I dislike dream sequences.  They usually bring the plot to a screeching halt without really altering it in any way. In addition, they give filmmakers, and writers for that matter, a license to be pretentious, to bludgeon the audience with symbolism and sentimentality. I roll my eyes when they crop up in movies and start skimming when I encounter one in a book. As a narrative device they are at the same time overused and useless.

So I approached Christopher Nolan’s Inception with more than a little trepidation, even though critics both from the fanboy and the mainstream press were raving about it in ways reserved for only the best and most entertaining movies. Inception is the story of Cobb, played by Leonardo DiCaprio,  a freelance industrial spy who specializes in delving into people’s brains and retrieving secrets. The process is called retrieval. Theoretically, the opposite function, planting an idea into someone’s mind, should be possible, although most people in the field don’t believe that it is. When a Japanese businessman named Saito, played by Ken Watanabe, hires Cobb and his team to do an Inception on an industrial rival, only Cobb knows for sure it can be done, because he’s done it. This is a complicated way to tell a standard story about espionage, but Nolan pulls it off in spectacular fashion.

The script by Nolan is the strongest element of this project. A lesser writer would have been unable to keep the lines between reality and dreams from blurring, but Nolan keeps things straight where they need to be and ambiguous when that’s what’s called for. He establishes from the beginning that these are not normal dreams with their sudden shifts in logic and setting. These are tightly controlled experiences, designed by professionals with only their client’s goal in mind. In that way, he avoids the fuzziness of the usual cinema dream sequence.

He also establishes a interesting scenario. The rules he sets up are not arbitrary, but they do help create conflict in the story. He also adheres to them in all situations, not lightly tossing them aside when they become inconvenient.

The most impressive thing is that he has taken elements from The Matrix, James Bond, caper films and straight melodrama and fused them into something completely different. This could have been the best Philip K. Dick adaptation of all time except for the fact that it’s not based on anything Dick ever wrote. It still has that high concept, playing with reality tone, that you find in PKD novel, however. It’s also an extremely exciting thriller.

There is one clunky exposition device in the person of Ariadne, played by Ellen Page. She is the architect, the person who designs the dream landscapes. As the newest member of Cobb’s team, it is her main job to have all this stuff explained to her, so we can understand it. The obviousness of the device is a little distracting. There is also a point about the character names that I could make but it might spoil the plot, so I won’t.

The acting is terrific. DiCaprio demonstrates his usual effortless blend of no-nonsense competence and vulnerability. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is Arthur, a smart detail oriented aide to Cobb, who stays behind and watches the set-up while his boss and the other team members are under. Tom Hardy plays Eames, who’s there to deal with any trouble that occurs when they are inside the subject’s mind. He’s bluff, sarcastic and good at his job. Ellen Page is fine as Ariadne. Ken Watanabe is always fun to watch.

The most impressive thing is the sheer confidence Nolan has in putting this together. Inception is a thinking person’s summer movie.


1 Response to “INCEPTION”

  1. 1 aja December 31, 2010 at 7:46 am

    One minor quibble — the ‘retrieval’ process is called
    ‘extraction’ in the movie. I’ve never seen people in a theater
    react the way they did to this picture. Going in, I must admit that
    I was afraid I was going to be sitting near that one person who
    never gets anything and spends two hours asking questions. I was
    even more afraid that I might turn out to be that person. But it
    wasn’t like that at all. There was almost total silence, but you
    could see the heads nodding. People were watching with pleasure.
    Occasionally, the heads turned — quickly, because you don’t want
    to do that for very long — and the smiling looks said it all: ‘do
    you believe that?’

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