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“Inception,” a devil’s knot of a thrill ride
“Once an idea takes hold, it is impossible to eradicate,” says Leonardo DiCaprio in director Christopher Nolan’s latest film.
One wonders if Nolan (“Batman Begins,” “The Dark Knight”) realized how effectively this line captured viewer reaction to “Inception.”
Running a whopping 148 minutes, “Inception” is the kind of film that burrows into a recess of the brain and starts scratching—think attention-starved puppy, except harder to ignore. And there are two reasons for this. One is that the movie’s good. Good movies provoke thought—particularly good movies about dream hijacking. But perhaps the second hits closer to the mark. “Inception” leaves first-time viewers feeling swamped and makes psychological dredging a must.
Simply put, “Inception” demands so much on-the-fly thinking that it’s difficult to appreciate all the movie’s subtleties while watching it.
Of course, that’s no deterrent from seeing the movie. The story of Dom Cobb is accessible enough. Separated from his children after being wrongly accused for his wife’s death, Cobb (DiCaprio)—along with his team of mind-hackers, which includes Ariadne (Ellen Page) and Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt)—is hired to invade the dream of global businessman, Robert Fischer (Cillian Murphy). Cobb’s goal: inception, the planting of an idea—in this case, the idea of dissolving Fischer’s energy empire—into another’s head. His reward: the charges against him disappear, and he can return to his children.
The film begins to flex its technical muscle in earnest as the team develops and executes its plan. Creating multilevel dreams-within-dreams and employing complex “kicks” (wake-up shocks, essentially—Arthur crafts a clever one involving an elevator, explosives, and zero-gravity), Cobb and friends navigate Fischer’s mind, all the while turning his subconscious against him even as it seeks to destroy them with gun-toting “projections” (don’t ask).
In terms of heist complexity, it’s “The Italian Job” on steroids.
But amidst these head-spinning technicalities, Nolan manages to keep his characters interesting. Cobb, in particular. Still haunted (literally) by memories of his wife (Marion Cotillard), he is forced to confront his own projection of her in this dream-world. She challenges his perception of reality, presenting him with a choice, at the heart of which lies his devotion to her. His decision determines not only the resolution of this conflict but also the fate of the mission.
Now to discuss the ending.
Of course, endings are minefields for reviewers. But praise must be given where praise is due. Therefore:
As with any story based on dreams, the “And then I woke up” factor is unavoidable. “Inception” is no exception.
But instead of allowing “And then I woke up” to work its catastrophic magic, Nolan saves his brainchild with a simple, final shot of a top spinning and shivering on its axis. It is a surprising, haunting image—one that will continue to spin and shiver even after the audience has left the theater.