In Inception, Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight, Memento), who directs and writes the film, asks the question, “Are we living in a dream world or is it real? And which is more desirable?” The viewer can answer for himself as Inception plunges the audience into both worlds. The arena of Inception, a system containing the wild creations of its dreamers, grows more vivid, thrilling and tangible as the movie unfolds.
Leonardo DiCaprio plays Cobb, an expert extracter, someone who is able to enter the dream state of another in order to steal confidential information from their subconscious. He works mainly corporate espionage, until one of his targets, Saito (Ken Watanbe) hires him to do an inception. Instead of stealing another’s ideas, he is to implant one.
Cobb knows the power of ideas. In one of the opening scenes, he states that ideas are the most powerful invaders of humankind, impossible to forget and capable of growing. Di Caprio is utterly convincing as the master dreamer and leader, the one who has the power to guide the others through the maze of their dream states and get out safely. This is not an easy sell because Nolan is asking us to suspend our belief about how we comprehend reality.
The dangers of inception are clear. There isn’t just one level. To implant the idea, his team must go 3 levels down, to a dream within a dream within a dream, comprehending and dodging the obstacles of their target, Fischer, played by Cillian Murphy.
Nolan visualizes this world powerfully. It becomes increasingly harder to distinguish the dream world from the waking world. People are in danger. Revolutionaries, security forces and armies hunt them down. Ellen Page as the architect, Ariadne, conjures up an entire cathedral-like structure on top of existing buildings through which she and Cobb roam freely, breaking the laws of physics. It’s like a multi-dimensional M.C. Escher drawing.
Our willing suspension of belief is referred back to during the climactic scenes, where the team tries to guide Fisher through the deepest level of dream state so he can discover the implanted idea himself. Nolan cuts between Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Arthur, Cobb’s right hand man and a sober, level headed influence, as he battles Fischer’s security forces in zero gravity while the rest of the team squares off on snow-capped mountains dodging an avalanche while battling gun-toting adversaries. In “real time” the dreamers are packed in a van plunging off a bridge into slow motion.
Cobb is tormented by a secret sorrow. He cannot prevent his wife from entering his dream states and destroying his plans. Ariadne acts as the outsider, the one who questions Cobb’s obsession and tries to protect him and the group against it.
The cast is uniformly excellent, with Tom Hardy playing Eames, the wise-cracking master of disguise and Dileep Rao as Yusuf, the chemist charged with jolting the team from their self-induced comas and driving the van plunging off the bridge. But Christopher Nolan is the master, creating enrapturing scenes that make you pause as you try to answer the question I posed at the start of this review.