Something is wrong. A film like Inception isn’t supposed to be released in theaters during the summer. It’s got a big budget and action and explosions, but the action isn’t in 3D and the explosions aren’t Michael Bay-sized. As the follow-up to his ultra-successful The Dark Knight, writer/director Christopher Nolan doesn’t command his audience to leave their brains at the door; he would rather they keep their intelligence intact. They’re going to need it.
This isn’t a challenging film to understand, but it will challenge your attentiveness. That’s a credit to Nolan as a writer – he spent nearly a decade on writing the screenplay. We’ve become too accustomed to screenplays that try too hard to navigate us through the plot. The story of Inception involves a lot of exposition, but it doesn’t feel like exposition. Is Nolan toying with his audience by outlining the goal but allowing some of the details to remain elusive? Not at all – everything’s a test. He has created an elaborate maze and helps us whenever he thinks we’ve become lost or reached a dead end.
The straightforwardness of the narrative may be too pedestrian for some, but it’s all part of a process. Just as Memento was an exercise in showing how a film would work in reverse, Inception ups the ante in size and scope and makes Nolan’s breakout film from 2001 look like a college thesis. Instead of dealing with short-term memory loss, our characters navigate between dreams and reality.
In the film, Leonardo DiCaprio plays Dom Cobb, a corporate raider who specializes in lifting secrets from his targets’ dreams. Such an activity requires him and his team to infiltrate the mark’s subconscious and, with photorealistic and real-world surroundings, uses persuasion to obtain the information. However, some of the projections from Dom’s own subconscious are endangering the team as a whole.
For his latest assignment he is contracted by a former mark to do a job that would have him implant an idea rather than extract one. Billions are at stake but Cobb needs convincing. An expunged record and safe passage back to the United States, so that he can reunite with his two children, is too big a carrot to pass up, and Cobb takes the job. In time we learn the nature of Cobb’s infractions and how it involves his wife, Mal (Marion Cotillard).
The target is Robert Fischer Jr. (Cillian Murphy), recent inheritor to a corporate empire built by his father (Pete Posthelthwaite). With each extraction Cobb uses a team, each member with his own specialty. Taking a cue from heist movies, we meet each member of the team. We have Cobb’s right-hand man, Arthur (Joseph-Gordon Levitt); Eames (Tom Hardy), a master forger; Yusef (Dileep Rao), a chemist who has concocted the most potent of dream enhancers. The “architect,” or the one who builds the dream worlds, is deferred to the newbie and only girl on the team, Ariadne (Ellen Page). Still a novice at mapping out worlds, her training from Cobb serves to help the audience as well, showing them what’s possible in the dream world. It is her job to design an M.C. Escher-type maze-space in Fischer’s dreams. A total of three, all nestled inside one another (a dream-within-a-dream-within-a-dream), just like a Matryoshka doll.
Layer upon layer Nolan taps into our intellect while also entertaining us with imaginative set pieces and special effects – blending the practical with the impractical. We have a gravity-free fight in a hotel hallway and a car chase that involves a runaway train. The later stages of the film involve a highly-choreographed sequence that crosses from one dreamscape into the next, all of it enhanced by Wally Pfister’s photography (he’s been Nolan’s DP since Memento) and Hans Zimmer’s pulsating score. The cross-cutting between the different situations will linger in your head for hours.
People will be quick to say that Inception draws its inspiration from recent films like Alex Proyas’ Dark City (because of dreams) and The Matrix (because of the zero-G fight). But forget its origins and just look at what it is. It’s a science-fiction film, a corporate thriller, an action-adventure that spans the globe, and a one-last-job heist movie. On the emotional front, it involves a tragic romance and contains allusions to Homer’s The Odyssey. Yeah, this is heavy stuff for a summer movie.
At one point one of the characters tells another, “You musn’t be afraid to dream a little bigger, darling.” That’s something to take to heart when describing Christopher Nolan’s evolution as a filmmaker. With each new film he pushes audiences into accepting stories that are complicated while engaging. Seven films into his career he’s yet to make a bad one; I don’t think it’s in his DNA. From his direction to the ensemble cast (including his good luck charm, Michael Caine) to the locations (Tokyo, L.A., London, Paris, Calgary and Morocco) to using practical effects as much as possible, Nolan shows that The Dark Knight and its success wasn’t a fluke.
In a landscape that is overrun by sequels, remakes and franchises (notwithstanding Nolan’s interpretation of Batman because those are awesome), Inception is a singular film that feels wholly original with action scenes we’ve come to expect from a James Bond adventure (Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson make a note). The idea had been lingering with Nolan for over a decade. Even now that the dream has been realized I don’t expect copycats in the near future. Lucky for us, Nolan has taken the blueprints and hidden them inside his head for nobody to find.
Director: Christopher Nolan Notable Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ellen Page, Cotillard, Cillian Murphy, Tom Hardy, Ken Watanabe, Michael Caine Writer(s): Christopher Nolan
Travis Leamons is one of the Inside Pulse Originals and currently holds the position of Managing Editor at Inside Pulse Movies. He's told that the position is his until he's dead or if "The Boss" can find somebody better. I expect the best and I give the best. Here's the beer. Here's the entertainment. Now have fun. That's an order!