The latest from writer/director Christopher Nolan is complicated, reality bending, multi-layered look inside the world of unconscious imagination. In the near future the ability to enter into an individual’s dreams and extract information has become a profitable, but highly illegal, enterprise. Leonardo DiCaprio stars as Dom Cobb the leader of a group of experts who are the best at this type of information extraction.
As Cobb’s past catches up with him, both in the real world and that of his dreams, he’s offered a single chance to reclaim the life which was taken from him if he can perform the impossible: Inception. The idea is not to steal information from the latest subject, the heir to a business empire (Cillian Murphy), but instead implant an idea in his mind which will grow naturally and change one choice in the real world which could mean billions for Cobb’s client.
Cobb’s team consists of his backer (Ken Watanabe) who guarantees Cobb’s freedom to return home at the end of the project, an architect (Ellen Page) to construct the realities of the dream which will be filled in by the subject’s unconscious mind, a thief and forger (Tom Hardy) to play various roles, a chemist (Dileep Rao) to keep the subjects subdued and bring them out of their dream state at the right instant, and a point man (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) to keep the project running smoothly (or as smoothly as possible).
Nolan weaves a tale of complex realities built upon each other, dreams within dreams, where time is relative and perspective can be fixed, lost, or completely forgotten. Although the job may only take a few hours in the real world, inside the subject’s mind months, years, even decades may pass. As Cobb and his team move further into these worlds they’re faced with unforseen obstacles and Cobb’s own subconscious desires and guilt manifesting itself in the form of his wife (Marion Cotillard).
Although the film starts out a little slow, once Cobb accepts the job, assembles his team, and the con begins, the plot is ratcheted into high gear. Nolan and his players spend the next two hours on a high wire of tension, action, and suspense. The story has a bit of everything: science and fantasy, creation and design, love and guilt, and the stuff of which dreams, and nightmares, are made.
Visually the film is stunning without feeling overburdened by CGI. As Cobb explains to Ariadne (Page) the world can be anything the architect imagines, but the farther removed from reality of the subject the easier to see the illusion for what it is. Of course this doesn’t stop some from losing themselves in the dream.
The acting is solid throughout, but it’s really DiCaprio’s show. He gives us a man driven by forces he can’t control and a gnawing guilt over what he’s lost.
The main story concerns the theft of Cillian Murphy’s memories, but the heart of the film comes from the scenes between DiCaprio and Cotillard. Are these scenes between a tormented man and the ghost of his wife necessary? Probably not. Without this subplot the film would still be an inventive and exciting action/con flick. Thankfully, the director isn’t content with just making an average summer film. This one’s got some brains as well as a few sly tricks up its sleeves.
Nolan creates not just one world but several, all built precariously upon each other. And as the team falls further down the rabbit hole the challenge of return to reality becomes increasingly difficult. The director challenges the viewer to keep each reality straight (as the characters themselves fight to never to lose themselves in the maze they’ve trapped themselves inside).
After one viewing I’m impressed. I’d like to see the film again to make sure there are no holes in the complicated web woven here, but it’s an easy recommendation to make. If I could implant an idea in your mind let it be this: Take a chance and go see Incepton this weekend. I think you will be glad you did.