Dreaming is a very complex phenomenon. No one really knows why it happens, how it happens, and how it relates to reality. There are theories and explanations, sure, but do we know for sure? Christopher Nolan presents us with an option. He takes dreaming to fantastic new levels — figuratively as well as literally — and swirls it around us like a fog. Dreams, after all, happen in our subconscious. So it’s only fitting that Inception seems to take place in our subconscious as well. We don’t know what’s real and what’s a dream, all we know is that in the world of dreams, nothing can be controlled.
Nolan builds upon this idea in his screenplay for Inception. It’s probably the one story that is filled to the brim with exposition and still manages to not make complete sense. The more you watch it, the more holes you find; the more clumsy it all seems. But is it really clumsy? The magic of Inception is not in how the little details work — or don’t work — it’s in the excitement of the idea. We all know dreams, and what they’re capable of; we know that they don’t need to make sense. The characters in Inception know this too, and they use this knowledge to infiltrate the subconscious of other people, to gain important secret information. This idea is so fantastically brilliant that it makes the movie’s mistakes seem intentional.
Here’s what it’s about: Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) is the leader of a black market team of dream infiltrators. They are hired by clients to enter the dreams of competitors and rivals in order to extract information that could be either beneficial or damning. One of these missions goes bad, and now Dom is stranded, away from his home and his children. He receives a new job offer from Saito (Ken Watanabe), a wealthy business magnate who wants to see his rival fail. Saito promises Dom redemption. Dom takes the job.
Saito’s offer is where the movie gets interesting. All that backstory about Dom, his wife, and his children is good, and necessary, but it’s not all that interesting. The idea of inception, now that’s something. That’s where the kick is. Instead of taking ideas out of someone’s mind, why not put one there instead? What if someone had planted the idea of peace in the mind of Hitler, or war in the mind of Gandhi? Taking an idea out is detrimental, but planting one could change the world.
The idea: Make Saito’s rival’s son (Cillian Murphy) independent from his father. He must not continue the business. The way Dom’s team tackles this is amazing. They spend hours, if not days, huddled around in some warehouse, discussing the possible ways in which to change the thinking of the Murphy character, Robert Fischer. They decide that addressing Robert’s relationship with his father from his childhood is the best way to do it. They develop a way to travel three dream layers down, penetrating Robert’s mind to the point of implosion. I say “implosion” because that’s more or less what my mind was inclined to do when I first saw the movie.
Is the inception successful? I will not say. In fact, I can not say. I can tell you that they get the job done, but what are the consequences? And what if it was all just another dream? How successful would that be?
You can accuse Nolan of borrowing narrative elements from The Matrix, but that is merely a scratch. The story of Inception takes place in a world that’s far away from Zion, or The Matrix. It exists in our world; in a world that we know. And then it inhabits a world that is closer to us: Our minds. Of course, the dreams in Inception don’t work like our own; they are not abitrary. They are designed, created, built, and then lived in. They operate on the same fundamentals — randomness, chance, the breaking of rules — but they do not produce the same results. Nolan understands this, and he constructs a formula that works in circles, like the paradox that the Gordon-Levitt character explains. He cites the Penrose Stairs; Nolan cites the entire movie. It is one big paradox. Usually, a paradoxical movie like this will takes us in and then abandon us somewhere in the middle, leaving us lost in a whirlpool of confusion. But Nolan is a master. You could say he’s been preparing for this sort of thing since his debut, Following, and he knows exactly how to bring us in and take us out safely, with our minds still intact.
Best Moment | The hallway fight scene in the hotel. The way this scene plays with our minds is phenomenal. The rolling van, the spinning corridor, the semi-floating characters. The music. Superb.
Worst Moment | Nope.