Conventional Hollywood wisdom these days has it that audiences only want to see remakes, retreads and rehashes of old ideas. This summer has seen a seemingly endless parade of movies with the number 2 in the title and films based on 80s TV shows. Some have made money some have not, but every once and a while a movie comes along that proves Hollywood wrong. Last December “Avatar” showed that audiences would flock to a movie that wasn’t based on a videogame, existing novel or television show. It broke every box office record going and yet since then there has been a stream of derivative films clogging up the multiplex. Until now. Christopher Nolan’s “Inception” is a startlingly original film.
Set in a world where technology can invade people’s dreams, “Inception” stars Leonardo DiCaprio as Dom Cobb, the leader of a corporate espionage team who specialize in stealing valuable secrets from within people’s subconscious for profit. Cobb is an international fugitive tormented by dreams of his late wife (Marion Cotillard) who sees a way out of his personal nightmare if he takes on one last job offered to him by Saito (Ken Watanabe), a powerful businessman who can arrange for Cobb to skip past immigration and get back into the United States. All Cobb has to do is perform an “inception;” plant a thought in the mind of Robert Fischer (Cillian Murphy) CEO of a global corporation. (One writer has called it “the Great Brain Robbery.) Cobb and his team—Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), Eames (Tom Hardy), Yusuf (Dileep Rao) and Ariadne (Ellen Page), an architect who becomes Cobb’s new dream weaver—set out to implant the idea of dissolving his multibillion-dollar business into Fischer’s dreams.
“Inception” is the most innovative sci fi film to come out of Hollywood since “The Matrix” way back in 1999. It’s a movie that takes ideas very seriously—ideas drive the plot—and, as a result, takes its audience seriously. It never talks down to the crowd and in return demands viewers to pay attention. For those who do there are many rewards, and for those who aren’t willing to get drawn into the surreal story there are still many pleasures. That’s how finely crafted this movie is.
“Dark Knight” director Christopher Nolan (who also wrote the script) proves he can blow the doors off with the action—Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s MC Eischeresque gravity defying fight scene is a mind blower—and also handle the cerebral stuff.
He creates and juggles several worlds—dreams within dreams, worlds within worlds—until it becomes difficult to tell what is real and what isn’t. Each of these worlds comes complete with their own rules—five minutes in real life equals one hour in dream time, for instance—and is populated with well rounded, complex characters. The visuals are very cool—check out the streets that defy physics and curl over on top of one another—but amazing effects don’t mean much if the people interacting with them aren’t interesting. Nolan has put a great deal of effort into the look of the movie and its ideas but he never forgets the characters, who are the film’s single biggest asset.
Like the very best sci fi “Inception” is thoughtful, intelligent, audacious and humanistic. It’s also one of the year’s best films of any genre.