Sunday, July 18, 2010

Inception: Through the Memory Darkly

Inception: Through the Memory Darkly | A Constantly Racing Mind
"True inspiration is impossible to fake"

Every day we wake from our beds with the warmth of the sun kissing our cheek and we sit up and stretch.  We head to the bathroom to brush our teeth, and then at some point we realize that we have not woken up at all.  We are still slumbering away in our dreams.  Philosophers from Plato to Descartes have questioned reality and the dream world for thousands of years.  Christopher Nolan brings these questions and drops it on our doorstep and then steps back and laughs.  Like the Greek Myth of Theseus and Ariadne, sometimes the myths just don't make any sense, oh well.  What Christopher Nolan does in Inception, is walk the fine line between madness and sanity, between greatness and confusion.  The ultimate concept of that permeates Inception that one must take away from this film is trust.  As the characters must trust each other when entering the dream world, the audience must trust the world that Nolan creates on screen will not crumble before our eyes leaving us in limbo.  Nolan is not above a prank or two.

Inception is a Science-Fiction Action film starring Leonardo DiCaprio ("Shutter Island"), Joseph Gordon-Levitt ("3rd Rock from the Sun"), and Ellen Page ("Juno") as dream weaving con artists that work directly through a person's dreams.  Dreams are like a prison, either you are breaking in, or you are breaking out.  Like the WW II film the "Great Escape" from 1963, members of the team is brought in for their specialty.  DiCaprio plays Cobb, the mastermind of this organization; Levett is Cobb's right hand man Arthur, in charge of security and fact checking.  Page is the architect Ariadne, like the daughter of Minos; she holds the secret of escaping the maze of dreams.  Tom Hardy ("Star Trek: Nemesis"), Eames, is the Forger, both in the real world and the dream world.  Rounding off the team is the chemist, played by Dileep Rao ("Drag Me to Hell"), as the creator of dream inducing drugs that keep the dreamer sedated until woken at the proper time.  Ken Watanabe ("The Last Samurai," "Cirque du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant") is along for the ride is as Saito, the corporate executive who is insistent on keeping a rival energy company from becoming a monopoly.

Held in a trance by the visual effects, during the first act, it is near the end of the first act, that the story starts coming together.  Saito (Watanabe) wants Cobb (DiCaprio) and team to plant a thought into the mind of the heir of the Fischer Energy Conglomerate.  The thought, the inception, that Saito wants Cobb to plant into the mind of Robert Fischer ("Sunshine's" Cillian Murphy), is the thought of breaking up his father’s corporation, and create his own destiny.  How the team accomplishes this mission is complex but not very confusing, and like the maze of the Minotaur, Ariadne is there to help us weave our way out of the maze.

The beginning of the film is jumps from scene to scene and from one concept to another with little explanation at first but eventually the pieces of the puzzle start coming together.  Cobb and team typically steal intellectual property directly from a person's mind by joining the victims in their dream, and tricking those victims to divulge their secrets.  Plots within plots, dreams within dreams, each time the story goes deeper Cobb must explain to Ariadne how the dream world works and how to navigate it.  Not as straightforward as the Matrix, there is no virtual reality, but the deep virtuallity of dreams.  Good stories have good plots, but they also have solid main characters; characters with flaws.  Like Teddy Daniels, DiCaprio's character in "Shutter Island," and Leonard, Guy Pearce's character from Nolan's Memento -- the lead character suffers from the guilt of a tragedy that leads to his wife's death.  In Inception, Cobb suffers from guilt as he lives on the edge of madness and his visions of regretted pasts.  The guilt that haunts Cobb from the first scene to the last is the death of his wife.  Like characters from the TV series "Lost," while traveling though time need a constant, something to hold their sense of reality together, otherwise they would die.  Inception characters need a constant as well, which comes in the form of a totem.  A totem is a small item that only the owner knows how it works.  DiCaprio character's is a top, that if it never stops spinning, then he knows he is in a dream.  Page’s totem is the bishop in a chess piece, and Arthur's is a loaded die.  Arthur (Levett) is the man behind the scenes pushing the buttons, and supporting the characters and his cast members, I liked Joseph Gordon-Levitt in this role as it gives him the opportunity to show off his diverse set of talents.

Inception: Joseph Gordon-Levitt | A Constantly Racing Mind

Creating an M.C. Escher like visual effects nightmare, Christopher Nolan defies physics and our sensibilities.  This is where the trust comes into play; Nolan takes us deeper down the rabbit hole of dreams leading us directly to where Robin Williams and Annabella Sciorra ended up in Richard Matheson's "What Dreams May Come."  DiCaprio’s dream-wife Mal (Marion Cotillard), come together in the madness of limbo, forgetting the difference between madness and sanity, between dreaming and reality.  Nolan, is pulling the best elements of a James Bond film (snow chase from "The Spy Who Loved Me"), adding the dream state (Matrix), and city towers rearranging themselves ("Dark City").  While explaining the concept of inception, director Nolan also gives us a lesson on advertising, reminding me of Don Draper and Roger Sterling brainstorming an advertising idea with a client, eventually allowing the client to believe that the concept that they proposed was their clients all along.  Han Zimmer's driving score adds additional layers of depth and emotion driving the suspense as the characters rises from the depths of their dreams toward the conclusion of the film.  Leonardo DiCaprio is getting older, and his once baby face recedes into maturity.  Since the day he played Howard Hughes, he showed the world that he is ready for mature parts, and solidifying that fact with the "Departed," "Shutter Island," and now "Inception."  Ellen Page adds her usual spunkiness to the team, and is there to make sure the audience is kept informed.  Ken Watanabe as Saito brings a sense of dignity to the film that without him the team would lack.  Tom Hardy is excellent in his role as Eames, forging alternate identities, and the third level of the dreamscape.  Dileep Rao's Yusuf the chemist character, although small, but performs it well.  Double Negative's visual effects are stunning and mind-blowing, enough said.

I mentioned at the beginning that "Inception" has elements of a Greek Myth, and that some things just don't make sense, there is one question about the story that bothers me.  How do they  achieve synchronous dream state, or is this something like "Nightmare on Elm Street" -- where one character's dream ties them all together?  Don’t let this thought or the many questions dissuade you from seeing this film on the big screen.  There are many things in life that are not explainable, but then again that is the wonder of it all.


Movie Data

Genre:  Action, Sci-Fi, Thriller 
Year:  2010
Staring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ellen Page, Tom Hardy, Ken Watanabe, Dileep Rao, Cillian Murphy, Marion Cotillard, Michael Caine
Director: Christopher Nolan
Producer(s): Christopher Nolan, Emma Thomas
Writer: Christopher Nolan
Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 148 minutes
Release Date: 7/16/2010

Original published on Associated Content on 7/18/2014

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