I finally went to see Inception. I wish I had gone on its opening night. It is one of the best movies I have ever seen. Inception is one of the most imaginative and brilliantly plotted movies ever, and it is also one of the most thrilling and emotionally powerful. Think Vertigo meets The Matrix—but that only just begins to describe it. You have to see Inception on the big screen. So stop reading now, and go see this movie before it leaves the theaters.
Inception was directed by Christopher Nolan, who is also the director of a series of increasingly impressive movies: Following (1998), Memento (2000), Insomnia (2002), Batman Begins (2005), The Prestige (2006), and The Dark Knight (2008). The Dark Knight is a work of genius—surely the greatest supervillain movie ever. (I say “supervillain” rather than “superhero,” since Heath Ledger’s Joker completely upstages Batman.) But not even The Dark Knight prepared me for Inception. Indeed, one reason I hesitated to see Inception for so long was the conviction that Nolan could never top The Dark Knight. But he has.
The premise of Inception is that a technology has been invented that allows people to share dreams. The active dreamer is called the “architect.” He is the one who constructs the dream space into which the other dreams knowingly or unknowingly enter. (Real architects seem most suited for the job, since their visual-spatial imaginations are so powerful, and dream spaces have to be constructed as labyrinths and Escher-like topological paradoxes.)
This technology, of course, has great potential for abuse, and this is precisely what the protagonist, Dom Cobb (played by Leonardo Di Caprio), and his team are doing. By abducting people into shared dreams, Di Caprio and his team can effect the “extraction” of their most closely-guarded secrets.
Di Caprio’s character is, however, no mere loathsome crook. He is a man haunted by the death of his wife, a former partner in crime, and the loss of his two children. Unable to return to the US because of a warrant for his arrest, he wanders the world extracting the secrets of the rich and powerful for their rich and powerful rivals, until he is offered a job that, if completed successfully, will allow him to return home to his family. He has to perform an “inception.”
One step beyond the extraction of existing ideas is the “inception” of new ideas. How does one put an idea in another person’s mind so that he thinks it is his own? It has apparently never been done before, but Di Caprio promises to do it. He assembles a team and creates a three level dream: a dream within a dream within a dream. With every new level of dreaming, the experienced dream time becomes longer. In the third level, ten years can pass while one sleeps only ten hours in the real world. Below the third level is “limbo”: unstructured unconsciousness where a lifetime can pass in the blink of a terrestrial eye. If a dreamer is killed in his dream, he will fall into limbo.
All this is more than mere science fiction, for Nolan uses it to generate a powerful dramatic conflict. To reclaim his life, Di Caprio must go deeper and deeper in the dream realm, yet with every level he enters, the figure of his dead wife, who is a projection of his own guilty conscience, becomes a stronger and stronger adversary.
The conflict becomes even more exquisite when we learn that the inception that will bring him home is not the first one. He has done it before, and it was ultimately the cause of his downfall and exile.
This storyline gives Inception a tragic dimension and an emotional power that superficially similar movies like The Matrix just cannot touch. Vertigo is the comparison that comes to mind first, and in my book, that is the highest possible praise. I will say no more about the plot, save that the ending is poetic and deeply satisfying.
There is nothing racially, culturally, or politically offensive about Inception. The movie takes place all over the world, so it is natural that the cast contains an Asian and an Indian, but most of the cast is White, and Nordic at that. (The actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt looks Asian, but he is actually Jewish. Maybe the Khazar hypothesis is not dead.) There is no Hollywood monkey business of racial and ethnic casting against type.
Inception is a movie for smart people. The plot is complex and imaginative, but unlike Memento, it is perfectly coherent and consistent. You have to be clever and focused to follow the story, but if your mind wanders a bit, there are plenty of thrills and stunning images to keep you entertained.
Inception cements Christopher Nolan, at the age of 40, as one of the cinema’s great directors. I know for sure that I will not miss the opening night of his next movie. But why are you still here? See Inception. See it now.
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