Released 2010. Director: Christopher Nolan
MIND-BENDING. MIND-BLOWING. MIND-BOGGLING. I’m sure all these words have been used to describe Inception. And they are all absolutely spot-on. This movie is about the mind and what’s hidden deep within. Ideas, information, guilt, love, regrets, secrets and fears – there’s a lot going on and someone wants to get in. The tagline sums it up succinctly: Your mind is the scene of the crime.
To follow the story, you’ll have to go so deep you’re in danger of losing the plot – if you let your mind wander, so to speak.
Christopher Nolan continues to amaze as a writer-director, ever since making the reverse-chronology landmark film Memento in 2000, which showcases the young director’s assured hand in exploring high art with narrative structure. While making his other films Insomnia, The Prestige, Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, Nolan was also working on the script of Inception. Apparently he took ten years to complete the script. If it was true, every minute of Inception is proof, in the details and care Nolan put into this project. Inception is a maze so elaborate, labyrinthine and elegant if held in the hands it could be a delicate objet d'art.
Perhaps a bigger surprise is Inception being a Hollywood mainstream action movie. How many blockbusters in the action genre can claim to have been so meticulously constructed, composed and executed? Or even anywhere near this level of ingenuity, ambition and cerebral engagement? It is neither art house nor independent. The cast list comprises A-list Hollywood stars. It has non-stop action: guns, car chase, explosion, runaway train, avalanche, you name it. And the visual effects are simply unbelievable. No far-fetched, futuristic, science-fiction setting but familiar, classical surroundings of recognizable architecture and contemporary interiors. Then Nolan turns the dial on the laws of physics as he toys with time, space, dimensions and even gravity. The results are some of the most visually imaginative sequences that will be referenced in movie discussions.
The streets of Paris fold up like a piece of paper. People float as corridors tilt and gravity is loosened. Staircases connect in impossible ways like a drawing by M.C. Escher.
Anything seems possible. That’s the world of Inception, a technology that allows information to be extracted from the mind to sell to your worst enemy. Or in this case, to insert the seed of an idea. To do so involves slipping into dreams and sub-consciousness. There is no telling how many layers one could possibly go.
Leading the way in this fantastic voyage is Dominique Cobb, played by Leonardo DiCaprio. His eyes ablaze with intensity, his mind inscrutable with dimensions of memories and sub-conscious melded into one impenetrable emotional landscape. The rest of the dream cast (I could not resist the pun) step into their characters in confidence and style, from the inexperienced but super-smart dreamscape architect played by Ellen Page, the humourless and organised second-in-charge played by Joseph Gordon-Leavitt, along with Tom Hardy, Dileep Rao, Ken Watanabe and Nolan regular Cillian Murphy and Michael Caine.
Marion Cotillard has a superb supporting role as Cobb’s wife, a brittle, smouldering beauty whose disquieting presence in Cobb’s memory jeopardizes the mission but also constitutes the emotional core in the overlapping layers of dreams.
If you’ve also seen Shutter Island (2010), you might notice the similarities between DiCaprio’s roles in these two movies. Both are family men, each one still grieving for his dead wife, searching for forgiveness, unable to let go and finds himself in bizarre situations, be it an insane asylum on a desolate island whipped by hurricane, or a beach where artificial cliffs are crashing into the sea, surrounded by inveigling characters, in pursuit of truth, or an idea that’s stubbornly just out of grasp.
The best thrill ride in ages, Inception is spellbinding and all the more hypnotizing if you watch closely and let it get inside your head.