Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Marion Cotillard, Ken Watanabe, and Ellen Page. Rated PG. Opens Friday, July 16
Flush with cash and clout from The Dark Knight, Christopher Nolan has made his dream project: a project about dreams. Ten years in the writing, Inception is something of a spiritual sequel to his Memento. Both movies are surrealist action-melodramas with involute plots and intricate crosscuts, whose enigmatic heroes, between shootouts, are much occupied with musings on identity and the nature of reality.
Watch the trailer for Inception.
This time around, Nolan has access to top-flight special effects, which permit him to show us a dream world that can literally bend itself into paradoxical shapes straight out of MC Escher.
Our guide in this world is Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio), a slick thief whose mastery of repurposed military brainwave mumbo-jumbo makes him an invaluable asset in the practice of corporate espionage. To help pull one final job—an “inception” or meme-planting in a billionaire tycoon (Cillian Murphy)—Cobb adds young architect Ariadne (Ellen Page) to a team of tough-guy brainiacs (including Tom Hardy and Joseph Gordon-Levitt). Ariadne’s job is to design a customized fake reality, and more importantly, to be the audience’s surrogate as the noob to this shared-hallucination trippiness.
Despite Ariadne’s efforts, Inception never seemed particularly plausible to me, partly because the technology itself seems far too valuable and commercially marketable to be wasted on mere thievery, and mostly because the main tension of the story—that Cobb, expert puppeteer of others’ minds, has a tenuous grasp on his own marbles—is a constant vuvuzela-like interruption in the suspension of disbelief.
This is not to deny Inception’s formal brilliance, particularly the micrometered editing, nor to overlook Nolan’s daring, in which he ripples the cinematic sea of blandness with a willfully bizarre epic that plays like "La jetée" on amphetamines.