It is a little difficult to know where to start with this new offering from Christopher Nolan. It is like a cross between The Matrix, James Bond and Sigmund Freud, with a little romance thrown in for good measure. Nolan does not want his audience to be passive recipients of his offering, and there is no way you could just sit and soak up this very clever plot without thinking very hard about what you are seeing; what it all means; and if it is really happening at all.
Here we are thrown into the world of dreams – and indeed, of dreams within dreams. The intricate plot centres on Dom Cobb, excellently played by Leonardo DiCaprio, who deals in industrial espionage of a novel kind. His speciality is breaking into people’s dreams and extracting information from them which is of use to his clients. His personal life is, however, in something of a state of disarray, as he has left his two young children in the care of their grandfather and fled from the US under suspicion of murdering his wife, Mal. In fact we learn that he feels responsible for messing up her mind so much that she lost track of what was real and what was imaginary. And as he did use her as a sort of guinea pig for his new dream techniques, he is entitled to feel more than a little guilt about that. The problem for him is that Mal, played by Marion Cotillard, who he is still desperately in love with, keeps appearing in his dreams and preventing him from thinking, or should that be dreaming (?) straight.
So when a Japanese hot shot businessman with the alleged power to get Cobb’s wanted status with the US authorities expunged, thus allowing his to return to his children, offers him an assignment unlike any he has ever undertaken, Cobb can’t refuse. For this task he needs to not only extract information from dreams, but to go one stage further and to implant thoughts via dreams i.e. inception. The victim for this task is Robert Fischer, played by the ever easy on the eye Cillian Murphy, who is the son of a dying business tycoon, who the Japanese businessman instigating the whole operation wants to persuade to break up his father’s empire, thus leaving the way clear for his rival corporation to get a look in. For this he needs a crack team of operators around him, including the wonderful Ellen Page, who plays the rather aptly named Ariadne, a brilliant young student who will be the chief maze designer and dream architect. But this is no minatour’s labyrinth – this is a mental maze of the most confusing proportions.
If you think that I have put a little too much detail in here by way of explanation, well is does feel like a lot, but I couldn’t honestly find a way of cutting it down without being totalling baffling. Suffice it to say that the plot hinges on the fantastically clever device of going down into several levels of Fischer’s consciousness to influence his thought processes. So the same actors are appearing in different scenes at roughly the same time, only in different levels of dreams and in the dreams of different people. So that’s clear then…. Ariadne sums up the confusion well at one point when she asks "Whose subconscious are we going into actually?" Good point, well made, I thought.
The film involves dazzling sets, including Paris folding in on itself, and huge crumbling cites of the mind. The action is so fast paced it leaves you slightly dizzy, including as it does gravity defying feats in hotel corridors, alongside exploits in lift shafts, and fierce gun fighting in snowy tundra, all involving the same characters at the same time.
The whole concept of the exploration and manipulation of dreams is a brilliant one. If only we could do that. The film is also emotionally engaging, with Cobb haunted by the vision of his beloved, if by now slightly deranged, dead wife; and Robert Fischer dealing with feelings of inadequacy in the face of his father’s stratospheric corporate success.
I can’t admit to understanding everything in ‘Inception’ – even with a couple more viewings it may still be a trifle confusing for me. But it is very refreshing to be asked to think so much, and to concentrate so hard, as well to sit back and enjoy this dazzling spectacle of an action movie.