By Don Simpson | July 16, 2010
Director: Christopher Nolan
Writer: Christopher Nolan
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Ken Watanabe, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Marion Cotillard, Ellen Page, Tom Hardy, Cillian Murphy, Dileep Rao, Tom Berenger, Michael Caine
“I leave our world without believing that I am countering the gas with a superior lucidity…the journey begins. It lasts for centuries… I understand that multiplicity is the sign of this other world and unity the sign of ours.” (Jean Cocteau, The Difficulty of Being)
Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a corporate spy who infiltrates other people’s dreams to steal their ideas. Currently exiled from the United States, Dom is hired by an influential Japanese billionaire named Saito (Ken Watanabe) to do something that has purportedly never been done before: introduce a novel idea into someone’s mind in such a way to convince them that is their own. In return for a successful “inception,” Saito will end Dom’s forced exile from his country and children.
The target of the “inception” is a young billionaire, Robert Fischer Jr. (Cillian Murphy). Robert is heir to his dying father’s (Pete Postlethwaite) empire, and a competitor of Saito’s. Robert’s mind (like most minds, it turns out) is protected by an infinite army of gun-toting antibody bodyguards, thus adding the necessary mix of neurology and psychology to smarten-up the gunfights, chases and explosions in what otherwise would have been a very formulaic heist film.
In one of Inception’s rare formulaic moments, Dom assembles a top-notch [dream!] team: his longtime partner in crime, Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt); master of disguise, Eames (Tom Hardy); and dream chemist, Yusuf (Dileep Rao). Via his professorial father-in-law, Miles (Michael Caine), Dom also recruits Ariadne (Ellen Page), a brilliant young architecture student who has never worked in the land and logic of dreams; but apparently she is a very quick study and her name suggests that Ariadne was destined to play this role (in Greek mythology, Ariadne helped Theseus escape from the Minotaur’s labyrinth).
Dom tutors Ariadne on the art of constructing, controlling and navigating dream space and logic. During this process the audience also learns some important facts about dream infiltration: the human mind is as alert to intruders as the immune system is to pathogens; dream time has a complex relationship to real time; dream do not have beginnings; there are various ways to end a dream; the dream infiltrators can drag their subject down the proverbial rabbit hole of multiple layers of dream worlds; and most importantly, dream architecture does not give a rat’s ass about logic or physics (seemingly solid structures bend and tilt at will, entire cities fold in half, characters float as if weightless, there is even a Penrose stairway). These are the surreal worlds of M.C. Escher, Jean Cocteau and Salvatore Dali…
Dom – the only character allowed any depth and development in Inception – is motivated purely by the sorrow and guilt relating to his wife Mal’s (Marion Cotillard) death. Mal (in French, mal = bad or evil) relentlessly haunts Dom’s memories, thus also his dreams, and serves as a rogue antibody whose sole purpose appears to be to foil Cobb’s dream-world forays. No matter whose dream Dom enters, Mal routinely appears in the role of Dom’s nemesis.
Written and directed by Christopher Nolan, Inception is all about its mind-blowing tapestry in which reality and dreams are lucidly intertwined, the multi-level chess game involving a dream within a dream within a dream. The strange and dissorienting dream-logic of the individual scenes is cleverly bound together by an overarching traditional heist film narrative structure; without that logical restraint, the film would float aimlessly adrift in time and place…as if only a dream with no reality to which to awaken.
Inception is a truly unique cinematic experience (the closest next of kin being the cerebrally inferior The Matrix) that allows the audience to completely escape reality for 148 minutes all the while asking them to piece together a surrealist puzzle in order to keep up with the onscreen events. Inception’s biggest fault is the lack of character depth for everyone except Dom – the pawn which Ariadne dutifully carries is clearly a symbol of Nolan’s opinion of her and the others on the team. If I didn’t know any better I would think that the entire film takes place in Dom’s dreams and this is why the characters seem like mere manikins used for set-dressing (ala Shutter Island – which also starred DiCaprio).
“I re-enter our world. I see unity reforming. What a bore! Everything is one… This is the duration of the centuries from which I’m surfacing, this the expanse of my dizzy journey.” (Jean Cocteau, The Difficulty of Being)
Also check out Dave Campbell’s review of Inception.