" ...destined to be discussed and dissected by enthralled viewers for years to come."

Reinvention of Virtual Reality

(072310) Visionary is a term that gets tossed around too casually in reference to filmmakers. Usually done early in their careers before the true range of their vision can extend itself beyond merely repeating themselves or earning it with a consistency of absolute excellence, we tend to brand many before their time. Can we blamed though? We are so thirsty for originality laced through the eyes of someone halfway-skilled enough to mold it that we're eager to label the next person who comes along in hopes they will be given the blank check that would have paid for five other pieces of hackwork. Christopher Nolan has earned that status though. Arguably no other filmmaker in the past decade since he broke through with 2001's Memento has had a better run of films; each successive one more ambitious in either scope (Batman Begins & The Dark Knight) or thematically (The Prestige) than the last one. Those aspects are not the only ones to merge during Inception, a masterpiece on a grand scale that is not just an ingenious work of science fiction but may be the best film since Rear Window to play along with your mind's eye on how we view movies altogether.

Leonardo DiCaprio stars as Cobb, a man working the clandestine business of dream extraction; invading another's subconscious and searching for their deepest secrets. In his case, Cobb's team is hired for industrial espionage against wealthy corporate types like Saito (Ken Watanabe). When a failed extraction becomes an audition for Saito, he hires Cobb and his partner, Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) to perform the almost impossible task of "inception", the planting of an idea and convincing the subject that it was always his. The mark is Robert Fischer (Cillian Murphy), the son of an energy magnate (Pete Postlethwaite) whom Saito would like to have break up his father's company to avoid them becoming their own superpower.

Cobb is less interested in the challenge of this gambit, but that the result may give him the opportunity to return home to the United States and rejoin his children as he has been on the run ever since the mysterious circumstances surrounding the death of his wife, Mal (Marion Cotillard). Joining Cobb's team is a young architecture student, Ariadne (Ellen Page), hired to be the new "architect" in dream sculpturing. Yusuf (Dileep Rao) is the chemist with his own special mixtures designed to keep the dreamers from waking up unless forced out of their sleep and Eames (Tom Hardy) is the sardonic "forger" capable of impersonating others in the mind. The wild card in all of this may just be Cobb himself whose subconscious projections of Mal has created an adversary bent on disrupting his every move until he can return to confront the very past that haunts him.

Everything begins with an idea and that is an element that Nolan's script delicately plants into our head. It is a notion that will resonate with any student of film, especially after hearing Ariadne's assumption that her handiwork should draw from things she already knows. "Never recreate from your memory. Always imagine new places," Cobb tells her as we are witnessing Nolan do both, grabbing inspiration from a number of sources but placing them within the context of something wholly original. This is not Tarantino lifting memories from his cinema past and homaging them wholesale with just a little twist. "If we are gonna' perform Inception then we need imagination," Eames tells us as if he was the creator rather than the forger. Notice that aside from one mention of someone's "share", nobody on Cobb's team mentions money - and certainly not in specific numbers. With all the cash grabs and soulless entities that make up the majority of big budget blockbusters, Inception is as much a commentary on the business as the creative side of things. Where most filmmakers are using a machine gun, Nolan steps in with a grenade launcher and blows the competition away.

Movies are the metaphorical dream factory and many of us have spent a good portion of our lives locked within those dreams, whether in a darkened theatre where we lose ourselves for two hours or the casual nap into home video which reinforce the lines we repeat in daily conversation; planted within our subconscious. Nolan sets out to put us not just in his dream but our very own, comprised from the bits and pieces we remember from our cinematic REM state. Comparisons to the gravity-defying heroes of The Matrix or even the heist-centric characters of Rififi (and DePalma's homage to that theft in Mission: Impossible) are obvious ones. The wraparound scene plays to the dream state of Bowman in 2001 and reaches into the regret of Blade Runner's decelerated lifespan (based not coincidentally on Philip K. Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?) Anyone still wrestling with the ambiguity of Scorsese's Shutter Island may think its a reach that Nolan purposefully fashioned DiCaprio's Cobb with a dead wife he can only see in his dreams. But there's no denying Nolan's wink to using Edith Piaf's rendition of "Non, je ne regrette rien" (No, I Regret Nothing) as one of the film's waking triggers while Marion Cotillard (who won the Oscar in '07 for playing Piaf - against Ellen Page, no less) is walking around disrupting their plans. Even Michael Caine's brief participation recalls the ending of Nolan's own The Prestige. All of this places the audience in almost a state of fever dream; déjà vu that may question whether we, ourselves, are participating in a dream of our own making.

Participation is key to one's appreciation of Inception and Nolan is determined not to leave anyone behind while the plethora of ideas and rules are laid out in each scene. Exposition is only wasted writing when it stops movies in its tracks and goes backwards in explanation. Nolan's script is all about setting up the next drop on the rollercoaster and the subsequent kick in our expectations. The first hour establishes the playing field, going up the hill on that great American coaster at 75 MPH so in the heat of the fall down the rabbit hole we can avoid asking questions and not interfere with the answers it wants to give us.

Inception gives us a different kind of relentless than The Dark Knight. Once the Joker really got going, it felt like extra weights kept being added to the anvil on your chest, slowly draining the hope for a morally-conscious survival out of you. Inception is more of a ride, intense in the best tradition of heist pictures but with a more slowly creeping drive of melancholy that re-introduces themes Nolan loves to play with. Guilt in the drive for justice and the lost love on one's shoulder of blame that impulses them to seek redemption. Words like "limbo" and "paradox" feed into our perception and Nolan's feelings about an after life; our eyes closed while an entire world of our own creation traps us in a never-ending cycle we can never wake up from. Another thing that makes “Inception” so special is the way that Nolan has taken an incredibly complex and sometimes confounding narrative and folded it within the parameters of an epic-sized summer blockbuster in such a way that the two approaches wind up complementing in beautiful and unexpected ways.

True inspiration is almost impossible to come by in the movies these days. Yet, when it does so fully (invariably when Nolan is involved) it seems to come so naturally that its infuriating how little so many others even try. Those emotions will only manifest once one has had time to digest everything on Inception's palette. This is not a cold picture by any means. Our emotional hook is with DiCaprio (and, unexpectedly, with another character seeking reconciliation) whose desire to "go home" gravitates the science and the mission just off its axis throughout the film to deliver an astoundingly affecting payoff aided by Hans Zimmer's extraordinary final theme. Cobb reminds us that "Dreams feel real while we're in them. It's only when we wake up that we realize something was actually strange." As you are asked by your friends about Inception and you try to put into words why it is such a qualified masterpiece, like a dream you might struggle to piece it all together. The impeccably chosen cast of familiar faces. How 90 seconds of Joseph Gordon-Levitt combating gravity and a gunman at the same time might be the best fight sequence you see all year and how the continuation of his mission is cooler than any space shuttle footage (real or faked) ever seen. Wishing Marion Cotillard would appear to you every night in your sleep - even if she stabbed you. That a full audience's final gasp is almost worth the price of admission all its own and you would rather not spoil anything more that came before it. We never know when the dream begins, but know that "an idea can transform the world and rewrite all the rules." That dream hopefully begins with Inception.

Like such classics of the genre as “Metropolis” and “2001” before it, “Inception” is destined to be discussed and dissected by enthralled viewers for years to come.

Directed & Written by:    Christopher Nolan
Starring:    Leonardo DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ellen
Released:    07/16/10 (USA-wide)
Length:    148 minutes
Rating:    Rated PG-13 for sequences of violence and action

INCEPTION © 2010 Warner Bros. Pictures
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