into a web of nested dreamscapes, while subtly planting the germ of an idea. But unfortunately, Cobb is struggling with his own inner demons. Torn by guilt over the loss of his wife Mal (Marion Cotillard), he produces subconscious images of her in the dreamscape, leading to disastrous effects. (It sounds extremely complicated – and it is – but everything makes much more sense in the context of the film itself.) The result is an explosive, heart-pounding adventure story that blurs the lines between illusion and reality.
For starters, this movie has sky-high production values. Just as in “The Dark Knight,” director Nolan has created a fully developed and utterly believable universe. (Word has it that he spent 10 years writing the screenplay.) The often-jaw-dropping CGI effects enhance, rather than undermine, the overall character of the film. It’s perhaps the only movie I’ve ever seen where the destruction actually serves a legitimate purpose in the context of the story (as an individual becomes closer to waking up, their dreams become unstable and start to collapse).
The acting is equally stellar. DiCaprio is perfectly cast as Cobb, effectively portraying a mercenary, tortured soul. Ellen Page is a superb Ariadne, conveying a sense of innocence and conscience throughout the entire film. And in perhaps the most striking performance of all, Marion Cotillard appears as Cobb’s guilt-induced projection of his dead wife. The disturbing aspects of her character, in many ways, are mirrors of his own inner turmoil, which manifest in the dream environment. (It’s worth mentioning that most of the other characters, while remaining fairly peripheral, aren’t relegated to cannon-fodder roles.)
But the story is truly the heart and soul of “Inception.” It’s an intricate metaphysical labyrinth that requires some serious mental effort on the part of the viewer to understand. As the plot progresses, countless mysteries and subplots unfold – including some disturbing revelations about Cobb and his past discoveries in the dreamworlds. “Inception” is, quite honestly, one of the only movies that has actually kept me on the edge of my seat wondering what would happen next. Although the film clocks in at nearly 2 ½ hours, I found myself wishing it didn’t have to end.
This movie questions our understanding of reality – a philosophical turn that certainly lends itself to worldview analysis. For the most part, “Inception” steers clear of addressing faith issues, instead preferring to concentrate on secular psychology. The dreamscapes are not affected by an individual’s underlying moral values, but only by thoughts, emotions, and memories. Personally, I would’ve been interested to see how the dream environments could be restricted by someone’s fundamental values – or to put it differently, whether certain actions would be off-limits inside the dreams of someone with strong moral convictions. But maybe that’s just me.
On a different level, “Inception” is a cautionary tale about the seductive nature of power. A constant risk for the dream-travelers is that they will become so engrossed in their own creations that they lose touch with reality altogether, and can no longer differentiate between the dream-world and the real. Within the dreams, the Architect of the dreamscape enjoys godlike powers to create and destroy – and it can be awfully tempting to try and avoid waking up altogether. Essentially, “Inception” warns that when humans attempt to embrace to divine power, they eventually end up destroying themselves.
Other worldview or religious elements are pretty much absent. This movie is focused on minds, not souls (possibly to reflect a secular humanist view of mankind, but more likely, to appeal to a broader demographic.)
Objectionable content is mostly found in the form of constant, jarring violence that occurs in the dream environments. (There are a handful of swearwords thrown in, but, refreshingly, no sexual material whatsoever.) In the context of the film, these fights are not “real” – they’re between defensive Projections of individuals’ subconscious minds. Few “real” people end up getting injured, although scores of Projections are shot, blown up, crushed, and burned. Viewers will also wish to be aware that in order to awaken from a dream state, an individual must “kill” himself or herself. The resulting suicide subtext is unsettling and at times, disturbing. This is not a movie for young children – they will likely not understand it, and will be seriously bothered by parts of the film.
So, should you see it?
If you’re looking to switch off your brain and simply be entertained, “Inception” is absolutely not for you. This is a movie that requires work to understand, and there are several confusing moments throughout (especially in the beginning). Anyone disturbed by psychological thrillers will also not enjoy this film.
But if you’re willing to put in the effort to try and understand Christopher Nolan’s world, the result is nothing short of spellbinding. “Inception” is one of the best movies I have ever seen, and certainly worth watching. Highly recommended.
I’ve never given a movie a perfect 10 – until now.
Normalized Score: 9.2