Here’s why I think “Inception” is going to make a boatload of money, beyond the fact that it’s one of the most original screen visions we’ve had this year: Most people who buy tickets will want to watch it again to see if they can figure the thing out.
Mind-blowing, sometimes bewildering, always engrossing, breathtakingly ambitious — the new reality-bending mystery/thriller from writer/director Christopher Nolan is like a multi-faceted Chinese finger trap. As soon as you think you’ve got the puzzle worked out, it reveals another layer of complexity to baffle and astound you.
The level of intricacy in Nolan’s storytelling is so dense, it makes the alternate-reality world of “The Matrix” — or even the fevered amnesiac’s dream of Nolan’s own “Memento” — seem like a child’s toy.
All I know is I was completely caught up in the film for every moment of its 2½ hours.
Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) leads an elite team of “extractors” who can enter another person’s mind while they dream, with the help of a special device housed in a steel briefcase. He’s essentially a mind thief, stealing into the darker recesses of consciousness to pilfer corporate secrets for their rivals.
As the story opens, Cobb and his crew are trying to tap the mind of Saito (Ken Watanabe), head of a multinational corporation. The virtual heist fails, but leads to a much bigger job: Inception.
Inception is different from extraction in that you’re not stealing information, but implanting it. The target is Robert Fischer (Cillian Murphy), son of an ultra-powerful businessman, who is on his deathbed and about to pass on the mantle. They want to implant an idea in the son’s dream that will clear the way for the competition, while making him think it was his own.
As you might guess, inception is dangerous; in fact, as far as most people in the know are concerned, it’s merely theoretical. But Cobb, who’s been down in the limbo of “dreamspace” deeper and longer than anyone, has some tricks up his sleeve.
He sets about recruiting a dream team of dream-tappers. Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is his right-hand man and enforcer. Yusuf (Dileep Rao) keeps the dreamers safely sedated. Eames (Tom Hardy) is the forger who impersonates others in the dreamscape.
The newest addition is Ariadne (Ellen Page), an “architect” — she’s the one who constructs the fake worlds where the dreamers interact.
Ariadne’s a newbie, but she soon figures out that Cobb has personal issues that will imperil their mission. His wife Mal (Marion Cotillard) keeps appearing in his dreams as a projection of his subconscious — as are all the other people populating these imaginary worlds. For reasons I can’t share without spoiling, Mal, or at least Cobb’s vision of her, keeps sabotaging his missions.
The film is filled with astonishing scenes of CG-assisted hallucinations. In Ariadne’s training session, Cobb shows her how to rearrange entire city blocks at will, flipping them like Lego pieces. But there are rules to be followed, tricks that must not be attempted, lest the dreamer fall into a well of chaos from which they may never emerge.
In another memorable sequence, Gordon-Levitt has a series of fights where the laws of gravity are constantly in flux, so the ceiling becomes the floor which becomes the wall, and so forth.
Sound freaky? Well, I haven’t even told you about the fact that the best extractors can put themselves to sleep inside the dream, creating whole new levels of constructed reality.
Though “Inception” may not add up to anything beyond a ripping yarn that will keep people talking and arguing, this audacious blend of science fiction and jaunt through the layers of consciousness certainly never fails to grip the audience.