Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Ken Watanabe, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Marion Cotillard, Cillian Murphy, and Michael Caine
Distributor: Warner Brothers
Runtime: 148 mins. Reviewed in Nov 2011
The fusion of imagination with reality is something that most people experience, either in sleep or in the twilight states of consciousness between sleep and waking. The novel part of this movie is that it pursues the theme that a technology of dream- sharing makes the intrusion of ideas exploitable. Thus, memories of real events as they appear in dreams can be used, or misused by others for good, or evil, purposes. Past movies like “Memento” (which Nolan directed), and “The Matrix” have played around with the flexibility and malleability of memory, but this film confronts head-on the special vulnerability of the mind to change. Memory can be distorted to record events that didn’t happen, but the movie goes further by suggesting that memory can be changed intentionally forever, through the mind-influence of someone else’s idea.
In this film, Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) plays the part of a thief, skilled in the art of extraction, who has developed the talent to steal secrets that lie deep in people’s unconsciousness. Cobb’s talent to infiltrate people’s minds makes him a much-prized resource within the competitive and cut-throat world of corporate espionage. The process of extraction works through dream-sharing where the world of the dream is created or constructed by architects, and subjects, while they are dreaming, are brought into that world to experience mental events that become their new reality. Cobb’s mentor and teacher, Miles (Michael Caine), taught him as a young man about what dream-sharing can achieve. Cobb is forced to flee because of what he is capable of, and because of guilt about his past. His one goal is to “get back his life”, and his late wife, Mal (Marion Cotillard) – who may be real or unreal, and who invades his own sub-conscious in dangerous ways – constantly interferes. Cobb is given the chance to redeem himself, and to recover all the things he loves, by Saito (Ken Watanabe), a corporate business magnate, who blackmails him to plant an alien idea in the mind of a wealthy rival, Robert Fischer Jr. (Cillian Murphy). The planting of an idea is the process of “inception”, which gives the film its title. Cobb is a complex character with a dark past, and he wants to take the process of inception to where nobody has been before. In unravelling the mind, layers of dreaming peel back to reveal more layers, and the complexity of mental space is presented brilliantly as the film develops.
The movie starts off slowly, but gathers momentum as the special effects accumulate. This is a mind-bending film, and it is very easy to get lost in the roller-coaster ride through the unconscious that Nolan presents. We all feel that our dreams and ideas are our own, and we derive security in their privacy. The notion that a technology (that is never defined) can take away ideas, or introduce them, and give memory-distortion permanency, is genuinely disturbing.
The special effects in this film are dazzling, and the movie is full of breath-taking illusory experiences. Distortion is the essence of dreams, and the visual style of the film captures it superbly. Thoroughly plausible, yet at the same time, completely illogical, the city of Paris folds in on itself, fights occur in zero gravity, a freight train runs down the middle of a busy street in Los Angeles, and whole streets lie on their sides.
This film is an absorbing science-fiction thriller that is highly original. The plot will confuse, but one won’t be disappointed, especially in the visuals. The final scenes show everything turning out alright. In the end, Cobb returns happily to his two children, who want him back. But are we seeing things that are real, or unreal?
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