by NIR SHALEV
Writer/director Christopher Nolan presents us with an astounding achievement in mind-bending and purposeful special effects, themes regarding identity, dream logic and the philosophies of a dream within a dream, and of course, one heck of a reverse-heist film to carry it all.
In Nolan’s unique universe, people have the ability to enter others’ minds using a type of hallucinogenic drug that is controlled by a machine that can compact into a briefcase; inside the other person’s subconscious, they’re able to meld into said subconscious. Stealing ideas directly from the minds of corporate executives is the new corporate espionage. The flip side is “inception,” the ability to insert an idea into another’s mind. According to Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio), planting the idea instead of taking it sounds much easier than it really is.
Cobb was hired to steal a business idea from Saito (Ken Watanabe), the head of a giant energy corporation, and fails his task. Instead of exacting the consequences upon Cobb, Saito suggests that he work for him. Cobb’s new task is to destroy a rival energy corporation by causing its owner’s son to believe that he needs to be his own man and not follow in his father’s footsteps, thus causing the corporation to collapse and the competition to cease. Cobb assembles a team comprised of a point-man, an architect, a master forger, and a chemist; the actors are Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Brick, 2005), Ellen Page (Juno, 2007), Tom Hardy (Bronson, 2009), and Dileep Rao (Drag Me to Hell, 2009). It’s a strong cast and much like in other successful heist films, this team works best as a team. That’s all I can say on the plot because anything else would make little sense.
I’m quite certain that everyone on this planet already has a notion as to what the film’s really about. But how the ending is approached can only be described by seeing the film and personally experiencing its story progression, which is, not surprising for a Nolan screenplay, character driven.
There’s talk of multiple layers of dreams, experienced on deeper levels of the subconscious, and as a metaphor, I can only think of an analog watch: starting at the 12:00 o’clock position, if one was to spend 12 hours doing nothing they’d be found in the same spot, with little or no change; and so would the hands of the clock. Or: when a person falls asleep, they’d begin and end exactly where they’d left off, in bed.
In the dream sequences portrayed in this film, there are multiple layers that coexist; multiple dreams. Upon reaching some sort of destination and conclusion, the team would still be in the same exact spot where they’d started and so would the target. The gears of the watch are like the different layers of the dream that’s within another dream that’s within another. One gear turns and causes another to turn in succession, etc. The hands of the clock are constantly moving, but will eventually return to the same spot and the crew will also wake up in the same place they started; whether in a car, on a plane, or in a retro hotel.
What’s going on inside the layered dreams is what the film is ultimately about, and that’s where the writing mostly excels. When the audience realizes how one dream sequence works off of another they begin to think in reverse, trying to piece together important happenings. Even those happenings that seem unimportant find their importance later on. However, all of the thinking on the audience’s part only happens once the film is over because the storytelling never lets up.
This film’s overall storytelling approach is a riddle wrapped within an enigma; I use a cliche because the film doesn’t have any. The cinematography needs to be seen, it cannot be explained and the performances are great as expected from this cast. Also, the musical score by Hans Zimmer is haunting and truly effective.
I’d say that the film falls under the category of a thriller and not a sci-fi actioner, even though there’s plenty of action to be found here. I found myself feeling tense and on edge throughout the film’s entirety and especially seeing that it features a huge cliff hanger throughout it second half, one that actually lasts for half the film. This is genre-bending and virtuoso filmmaking of the highest degree. Inception is my current contender for best picture of 2010 and it’s hard to imagine anything better coming along.
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Nolan’s first film was Following.