At some point while watching Christopher Nolan’s mind-bending, soul-churning masterpiece, Inception is a journey into the unseen rooms of the mind. It is also a slightly uncomfortably intimate look inside the mind of Nolan himself. It’s a frightening place to be, as it would be to enter anyone’s mind – dwelling in the various levels of consciousness, weaving in and out of the fears, desires and behaviors.¬† As much as we know, as far as we’ve come, as many places as we’ve been, there is still a lot about our minds and our dreams that we dare not discover. How might your darkest fears and impulses manifest themselves in your dreams? What monsters are lurking there? What memories?¬†¬† Do you face them or run from them?
The best way to see Inception is to not know anything about it going in. Therefore, I am keeping this first take as spoiler-free as possible. What drives the film, what is truly memorable about it is worth discovering on your own. I will say that the standout performances are many, including Leonardo DiCaprio, who just keeps topping himself. Marion Cotillard, who keeps surprising us with her versatility. She explodes off the screen here – like a vivid flame, flickering in and out.
If dreams help us to develop our thoughts and decisions in the waking world, what would happen if the seeds of those thoughts and decisions were somehow altered? That is what the characters do as they go spelunking into dreams and alter the inception of thought.¬† The details and plot points come fast and furiously – and the best thing to do is just go with it. The film is about opening the doors of the mind and so it requires the viewer to do the same – to toss out convention and expectations and just watch it unfold.
Nolan references many films, intentionally and unintentionally. It has shades of Bladerunner, The Matrix, Heat, and 2001, per Nolan’s own admission, but one sees Pan’s Labyrinth, Altered States and even Last Year at Marienbad in it. This is not to say that it’s lofty and pretentious. Quite the contrary. It is a film that defines the rules of its world and sticks to them. Those looking for deeper meaning can find it. Those looking to find various interpretations of it can find them.
The basic story begins with DiCaprio working with a new dream architect (Ellen Page), who designs the dream worlds that they must visit. They are essentially breaking into the minds of others, people whose thoughts and actions mean something to the world at large. Once Ellen Page’s character is introduced to the world of dream diving, she finds she can’t resist it, even though she recognizes something dark and dangerous inside Leo’s character’s subconscious. The rest of it involves an intensifying of more of the same and to describe it in any more detail would ruin it for you.
I’m eager to return to the world of dreams, to dive back into the subconscious states of the characters and open those otherwise locked doors.
Imagine a film being made in 2010 where you have absolutely no idea where it is going or how it will end. These were the worlds created by revolutionary filmmakers, like Stanley Kubrick, Woody Allen, David Cronenberg and David Lynch. With Inception we have a film and a filmmaker that has broken new ground and very nearly reinvented the form and he did it all without 3-D. Nolan gets there on the power of the story – and his vision was realized with the aid of the usual suspects – Wally Pfister’s cinematography, Hans Zimmer’s unbelievable score – the art direction, the visual effects – see it on IMAX and it will blow your mind. I am sure more than a few will discover that seeing the movie IN an altered state will also blow your mind, not that I’m advocating that.
We will have to wait a bit before calling Inception for Oscar. There are still some open-ended questions about whether critics will embrace it, audiences will flock to it, or if its “genre” is outside the scope of what the Academy yearns for. If it were me, it would be an easy call as one of the ten best pictures of the year, maybe even of the last ten.