Christopher Nolan’s inspired sci-fi epic Inception has finally hit our screens like a speeding, flaming juggernaut of metaphysical and mind-bending wonder. The amount of hype has been a little overbearing and people had made their minds up about the film months before its release. It was in major danger of being something of a let-down after apocalyptic levels of hype. Now, I don’t usually judge upcoming films by trailers or adverts but even from reading the previews, watching the dim-witted advert/trailers on the TV it was obvious that Inception was going to be something quite special; and it is. Inception is written, directed and produced by Christopher Nolan whose previous notable efforts include The Prestige, Batman Begins and The Dark Knight; none of which exactly set the world on fire but are competent action thrillers nonetheless. Nolan pulls out all the stops on this one though and has achieved an ambitious aim with this new feature that by far surpasses his previous work. Deriving influence from an eclectic range which includes the Wachowski Bros, Film Noir and Philip K Dick, Inception covers a lot of ground in existentialist theory, features some mind-blowing effects and really tests the characters, and the viewer’s, perception of reality. Also, it’s a bloody good excuse to watch people beat the crap out of each other…in mid air…while upside down.
Nolan’s tale, set in the not-too-distant future, follows a mercenary group who deal not with money, but with peoples’ minds, dreams, secrets and memories. Their business is in ‘extraction’, the theft of information from someone’s mind. The science of it is very interesting whereby the subject is sedated and then ‘wired’ up to people who can then enter the subject’s subconscious. Without explaining it too much essentially they can manipulate the person’s mind while in the ‘dream state’ but ultimately the subject is in charge and the process can be perilous, to say the least, if the subjects mind becomes aware of an intrusion. Thus begins an exciting trip into the warped and mysterious depths of the human consciousness. DiCaprio stars as Cobb, accused of killing his wife, is in exile and makes a living by infiltrating people’s dreams for money. After a botched attempt to steal information from the mind of Saito (Ken Watanabe) the bold businessman, who has prior knowledge of Cobb’s work, decides to hire him and in return give Cobb his freedom. The mission: to influence the son of a very influential CEO of their client’s rival business by using the more complex process of ‘inception’, this being the planting of a new idea into someone’s head. Cobb assembles a crack team to help him achieve this difficult task. It doesn’t take Cobb long and the plan begins to come together. However Cobb’s burning guilt resulting from the death of his wife some time before begins to infiltrate and embody itself in his mind while in the ‘dream state’; therefore his ability to control events and guide the group comes under question.
Despite all of the complexities with ‘dream states’ and ‘extractions’ Inception’s plot is actually quite basic. The idea of the dream state and its workings are established quickly and after about half an hour the audience has a pretty good grasp about what’s in store. With that out the way what we are left with is a simple story about a man haunted by his shady past and a lost love. If you judge it from that perspective then there’s not a lot to Inception apart from the usual espionage, action adventure with added special effects affair. For me Inception’s main trump card is the way it pulls off such a complex structure and demands a lot from the viewer in certain scenes. The way in which it merges states of consciousness with their different events and time frames is exhausting, but oh so rewarding. Unlike the usual big Hollywood blockbusters it is very demanding of the audience and has a series of complex narrative layers, which means you can’t take an eye of it for a second. It is a bold but rewarding move which is refreshing to see from the Hollywood machine.
Inception also boasts some astonishing special effects and a broad range of locales that you would expect from being inside someone’s subconscious. Inception looks and feels like a dream with bending landscapes, strange settings and gripping action. The team use their surroundings and imaginations to destroy their enemies Matrix style and as an action/adventure film it stands up there as one of the best; the action is frequent but unlike most Hollywood blockbusters it isn’t used flippantly. The best use of effects must be the scene we’ve all seen in the ads where Ellen Page’s character bends the city floor upside down until the audience is looking up at the other side of town! These highly imaginative and effective scenes make the film a fantastic spectacle.
DiCaprio heads a list of solid performances from the likes of Ellen Page, Joseph Gordon Levitt, Cillian Murphy and Tom Hardy. DiCaprio continues his good run of films with an energetic and demanding performance as the troubled Cobb. Ellen Page plays the teams ‘architect’- The person who creates the ‘dream space’ in which they perform their thievery – and proves yet again that she could be a big star very soon. Her performance is not exactly that of Juno standard as the action/thriller genre isn’t usually her style, however even though she is in unfamiliar territory she still provides the strongest character next to Cobb. A special mention goes to Joseph Gordon Levitt of Brick and 500 Days of Sumer fame. His effortlessly suave performance as Arthur, Cobb’s trusted right-hand man, makes for excellent watching. He has certainly kept the dark, cool edge he had as the ass-kicking high school student in Brick.
To summarise Inception has the excitement, the imaginative genius and the sheer spectacle to dazzle and amaze. The characters are also strong, the action is intense and the story is completely gripping right up to its curious ending, which sent every member of the audience into a crescendo of ‘Oooooohhss and Ahhhhhhs’. Some have dismissed it as the ‘New Matrix’ but Inception is far from a mere copycat and truly has made its own mark on the cinema map. Everybody likes an intelligent thriller and Hollywood has produced a severe lack of them of late but with Inception and now The Expendables coming out we may see a resurgence in this genre?…ahem…on second thoughts, maybe not.