Christopher Nolan’s Inception is the movie I’ve been waiting for. Whip-smart, exciting and ultimately poignant, like any good science fiction film it brims with ideas and possibilities. Taking us on a thrilling ride of the imagination, it uses its elaborate plot and visual effects to challenge and thrill us rather than bludgeon us into submission. It’s an entertainment of the mind that leaves us reeling, curious and, most importantly, thrilled by the challenges it presents.
Dom (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a dream thief who uses a groundbreaking technique to break into people’s imaginations. Plunging into their minds while they sleep, he’s able to steal their ideas in the name of corporate espionage. However, his newest client, Saito (Ken Watanabe) has a challenge for him. He wants Dom to plant an idea in his rival Robert Fisher’s (Cillian Murphy) mind. While his partner Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) claims this to be impossible, Dom assembles a crack team, including new dream builder Ariadne (Ellen Page) and accepts the case. What his associates don’t realize is Saito has promised to help Dom return to the United States to his children as he’s been on the run since being accused of killing his wife Mal (Marion Cotillard).
The film’s first 45 minutes is a fascinating explanation of how the dreamscape works. Nolan has gone all out in setting up layers and timelines in this world. Subjects can have dreams within dreams and dreams within dreams within dreams, which create all sorts of pitfalls for Dom and his fellow mind thieves. One of the film’s most compelling factors is that once Nolan sets up the movie’s premise, he undercuts it by shifting the rules on us. Dom finds that his physiological demons are able to invade the mind of those he’s trespassing on and when it’s discovered that Fisher has been trained to combat this sort of attack, all bets are off.
What elevates this above other summer fodder is the film’s emotional pull. Mal invades Dom’s dreams and taunts him by asking him to join her. Whether she means in death or a dream of her own is one of the movie’s mysteries, as the plot is filled with twists and turns that keep us guessing along with the characters. Sure, there’s a great deal of manipulation at play, but it’s never done gratuitously or for cheap effect. We’re in the hands of a master storyteller in Nolan. His intriguing approach to filmmaking is not only thrilling but intriguing enough to leave us wanting more.
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