Christopher Nolan

BY James KeastPublished Jul 15, 2010

Hearing about someone else's dreams might be the most boring form of storytelling, but living in someone else's dreams ― at least in the hands of star writer/director Christopher Nolan (The Dark Night, Memento, The Prestige) ― makes for the movie event of the summer.

Inception stars Leonardo DiCaprio as Cobb, an expert at extracting information from within another's subconscious via their dreams. He uses these talents ― along with his dream team, including Joseph Gordon-Levitt and new recruit Ellen Page ― mostly for corporate espionage, discovering key secrets buried in the dream worlds of CEOs and corporate tycoons. But Cobb is also haunted by his dreams and the memories of late wife Mal (Oscar winner Marion Cotillard), with whom he created dream worlds that didn't go well; he's a suspect in her death and thus is unable to return to the U.S. to see his kids. When he's offered the gig of a lifetime by a powerful Japanese businessman (Ken Watanabe), he goes all in to try and buy his freedom and achieve personal, subconscious peace.

The assignment at hand isn't stealing buried mental secrets, but something far more dangerous and complex: inception, or planting an idea in the mind of Robert Fischer Jr. (Cillian Murphy), the heir to a rival energy conglomerate. This is complicated by the fact that we all have subconscious defences that recognize the presence of a dream-state outsider, and Cobb's target has been trained in dream defence: the ability to recognize and weed out invaders within dreams, in the form of armed attackers. (A great conceit that turns Inception into an action movie in unexpected ways.)

Nolan creates a visually stunning landscape of illogic that is truly like a dream: it feels right, and "real," even if not all of it makes sense, a theme the prevails throughout various plot points in Inception. In order to get the seed of the "inception" idea into the subject's subconscious, it must be planted deep within their psyche, requiring layers of "dreams within dreams" that become increasingly more surreal, bizarre and interlocked. Coupled with Cobb's subconscious invading his working life ― with his dream wife occasionally sabotaging his efforts ― Inception goes deep down the rabbit hole of illogic.

Yet somehow, not only does Nolan manage to keep these layers coherent, it's a fascinating film that belies your efforts to try and unravel logic problems while you're watching. Part of this is achieved with his amazing cast (six Oscar nominees or winners amongst them, including Michael Caine and Pete Postlethwaite), but mostly its Nolan's instinctive understanding of dream logic, and his uncanny ability to convey the feel of dreams on screen, a challenge that few filmmakers have achieved so successfully.

Inception is the type of film that demands repeat viewing, and perhaps tugs on the Emperor's hem will quickly unravel its various conceits, but I doubt it. It's a thrilling action movie with smarts ― Page's character's name is Ariadne, a reference to the Greek myth of the labyrinth, as well as logic theory Ariadne's Thread, while a key musical plot point uses Edith Piaf, in a nod to the role that won Cotillard an Oscar.

It gets the neurons firing in ways not felt since The Matrix. And I'm much more confident in Nolan honouring the legacy of his creation than what the Wachowski brothers managed.

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