Directed by Christopher Nolan
Screenplay by Christopher Nolan
Leonardo DiCaprio as Cobb
Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Arthur
Ellen Page as Ariadne
Tom Hardy as Eames
Ken Watanabe as Saito
Dileep Rao as Yusuf
Cillian Murphy as Robert Fischer, Jr.
Tom Berenger as Browning
An Exploration into the Complexities of the Human Mind
Results in the Best Film of 2010
Try as we might, we can’t begin to comprehend the complexity, necessity, and peculiarity of dreams. Scientists, writers, and filmmakers have delved into the human mind but the unconscious brain remains a completely alien space. When it comes to fictional portrayals of the inner sanctum of the mind, nothing has ever done it better than Christopher Nolan’s Inception.
Inception, written and directed by Nolan (The Dark Knight, Memento), is easily the best film of 2010 (so far). The film successfully maps out the complex topography of the human mind, the terrifying and exhilarating nature of dreams, and in so doing, becomes as unforgettable as it is infinitely watchable. Inception is one of the year’s most anticipated films due to its teaser trailers, which left everything to the imagination while depicting stunningly malleable cityscapes and midair fight scenes underscored by throbbing orchestral music. If you did your research after catching one of the teasers, you might’ve grasped a vague concept involving idea theft, psychological espionage, and the architecture of dreams. What you didn’t realize was the sheer artistry of the concept, the multi-layered, misunderstood, and labyrinthine nature of the human mind, and the way film—in itself a dreamlike medium—can portray the landscape of the psyche.
Frankly, it would take an entire review to elucidate the concept of Inception (and besides, you may need a second viewing to fully grasp the myriad details you may have missed upon first, slack-jawed viewing). In a world where technology exists that allows us to dive inside another person’s brain, to commit intellectual and emotional thievery, Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) is the best “Extractor” in the business. His team includes Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), who is something like an anesthesiologist, controlling the entering and leaving of the dream state; and Nash (Lukas Haas), the “architect,” or engineer of dreamscapes. In the first scenes of the film, Cobb and his team meet a formidable match in Saito (Ken Watanabe). Though their extraction mission fails and they lose Nash in the process, Saito offers them a job: convince Robert Fischer, Jr. (Cillian Murphy) to break up the massive empire left to him in the wake of his father’s death. Without ado, Cobb picks up a new architect, a college student named Ariadne (Ellen Page), and recruits Eames (Tom Hardy) and Yusuf (Dileep Rao). They begin scheming an “inception,” or planting of an idea, in Fischer’s brain, but the concept of depositing an idea in someone’s head isn’t nearly as simple as it may seem. As the film progresses, we discover that not all is well with Cobb, that his past and his subconscious are interfering with the dreams he manipulates.
Inception is a psychological action-thriller that completely redefines the genre. Flawless pacing, spectacular effects, gorgeous sets and cinematography, and ingenious writing interweave to create a film unlike anything you’ve ever seen. As a species, we are defined by our innate curiosity, our desire to seek answers to the most complex questions. Inception doesn’t offer answers, per se, but poses a theoretical concept that seems infinitely possible, mostly due to the brilliant construction of the physical dream world. As Cobb and Ariadne (whose namesake in Greek mythology is the goddess of the labyrinth) learn to engineer and navigate their collective dreams, the world turns topsy-turvy. Gravity and physics—those concepts on which the very fabric of our sanity is built—become meaningless. The result is dizzying and magnificent. One hesitates to use those old clichés, to call such a movie a “nail biter” or an “edge of your seat thriller,” but clichés are there for a reason, and viewers will most likely find themselves grinning, cringing, and collectively breathing sighs of relief (especially during and after an intense anti-gravity fight scene).
The film’s performers are wholly compelling in their respective roles. Gordon-Levitt and Tom Hardy have a cheeky rapport that’s necessary for such an intense film; DiCaprio is, as usual, utterly convincing; Page (Juno), whose stature and mannerisms still peg her as a very young actress, displays laudable composure and intelligence; the insanely gorgeous Marion Cotillard is both ethereal and eerie as Cobb’s wife Mal. Nolan’s 2008 film The Dark Knight garnered critical praise unlike any other superhero movie—because it wasn’t one. Part of what set that film apart from others in its genre was its pacing, editing, and music. Cinematographer Wally Pfister returned to work with Nolan on Inception, creating dreamscapes so real and yet so unimaginable. Costume designer Jeffrey Kurland utilized patterns, textures, and a gorgeous palette to emphasize the hyper-reality of a manufactured reverie. Editor Lee Smith fashioned a movie whose pacing speeds the heart and leaves you breathless; a few jarring cuts may distract the viewer, but that’s purposeful. Hans Zimmer, whose music for The Dark Knight helped cement that film as one of the best in the last decade, returned to create an equally gorgeous and thrumming score that buffets the film’s fantastic events. The special effects crew painstakingly molded a world where nothing is as stable as it seems. All the threads weave together impeccably, leaving a finished product that feels completely original and flawless—a masterpiece.
Film itself is a dreamlike medium whose capacity for imagination is infinite. The Lumière brothers’ 1895 film The Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat Station thrilled nineteenth-century viewers by making a train hit them head-on, and Georges Méliès’s La Voyage dans le Lune (1902) was one of the first films to depict the thrillingly impossible. Those early filmmakers may not have possessed modern technology, but they understood one thing: film is a fantastic and unreal medium, a place in which the viewer can escape everyday life and enter a whole other world where nothing is impossible. Inception is the latest incarnation of that concept: the impossible becomes reality and the human mind is laid bare for all to see, for better or worse. In the case of Inception, we are all the better for it.