July 16, 2009
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ellen Page
Director: Christopher Nolan
Inception, directed by Christopher Nolan, is a film that asks of its audience to participate in its unraveling. You don’t just settle into your seat and ‘watch’ this film as an ordinary spectator; you sit there and carefully work it out, piece by tricky piece. If most films, by very definition, are made in order to entertain or engage viewers, Inception does more than that: it challenges them.
Not that you should expect any less from the director that gave us the deliciously complicated Memento and the cerebral blockbuster that was The Dark Knight. With Inception, Nolan fuses the core agendas of both those previous films — he is delivering a spectacle, but to enjoy it completely the audience must earn it.
Indeed Inception requires that you submit your full attention. The film is part sci-fi, part heist thriller, and part mind-bending psychological puzzle. And chances are you’re going to need to watch it at least a second time to grasp exactly what is going on.
Let me lay out the basics: Leonardo DiCaprio stars as Dom Cobb, a master thief-for-hire trained to extract information from a sleeping person’s brain. He performs the job skillfully, but lands his toughest challenge when he’s hired by a powerful businessman, Saito (played by Ken Watanabe) to plant an idea in a rival’s head, instead of stealing one. The idea when planted, will cause Saito’s business rival Robert Fischer (played by Cillian Murphy) to break up his father’s multibillion-dollar empire.
Dom sets out to accomplish the job with a faithful team that comprises his longtime right-hand man (played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a ‘forger’ who can morph into another person’s identity (played by Tom Hardy), a scientist who supplies the sedative needed to put the victims and the extractors into a slumber (played by Dileep Rao), and an architect who designs mazes for the dream world (played by Ellen Page). It doesn’t help however, that Dom is haunted by the memory of his dead wife Mal (played by Marion Cotillard), who has the irritating habit of showing up in his subconscious and messing with his mind while he’s at work.
Much of the film’s first hour is spent illustrating how Dom’s job works: how he extracts dreams and ideas from people’s heads, and what exactly the process involves. You’re introduced to the concept of multiple levels and layers within the subconscious (meaning dreams within dreams within dreams), and you’re familiarized with the rules by which this virtual-reality world works — such as what happens if you die in a dream, the nature of dream time v/s real time, and the dangers of layering elaborate dreams within dreams.
As a viewer it takes time to arrive on the same page as the characters, and just when you think you’ve figured it out, you find yourself flummoxed again by all the drama and action unfolding within parallel dream states.
Visually, Inception is a jaw-dropping marvel if you consider the manner in which Nolan blurs the real with the surreal, without ever going all Alice in Wonderland on us. Watch the scene in which the city of Paris folds in on itself like a book, or the one in which Gordon-Levitt gets into a gravity-defying duel with a bunch of bad guys in a hotel corridor. Using minimal CGI to execute the audacious stunts, Nolan keeps the dreams grounded in plausibility.
There is no shortage of high-adrenalin action either, which is delivered in that breathless foot-chase sequence through the streets of Tangiers, a scene that seems as if it’s been pulled straight out of a Jason Bourne movie.
The ensemble cast dives into the film’s challenging narrative and delivers credible performances across the board, although special mention has to be made of Joseph Gordon-Levitt who creates a composed, confident character that is a clever foil to DiCaprio’s Dom Cobb.
As the leader of the pack, the protagonist of this drama, Leonardo DiCaprio is first-rate. He brings genuine emotion to the scenes in which we see Cobb overwhelmed with love for his wife and children, and he is every bit as convincing in his action star avatar. For DiCaprio Inception stands as a companion piece to Shutter Island in which he also played a widower at the mercy of dark illusions.
Ultimately the film works because it keeps you on your toes throughout. There is excitement to be had in the struggle to keep up with what’s going on, and in the end if you feel like there’s a lot that went over your head, well, join the club!
If you thought Memento was confusing, wait till you sink your teeth into Inception. I’m going with four out of five for Christopher Nolan’s Inception. It’s the most original film I’ve seen in long time. A masterstroke of writing and storytelling. At roughly two hours and thirty minutes it leaves you exhausted, but in a good way.
(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)