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7/15/2010

Inception

Christopher Nolan has been the apple of everybody's eye since he brought Batman back to prominence with Batman Begins and The Dark Knight. With success comes expectation, and now he's reached the point where it's assumed all of his future projects will match what came before. While both Batman films were amazing, there's a certain limitation that always comes into play when dealing with somebody else's toys, so for me the truest judge of Nolan's creativity has been his pet projects: namely Memento and The Prestige. One a time bending film noir, the other a thriller that teases the unique bond between science and magic. There's no questioning the man's inventiveness and creativity, but with Inception he's created a film that goes beyond simple description and cements him as a certifiable genius.

From the very beginning, we see Cobb(Leonardo Dicaprio) waking up face down on a beach, the waves crashing down over him.  They could represent the never ending tide of dreams or thoughts, the way each flow like water into one another. Cobb is a thief of the highest order. He specializes in dream theft, or extraction, stealing ideas or thoughts straight from a mark's subconscious. This is done through the process of shared dream, alongside his partner Arthur(Joseph Gordon-Levitt), the pointman of every operation. After a botched mission, Cobb is convinced by Saito(Ken Watanabe), a wealthy businessman, to take on an even more dangerous task: Inception.

Inception is like the holy grail of dream theft. It's not theft at all, it's the complete opposite. It involves the planting of an idea into a subject's mind. The process is so fragile and wrought with peril that supposedly no one's been able to accomplish it. Cobb is desperate, and Saito might be his only chance to get back home to his kids, left behind after the death of his wife, Mal(Marion Cotillard). He assembles a formidable team for the near impossible task: Ariadne(Ellen Page), a young architect brought in to create the dreamscape they'll inhabit; Eames(Tom Hardy), a forger who can impersonate key characters from the mark's mind; and Yusef(Dileep Rao), who creates the concoctions that keep them in deep sleep. The A-Team thinks they specialize in the impossible? They got nothin' on these guys. Their job is to break into the mind of a wealthy heir(Cilian Murphy) and implant a simple thought in his subconscious.

The job is already hard enough. Ideas can't be forced but must be implanted in such a way that they seem and grow naturally. To complicate matters, Cobb is slowly losing control. His visions of Mal have begun to take over, to the point where she's going out of her way to foul up their missions. In order for it to stop, he's going to have to deal with her, one way or another.

While simple in premise, Inception puts so many ideas forth that multiple viewings simply will never be enough. Nolan creates a world that is so complex and vital, but is fleshed out with such intricacy that it's completely believable. This is no mere heist film, although even on that level it smashes anything we've seen before. It rewards those who invest in it completely. You can't simply walk into Inception and mentally check out halfway through. You've got to bring your game face. A lady sitting behind me had checked out pretty early on, texting to the point where security flashed a light on her, making inane comments halfway through. I'm pretty sure she was the one person I heard say the film was "slow" on the way out. If hers is the mindset you're going to have, don't bother showing up.

Not to say that Inception is complicated for the sake of being complicated. It's completely the opposite, as despite the multiple layers it never gets unwieldy. Nolan's ease in controlling multiple plots, ideas, and concepts is extraordinary. He's like a master conductor guiding a speeding train through a complicated maze.

I haven't even gotten to the thundering Hanz Zimmer score. Or the elegantly constructed dream worlds by Wally Pfister. They simply must be experienced for themselves. So simple in design, the real thrill comes as when these fragile mindscapes begin to erode. The style employed is part surrealist, part film noir, and unlike anything I've seen. In some ways it bears a resemblance to Shutter Island, another Dicaprio film from earlier this year that also dealt with the crushing effect of memories and dreams. All of Nolan's films in some way deal with the idea of identity, from Memento on through The Dark Knight and now this.

It's easy to forget that there are still original, creative thinkers making movies out there. At one point or another we've all bemoaned how the movies have gotten stale, providing us nothing but retreads to feast on. Inception is the most challenging, thought provoking, and flat out exciting film of the year. Afterwards, not only will you be compelled to talk endlessly about it the way I sure did, but it might make you wonder if maybe Nolan had implanted an idea in your brain too.