It would be underselling it to call The Dark Knight a success. This time two years ago, the world was readying itself for the return of Batman and chomping at the bits. Expectations were high, yet, somehow, they were met. Destined to go down as one of the greatest cinematic experiences of all time, The Dark Knight changed the way we look at movies. Well, prepare to have that view altered again, this time by Inception, director Christopher Nolan’s ambitious, mind-bending experiment that ranks among the best of the year.
However, explaining why may prove difficult. Having just finished it, with its story behind me and an analysis before me, I think it may be better to just skip the plot synopsis altogether because discovery is better left up to the viewer and, well, I wouldn’t know where to begin. Still, these key things must be understood. Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) are extractors, men who dive into the minds of their targets and steal information while they sleep. To do so, they need an architect, found in the form of Ariadne (Ellen Page), a person who can construct the dream to make it seem real to the target. Their latest job takes them into the mind of Robert Fischer, Jr. (Cillian Murphy), but this one is different from the rest. Instead of stealing a memory, they will be implanting one through a process called inception.
In my excitement for this movie, I had a dream. I dreamt I was sitting in a theater and the lights were dimming. The title card appeared and I was ready. I was about to watch Inception. I had been waiting months for it and could hardly contain myself. As it began, however, the crowd became angrily loud. Babies were crying, illiterate kids were asking parents what the subtitles were saying and moviegoers with no etiquette spoke loudly so as to disrupt my enjoyment. I soon awoke and realized how bizarre my dream world had been. The theater was misshapen and it contained no walls, with hallways stretching to the left and right as far as I could see. But it felt so real.
Inception uses this as the foundation for its story. At one point, Cobb tells Ariadne, “It’s only when we wake up that something seems strange.” He explains that in our slumber, our minds play tricks on us and we are unable to distinguish between real and imaginary. This idea is so infused in the movie that the questions it raises linger on well after the credits roll. Cobb has demons of his own and goes into his own dreamlike state to visit a lost love. But is it real? Are those feelings we feel when we’re dreaming—fear, anxiety, happiness, sadness—authentic? If they feel real, who’s to say they aren’t?
While those are important thematic questions, I don’t want to get too philosophical. Inception is an action picture through and through. From a rotating room to a zero gravity battle to a James Bond like ski slope shootout, this film has it all. You’ll see things you never thought were possible, or even thought of at all. You’ll follow the characters through multiple layers of dreams, each stacked on another like a poker chip, but it never gets too confusing. It’s a thinking man’s action picture, which is a breath of fresh air in a summer diluted with idiotic action fare.
If there’s one problem with the film, it would be the lack of emotional connection to what’s unfolding onscreen. So much time is spent on the twisting story that it forgets to provide us with a reason to care. But when your movie is as smart, exciting and unique as this, it’s easy to look past it. Nolan directs with a careful eye, always shooting for practical effects over digital when possible, and masterfully juggles the overlapping dream worlds while the more than capable cast give outstanding performances. All of this adds up to a fantastic, bizarre, imaginative masterpiece of cinema. I guarantee you’ve never seen anything quite like Inception.
Inception receives 5/5