Movie Review: Inception

Believe the hype for Nolan's dreamscape thriller

The scope of Christopher Nolan’s on-screen ambition is seemingly limitless, particularly his relentless desire to destroy the accepted standard that a big Hollywood blockbuster is inherently mindless. He already proved his theory with The Dark Knight, and with Inception, he nails it again with his personal mix of cerebral celluloid cement and the mind-blowing action for which he is now equally revered. Forget the hype machine, and the wilfully obscure marketing campaign – quality filmmaking of this calibre, like Nolan’s low budget sophomore film Memento with its equally mind-bending structure, can speak for itself.

By now, anyone who’s been chomping at the bit for any online snippet of information about Inception will have an idea – planted by the media in cahoots, no doubt – of what to expect from the plot, the tagline for which is “Your mind is the scene of the crime”. It’s a metaphysical thriller, in which Christopher Nolan explores a genuinely audacious idea – no doubt first created in his own enviable dreams – that he could set a film within the mind of sleeping dreamers – and we’d buy it.

Leonardo diCaprio stars as Dom Cobb, an “extractor”, whose expertise is extracting ideas and thoughts from inside the dreams of others has led to his exile from home, and his status as a wanted man for a crime he didn’t commit. One last job could save him, but it’s not to extract – instead, he has to plant an idea, a far trickier concept. It’s a psychologically complex premise, insisting the audience flex their minds as they watch; this is not a film for the lazy. But neither is it too complicated to be wholly enjoyable, as some might label Memento.

Nolan uses exposition sparingly, but each character that arrives on the scene explains each step, drawing the audience inextricably into the world of dreams that Nolan has imagined, so convincingly that there is little cause to question his rules – except of course, if such cleverness inspires you to stay alert for logic holes instead of willingly getting just a little bit dazed by the idea that at any one time, you’re not entirely sure just which character’s subconscious your attention is swimming in. There’s humour and heart too, if less than one might want – possibly the weightiest criticism one could muster – with particular kudos going to Tom Hardy’s “forger” Eames , a dreamscape impersonator providing much needed light relief from the action and heavy emotional themes of guilt, forgiveness and redemption with his droll patter and sly one liners.

Nolan’s world in Inception is one that could rival Burgess’ Clockwork Orange in originality, with a specific vocabulary and a physics-bending set of rules that normalise an essentially insane idea, that we can wade around inside dreams, moulding them, as Ellen Page’s dream architect Ariadne (a not so subtle nod to the Greek figure who guides Theseus out of the labyrinth, essentially her task here) does, initially with innocence. “It’s just pure creation” she says in wonderment, before peeling up an entire pavement and pasting it to the sky, then walking on it. But there are consequences to psychic wandering, particularly when enemies from within the dreamer’s brains appear with murderous intentions, or those in the know have been brain-trained to defend their subconscious, military style (hence the explosive action) from such psychic invasions.

Nolan has no intention of just feeding a concept and expecting that to be enough. It’s difficult to imagine a dream within a dream within a dream successfully translating to any art form. But he pulls it off with bells on, on a blizzarding mountainside, held within a zero gravity Spiderman style punch up (from the sombre, wonderfully understated Joseph Gordon Levitt), held within a trance-like bus falling endlessly into a watery abyss. Explaining further would be pointless – this is one epic, multi-layered journey every man must take for himself.

“They say we only use a fraction of our brain’s potential” we are told in Inception. The same will never be said of Nolan.

Andrea Hubert

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