Ten hours flying in the sky, a journey of a lifetime, and it could last 50 years in a state beyond consciousness—that’s just a sneak peek into a world of a dream within a dream. Billionaire energy executive Saito (Ken Watanabe) offers master extractor Dom Cobb, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, an assignment that could end his forced exile if he pulls it off. The plan is to implant an idea into the mind of energy tycoon Robert Fischer (Cillian Murphy), heir to the most powerful energy empire, by subconsciously cajoling him into doing the opposite of what a true businessperson would, consolidate and concentrate; instead, Cobb is supposed to inject the idea persuading Fischer to voluntarily dismantle his empire. An absurd idea and perhaps, out of mind, but that’s Inception in all its imperfections.
If Inception proves anything, it has to be Christopher Nolan’s stylish storytelling prowess. You have to hand it to him for staggering audiences with a fairly well-known plot surrounded by a nifty theme that has defined originality in movies, to some extent, in spite of being a signature heist drama from Hollywood. A template movie as such, Inception is a dazzling prototype demonstrating the art of innovative reprisal. It might be vain, although, to call it a reprise. After all, 4 years ago when it first hit the screens, the movie met with a plethora of rave reviews and audience acceptance—many considering it one of the most intelligent movies of our time. Hardly off the mark.
Inception is no doubt a shrewd movie, but what takes it a notch above is the intelligent treatment of a basic action drama with shades of espionage. For this sole purpose, Nolan deserves the plaudits for doing the ordinary in an extraordinary way. Consequently, people are bound to remember this brain-twisting saga for the story but also, more precisely, for arresting the imagination of viewers, thereby, involving them in the process of constructing and demolishing a mysterious labyrinth called, that’s right, inception.
Throughout the movie, one can’t help but recall Edgar Allan Poe’s poem, “A Dream Within a Dream.” The poem accurately summarizes the myriad of mayhem surrounding the inner and outer realities of our central protagonist here. The nature of Cobb is almost as delusional as Poe’s speaker in the gothic poem. Also, much of the high-fi Laws of Inception point to the gist the poem wishes to impart, which of course mayn’t be anywhere near Nolan’s psyche when he wrote this startling story, but the tone of the movie is similar to Poe’s hallucinatory poem on the flux of reality.
In Inception, Nolan creates a maze of illusion in which dreams marry a singular reality, creating chaos in the process—ultimately extinguishing the thin line between subjective reality and objective truth. It’s not just a story about dreams within dreams. It’s rather a perspective into what is real, what feels real, and the abyss that we know as conscious existence. The dazzling effects and the fascinating gimmick notwithstanding, Inception speaks volumes on the philosophy of existence and the power of freewill. People have subjective memories and interpretations and we don’t need to dwell into sophisticated trances and dream travels to understand how reality comes from acceptance—embracing life in all its color, mood, and texture.
Some of the effects in this juggernaut are dreamlike, no pun intended. Paradoxical, the tinting and curling of walls, the coiling of streets and architecture, and the space devoid of gravity, these absurd realities almost point to a surrealistic state of mind—giving Inception a dysfunctional preview. This mixture of reality with dreams, the surreal, also attaches the movie with profundity; each action having a rippling effect, and the vulnerabilities increase as the characters go deeper into their states of fantasy.
As such, Inception solely treads on the path of Dom Cobb more than any other character. It wouldn’t have been off the mark if the movie was named The Life and Times of Dom Cobb and is most effective that way. The intricacies and greyness of Cobb keeps the clock ticking. As a man in peril, dejected, living with a devastating secret, and incapable of letting go of the past; we have a usual plot—one chance at retribution—and a traditional trapped protagonist who has to let go of his past to fulfill his desires. Cobb is the heartbeat here and as the protagonist (or anti-hero), his character brings a parallel layer of intrigue boosting the multi-layered approach Nolan adopts in the movie. Complimenting Cobb, we have other eccentric characters—a peculiar medical expert (Dileep Rao as Yusuf), another expert in forgery and deception (Tom Hardy as Eames), and an information geek (Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Arthur). Then, we have a certified architect who also happens to be a charmer (Ellen Page as Ariadne)—working, both, as the pivot of the story and as the shrink for the main character.
Inception takes one simple plot, fixes it with a clever concept and under the astute direction of Christopher Nolan, here we are now, the movie is on the verge of achieving cult status. The primary selling point for me was the destructive love story between Cobb and femme fatale Mal (played by Marion Cotillard). Those dreary and devastating moments, a powerful showcase by Cotillard as the diffused Mal, hijacking Cobb’s consciousness into a self-created prison of illusion stands out as the most intriguing cog in this well-oiled machine—working as a major plot device, punctuating the story, and bringing everything together as one complete whole.
The action and eventuality are less compelling compared to the occurrences and episodes, which in itself is fascinating followed by the complex science of travelling in dreams, constructing mazes (dreamscaping), and escaping the same. By less compelling, I don’t mean to suggest it’s not good. Far from that, but Inception makes you want to experience the process and know more about it than merely watch cars fly, buildings collapse, guns soar, and people thump one another. The climax also becomes an afterthought because the happenings just so happen to be very interesting. That is the biggest positive of Inception—it’s not just watching to know what happens, it’s watching because the lives and times in the movie are just that bit impressive.
Inception is a smart movie from a very smart filmmaker. A mundane story about emotions mingles in a spiritual sphere and this tantalizing fusion of the ordinary with the extraordinary does the trick. As a filmmaker, Nolan enjoys startling his audiences, but I see nothing more than emotions in Inception. It’s right around the same level as Nolan’s previous brain twister, Memento (2000). Both have their strengths and weaknesses, yet the production value understandably sets Inception apart (from Memento). As a movie, there is hardly much to choose between the two. Personally though, his finest might be the bleak psychological thriller, Insomnia (2002), which stages guilt at its optimum. Sometimes simplicity simply rules.
In the case of Inception, the chaotic character of Cobb, the intrusive romance between Cobb and Mal, and the brilliant concept of dreamscaping might slot it as one of the most innovate movies of our time and an exemplary milestone in modern filmmaking.