Christopher Nolan reportedly began developing the universe of Inception nearly ten years ago, and that’s not hard to believe; with all it’s intricacies, paradoxes and innovative ideas, Inception is undoubtedly his masterpiece and well worth the ten-year development period. Set at an undisclosed point in the future, Inception sees a team of skilled extractors – thieves specializing in extracting information from a subject’s subconscious by entering their dreams – attempt a seemingly impossible task: injecting an idea into a subject’s mind in a manner convincing enough that the subject believes the idea came from himself and not a third party.
The completion of this task, the so-called “inception”, is vital for team leader Dominic Cobb; unable to return home to his children because of legal complications, he is forced to stay on the run, taking jobs to attempt to buy his way back home. Client Saito’s job offer is irresistible: a powerful figure in the energy market, Saito promises to use his connections to let Cobb return home, presuming the inception is successful. What is already a difficult task is complicated by the presence of Cobb’s subconscious projection of his dead wife Mal, seemingly intent on sabotaging his missions to convince him to stay in the dream world with her forever.
Cobb and Mal’s relationship and the circumstances surrounding her death are key plot points in the film; explained through dream sequences, snippets and emotionally charged flashbacks, Nolan does an excellent job of teasing us with the details and leaving us to guess the rest as he returns to the mission. Perhaps most interesting about the situation is that Mal is only a projection of Cobb’s subconscious, and her anger and attempts to trap him are influenced primarily by the guilt with which he is wracked over the notion he is responsible for her death. His physical conflict with her in the dream world represents his internal turmoil; reconciliation would be akin to coming to terms with her death, and the plot accurately depicts the difficulty involved in forgiving oneself.
A definite master of intrigue, Nolan’s primary policy appears to be that of hiding the secrets until the very end; he lets the film become serious and dark before adding a dash of humour to bring the audience back into the action. There’s no break for thinking: in flashbacks, you’ll be lost in the plot, deeply analytical and trying to guess the meaning; then you’ll be thrust back into the action and the accompanying state of awe as we enjoy fast-paced, gravity-defying fight scenes rivalling those unreal, carefully choreographed scenes seen in The Matrix. His preference for practical effects over computer-generated is admirable; even the most complex fight sequences were patiently shot over and over, take after take to match his artistic vision. There’s nothing trivial about the 100-foot motorised hallway set built in-studio, turning at a speed of eight revolutions per second to simulate shifts in gravity; this is the way special effects should be done.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt skilfully navigates the spinning set, throwing his armed assailants against the wall as gravity changes to his advantage; his character is Cobb’s curiously-mannered point man; perhaps even more curious about the character are the similarities in his mannerisms to those of Gordon-Levitt’s last role, Tom in Marc Webb’s (500) Days of Summer. Undoubtedly a unique and talented actor, it is somewhat interesting to note that he isn’t engaging his full potential here. The fight scenes are awe-inspiring and epic, but in brainstorming sessions it’s easy to forget you’re meant to be watching a trained extractor and point man, not a smitten greetings card writer.
A better example of acting talent well explored is in the case of Ellen Page, perhaps best known for her role as the eponymous heroine in 2007’s drama-comedy Juno, who portrays architect Ariadne, hired to design the levels within the dream to create the impression of realism for the subject they are attempting to deceive. Nolan’s idea here is wonderful; the world, designed by the architect, is populated by projected manifestations of the subject’s subconscious after they are drawn into the dream. However, if the dreamer changes the world of the dream too much, the subject will subconsciously attempt to find and eliminate the dreamer through whatever means possible. In some cases, the subconscious projections are militarised thanks to training by another extractor, making the process more difficult.
Inception is, without a doubt, the best film of the year so far, and is far more impressive than Nolan’s last work, The Dark Knight. Combining a clever plot with strong, emotionally-charged acting and some breathtaking action sequences, Inception will probably go down as one of my favourite recent films. If you haven’t already seen it, see it now; if you have seen it, you’ll know exactly why I’m such a fan of this film.