Everyone I know has had some variant of the dream where they realize they’re naked and hope no one else notices. Or, it’s the last week of classes, and you suddenly remember there’s that one class you never attended all semester. Entire books have been written about the meaning of our dreams, but suffice it to say, our mind is an amazing place where our memories, emotions, hopes, and fears are allowed to shine. Defining what is real can be difficult, and what we perceive as reality is merely our subconscious presenting all of our innermost feelings in a way that makes sense to us. That’s why we wake up and look around for clues that let us know it wasn’t real; that everything is right with the world.
This is the idea that pervades Christopher Nolan’s Inception, a labyrinthine journey that challenges our very idea of what is real and how safe we are within our own heads. Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his partner, Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), are veteran thieves of the most unusual sort—hired to enter the subconscious minds of others and steal valuable secrets. After testing their abilities, a powerful businessman named Saito (the always intimidating Ken Watanabe) hires them to perform a near-impossible job—enter the mind of a rival and create an idea that the target must believe is his own. Arthur says it can’t be done, but Dom (who has become a wanted fugitive in the States) reluctantly agrees after Saito tells him he will take care of his legal problems and get him back to his estranged children.
At its core, Inception is a heist film, and with any good heist (think Ocean’s Eleven or The Italian Job), one needs to assemble a great team. It is here that we meet Eames (a master of disguise), Yusuf (a chemicals expert to assist with the sedatives), and Ariadne (the architect, played by the great Ellen Page). The architect, as Dom explains and Ariadne learns in one of the film’s most visually creative scenes that challenges the laws of physics, designs the virtual spaces in which the dreams occur.
Saito’s target, a young heir named Fischer (Cillian Murphy), is set to inherit control of a vast energy empire from Fischer Sr. who lies on his deathbed. To allow for fair competition, it is Saito’s wish that the Fischer corporation be split up, but this is the idea that needs to be implanted. It’s determined that the best way to go deep enough into Fischer Jr.’s psyche is to create a series of dreams—a dream within a dream within a dream—and an organized series of “kicks” designed to bring the participants out of the dreams.
But, even a professional like Dom can lose track of what is real and what is a dream. To lose one’s grip on reality could doom one to become lost or become dependent on the dream like a drug. Dom carries around a lot of emotional baggage and guilt that not only threatens every operation but also makes him question every move. To say too much would be foolish—part of the fun of this film is following along yourself.
Inception is easily one of my favorite films of the year. In many ways, it bears the marks of Christopher Nolan’s other films, especially The Dark Knight, and that’s not a bad thing. In addition to being a visual and aural delight—almost surely to win this year’s awards for special effects and sound—it also is full of Hans Zimmer’s bombastic score that makes everything seem epic. You will never see a van fall off a bridge more dramatically.
But more importantly, the strong cast, action, complexity, originality and emotional depth round it all out. The characters are especially successful in explaining everything to us without seeming too “talky.” But even after a second viewing, you may find yourself discussing the plot with others.
I, for one, tend to be someone who usually never remembers my dreams—at least in any detail. Inception is a film that makes me wish I could take this journey but also fear what I might find there.