The first time I tried to watch the movie Memento, it was late at night, I made it ten minutes into the movie, and I realized that I wasn’t awake enough to take it in. The second time I watched the movie and loved it, though it took me a day to fully appreciate it as I chewed on it for quite a while. The third time I watched the movie with a group of friends. When the movie was done, the room was pin drop silent … until a lone voice piped up with “can someone explain to me what just happened?”
Inception is a high concept science fiction Memento with a $200M dollar budget.
Writer and director Christopher Nolan once again chooses to cleanse his creative palate, following up his latest entry in the Batman franchise, The Dark Knight, with a movie of considerable originality and sophistication. Always a risky gamble in today’s Hollywood, especially when employing stars not as guaranteed to generate box office as they used to be.
At its heart, Inception is essentially a heist picture. In this case, it’s corporate espionage led by Dom Cobb (DiCaprio), an “extractor” paid to invade people’s dreams in order to steal the ultimate intellectual properties: their top-secret ideas. Cobb, being the best in his field, finds his job increasingly difficult as his is haunted by the memory of his late wife, Mal (Marion Cotillard), who tends to pop up at the least convenient moments to shatter the dreamscape con jobs he has going on.
Because there’s “always one more job” in a heist movie, the actual plot of the movie involves wealthy businessman, Saito (Ken Watanabe), hiring Cobb and his crew to plant an idea rather than steal one—thus the title “inception”—that will lead to the break of his soon to be rival, Robert Fischer Jr. (Cillian Murphy).
The movie isn’t flawless. Because of the cerebral demands the movie places on the viewer, it spends nearly the first hour explaining the rules of the movie. Because they have to explain what you’re going to see and the dialogue moves like stilted exposition. Everything from how the dream sharing technology was originally designed for military application to how the more you change things, the more the mind (subconscious) converges on you to “dream time” vs “real time”. Between the dreams within dream scenario and nested storylines, there is a lot to keep track of in this movie (at one point, four parallel stories). The thing about fully imagined worlds is that they better pay off: rules have to be applied consistently and logically dictate what has to happen. To be fair, you need the thorough grounding to navigate this world.
“You keep telling yourself what you know, but what do you believe?” –Mal
Inception explores a common theme of many of Christopher Nolan movies from The Prestige to Memento, the question of “What is real?”. That there is a truth, an objectivity, and we want/need to get back to it. Like most of Nolan’s movies, Inception is ultimately a character study following Cobb’s journey of guilt and letting go.
“I’ve come back for you to remind you of something you once knew. That this world is not real … to take a leap of faith.”
There is an ever present danger for the characters that create and enter dreams: once they experience it, reality won’t be enough for them. It becomes easy to lose ones grasp on what’s real and what’s a dream. And there is a great desire to want to live inside of the dream, a false self or sense of reality. The characters can sense that things aren’t as they should be, that creation, the world around them and the people that inhabit it, aren’t as they should be. That they were created to be something else, yet somewhere along the line, things had gone awry. They even carry small totems to help ground them in reality. It’s little different than our situation.
“Do you want to take a leap of faith or become an old man filled with regret?” –Saito
An idea is like a virus, resilient and infectious. A bad idea entered us: to be our own dreams and dream makers; to build a world for ourselves. Transformed us, our way of life, our way of prioritizing what is important, our ways of thinking and going about life. The dream may change everything about them, become viral, spreads, invading our very systems, imbued into the very fabric of our social structures. Nothing around us remained untouched by it. Like Mal, we become locked in a dream, become stuck; locked in regrets, knowing that things need to change, but not knowing how. Trapped, unable to change “that moment” (whatever regret that is), locking ourselves in prisons. Lost, not knowing what’s real, yet thinking we’re certain. Until all we’re left with is rage, fear, and insatiable desire seeking to be quenched which only eventuates in a spiral of death.
“I think I found a way home.” –Cobb
There is a hope for a cure for that way of life. Truth is that idea that caused you to question. A truth, like Mal, we’d once known but chose to forget. Dreams always need an architect, someone who designs the dream. Christ is the Liberator with a mission of liberation, to free us from the bonds of this world and its systems. Possessed by one simple idea that changed everything, the good news is about accepting freedom and finding your true self. Getting back to the real reality, it took forgiveness, embracing the freedom of leaving guilt and shame behind, before redemption could be found. It was the only way Cobb could finally find his way home.
“We all yearn for reconciliation.” –Cobb
An ambitious, surreal thriller, Inception is loaded so full of ideas and dizzying special effects that it is a cinematic achievement of rare breed. Filmed in so many different countries, it may remind some of a Bond movie (especially one particular ski sequence). Though there are moments that could spark some “ending of Total Recall”-type arguments, Nolan doesn’t abandon his viewers and keeps it from descending into a heady mess. The top-notch cast brings their A-game, making the movie both technically brilliant and emotionally human. In short, Inception equals wow. And your brain may hurt for a while afterwards.