In the science ficture thriller Inception, Dom Cobb (Leonardo Dicaprio) offers a coveted skill: he can enter people’s dreams to manipulate and plant ideas. (©Warner Bros. Pictures)
Christopher Nolan may be the most gimmicky great director around. All his movies have a similar plot—badass dudes who are really good at what they do try to extract revenge or complete one last job while racked with guilt. It’s a fairly cliché trope, but it doesn’t matter—Nolan is now the best visual action director in the world. Yet his films have continued to become darker, more brooding, and more intellectual. With Inception he has taken a remarkable risk—he chose to make a hyper-complex movie that takes place mainly in multilayered shared dreams.
Inception imagines a William Gibsonesque world in which corporate espionage has gone to the mind. Dom Cobb (Leonardo Dicaprio) and his intrepid team sedate executives and try to extract corporate secrets. After failing at extraction with uber-powerful billionaire Seito (Ken Watanabe), Dom, on the run from the authorities, receives a shot at redemption. If he can break into the mind of an energy-empire heir and insert an idea to break up his inheritance, he can go home to his children.
And that’s the set-up for the most mind-bending and elaborate second-half heist I’ve ever seen. Inception is 150 minutes long, yet it breezes by faster than an 85-minute blockbuster.
The film’s gripping narrative is due in part to the meticulous rules Nolan lays out. Nolan loves rules, and in Inception he creates a staggeringly dense set of them. The great thing is that they make sense, at least fictionally, and aren’t abandoned in the final act. Plenty of movies have cool ideas, but few have the rigor to take them to their sometimes difficult conclusions. Inception is the most intellectually audacious film since the great Primer. Both of these films respect their audiences and are unafraid to plunge headlong into serious ideas.
If I’ve made Inception sound cold or clinical, or of a similar scope as the $7,000 Primer, it’s not. It’s a spectacular visual achievement, filled with set pieces that had me chuckling with glee. It’s also perhaps Nolan’s most emotional film to date. At the core of Inception is the dark allure of utopian fantasy and the pain of guilt.
It’s a difficult film to review because there are so many surprises and twists that I’m reluctant to give away. Much will be made of Inception’s final shot, but that’s just one piece of Nolan’s elaborate puzzle. In the same way that the machinations of The Prestige’s plot played out in its actual structure, in Inception he plants an idea in your mind that sticks and begins to grow days after you’ve seen the film. A
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