In the wonderful world of summer movies you will generally get a vast assortment of visual bonbons constructed from video games, cartoon characters, and comic books, along with new sequels to previously viewed originals, or even new visions of past originals. In short, we see stuff we’ve seen before. But when an original idea pops up in the form of a new movie, we must all take notice.
Christopher Nolan’s brand new movie Inception which opened today, is indeed a new idea in film making and story telling. We’ve not really seen too many movies about dreams. Yes, we’ve seen many movies where there’s something going on, and it’s frightening, or it is intense, and then, someone awakens … and we realize that what we had just seen… was only a dream. That dream was a bit of deceptive gamesmanship by the screenwriter and director to either thrill us or shock us. We are relieved when we become aware that what we had just seen wasn’t reality.
Inception turns that concept inside out. Here, the film’s premise is that the dream state is where we want to be. It is where the action happens, and it is where all the peril and danger and thrills occur. Leonardo DiCaprio plays Cobb. He calls himself a security expert of a very specialized kind – subconscious security. He’s an extractor. This means he enters your dreams to find your secrets which he then steals.
Cobb is speaking to another character as well as we viewers when he says: What’s the most resilient parasite? An Idea. A single idea from the human mind can build cities. An idea can transform the world and rewrite all the rules. Which is why I have to steal it.
He’s a thief for hire, and most of his work is what you might call corporate espionage. As we meet him, he discussing his work with the Japanese billionaire Saito, who is played by Ken Watanabe. Saito and Cobb duel intellectually, until ultimately we learn that Saito wants Cobb to plant an idea into someone’s brain, in such a way, that this person will believe that it was his own idea.
Saito reasons, If you can break into someone’s dreams to steal an idea, why can’t you get in to a dream to plant an idea?
Of course the planting or creation of an idea is what is known as Inception.
What Nolan has done, is to create the Rubik’s Cube of a movie. When you work Rubik’s cube you are an external force whose job it is to perfectly align the surface. Inception has you as a witness to Cobb’s crew doing their thing – only their work is on the inside of the cube.
Only they don’t call it a cube. Instead think of it as a straightforward simple dream, or a dream within that dream, or at its most serious, most dangerous, and most difficult – a dream within a dream within a dream.
Admittedly the special effects are fabulous. Cities can fold over on themselves, gravity can be suspended, time can be stretched wherein seconds become minutes, and minutes become hours, and so on. The reality within the dreams has plenty of visual reality like bullets, explosions, and car chases, but the they’ve blurred the realities to an extent that often we aren’t sure if the characters on screen are dreaming or what we watch them doing is their reality. And that is the fun of the experience that you get in Inception.
Another way to describe this film is to compare it to The Matrix. Only without the hardwiring. Cobb isn’t Neo, and he isn’t fighting to save the world from machines. Instead think of Cobb as a thief, and this picture is something of a heist movie but with plenty elements from The Matrix. Want one more, you may think of parts of this movie as the cinematic version of the visual tricks played on us in the mind-bending art of M.C.Escher.
You will find that the story is sometimes hard to follow. You will be disoriented at times, and often confused about what is actually going on, and this is the intention. But when you are watching and absorbing (back on your cinematic feet so to speak) the performances by DiCaprio and his team – think of a Mission Impossible team of experts – are compelling. I especially liked Ellen Page as Ariadne, the team’s dream architect, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt (below) as Arthur, Cobb’s long-time partner who is skilled in sleight-of-hand as well as munitions.
Michael Caine and Pete Postlethwaite appear in extended cameos. Watanabe, who everyone loved in The Last Samurai, is the corporate billionaire who hires Cobb and his team, and then insists on joining them on the job. He was okay, but strictly speaking he isn’t a standout.
Oscar winner Marion Cotillard appears as Mal, Cobb’s former wife. Mal shows up only in Cobb’s dreams. In effect, we might as well call her Mal-function as she is both an impediment as well as an inspiration to Cobb. Cobb wants to re-unite with his family and to do so, he must complete the mission. Cotillard is more than simple window dressing, but on the other hand her role is somewhat intrusive.
My final thoughts are to direct you to the film’s tagline which reads …
Your mind is the scene of the crime.
Those words will resonate much more effectively for you once you have seen the movie.