- 01 August 2010
- By John Howell
Few films with large budgets and big name actors manage to get the script right too, so when Christopher Nolan's Inception comes along with a word perfect script and a great deal more, the contrast to other failed Hollywood attempts is startling. Leonardo DiCaprio is Cobb, a dream stealer extraordinaire, paid handsomely to filch ideas and secrets from sleeping minds using a special device called the Portable Automated Somnacin IntraVenous (PASIV). The PASIV allows Cobb and his team to take part in an individual's dreams as if in a virtual reality setting. Inside they navigate subconscious environments they helped build to break through a dreamer's projected defences and extract information. When one of Cobb's infiltrations goes awry, he is hired by wealthy Japanese businessman Saito (Ken Watanabe), to attempt something even more daring, implanting information in a subject's mind instead - an "inception".
Mimicking the Italian Job, or perhaps Ocean's 11, Cobb assembles a team that includes a gifted young woman recommended by his father-in-law, Ariadne (Ellen Page), to be used as a "dream architect", a dream drug specialist Yusuf (Dileep Rao), and a British man Eames (Tom Hardy), an expert at shape-shifting inside dream environments. Interestingly, in Greek Mythology, the character Ariadne helped Theseus escape from the Minotaur's labyrinth, just as in the film Ariadne attempts to help Cobb escape the psychological maze of his own subconscious.
The subject of Cobb's inception is the heir to a rival business empire, Robert Fischer Jr. (Cillian Murphy).
Director Christopher Nolan has always impressed. Nolan's breakthrough film Memento (2000) was an equally complicated exploration of the mind, in that case a story told backwards of a victim of acute short-term memory loss. Batman Begins (2005), The Prestige (2006), and The Dark Knight (2008), have cemented Nolan's reputation for film making excellence. With Inception he has outdone himself on a grand scale, weaving together a science fiction thriller, a love story, a heist movie, a blockbuster action film, and one of the most compelling ideas film's since Stanley Kubrick's 2001.
Dreams are a perfect setting for a complex film of ideas. There are multiple competing scientific theories attempting to explain why we dream, making the area ripe for filmic exploration. Freud believed dreams represent unconscious desires, thoughts and motivations, "disguised fulfilments of repressed wishes"; others believe dreams are subjective interpretations of signals generated by the brain during sleep. More recent theories suggest that dreams allow the dreamer to make connections between different thoughts and emotions in a safe environment, a form of automatic nightly psychotherapy. A computer driven model of dreaming suggests dreams are a way the mind "cleans up" clutter generated during consciousness, like a computer sorting fragmented memory on a hard drive. Problem solving is another possible explanation.
Nolan uses these dream possibilities and ideas to enhance his tale of corporate espionage and romantic loss, frequently taking the story in intriguing and unexpected directions (I loved the different views of time passing experienced in deeper dream layers and the final conversation Cobb has with his wife regarding the true nature of dreams and why she appears the way she does). Setting his film inside dreams gives Nolan tremendous scope to delve into his characters' motivations and fears and allows him to craft a multilayered narrative, in this case four overlapping dreams within dreams. The film's major sub-plot, the repeated infiltration of Cobb's dream environment by his dead wife Mal (Marion Cotillard), explores Cobb's feelings of love, guilt and regret in a way that would never be possible or as powerful in a conventional film structure.
The special effects are outstanding (especially in the Paris café and the mesmerizing Matrix like fight scenes in the hotel room), the action riveting and frequently surreal, the love story poignant and powerful, the cast outstanding and the music excellent. This is easily Leonardo DiCaprio's best performance in a long time. Twists in the plot are brilliantly executed, and the finale is breathtaking. While ultimately the plot's major strands come together just before the final credits role, there is plenty left to think about (and not just the spinning top!). This is a film you will want to see more than once. I'll be watching it again shortly.
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