Directed by Christopher Nolan
In Inception, a movie packed with ideas, it is said an idea is like a virus. With any luck, the big ideas that illuminate Inception will spread through Hollywood like a contagion and raise the game of others toward telling exceptional stories exceptionally well.
Are You Watching Closely?
The less known about the storyline of Inception, the better the experience. So, to be brief, it's about implanting an idea in the mind of the heir of a major energy conglomerate through an amazing process of dream sharing. Previously, the process had been used to steal secrets and, to that end, Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) was a master thief.
There's a pang of disappointment when it's revealed all the gears of this groundbreaking mission are being put into motion simply to try to get the heir, Robert Fischer (Cillian Murphy), to break up his father's empire. That's not very sexy. Midway through, though, the ride becomes so entertaining and engrossing, this plot point appears more and more like a classic Hitchcockian MacGuffin.
And midway through the movie is also when the climax begins. The entire second half of the movie is one incredible piece of storytelling as a dream within a dream within a dream unfolds.
Even better: what happens with that implanted idea ultimately carries with it such a basic, core resonance, the entire story takes on a whole new meaning and makes the entire ride that much more rewarding.
That is great moviemaking.
As odd as it might sound, from the confusing, disorienting opening to the ending that lends itself to at least a couple interpretations, it's clear writer/director Christopher Nolan knew exactly what he wanted for his first frame (in keeping with his Batman modus operandi, there isn't even a title card) and he also knew exactly what he wanted for his last frame. He also knew what needed to be done to get from the first to the last.
Inception reunites Nolan with a number of his Batman Begins and The Dark Knight cronies from both sides of the camera, including cinematographer Wally Pfister, composer Hans Zimmer, and cast members Michael Caine, Cillian Murphy, and Ken Watanabe.
Accompanying them on this voyage of the mind is an extended dream cast led by Leonardo DiCaprio (Catch Me If You Can), Ellen Page (Juno), Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Tommy on TV's 3rd Rock from the Sun), Tom Hardy (the next Mad Max in the long-delayed Fury Road), Lukas Haas (Witness), Tom Berenger (Someone to Watch Over Me), and Marion Cotillard (Public Enemies).
It's an interesting selection of cast members and one that works extremely well, particularly when it's considered most of what they do is done within the context of a dream... or two... or three. What it is, exactly, that they do in those dreams, well, that should be seen, not read.
Thanks to his work in movies with actor's directors like Martin Scorsese (The Aviator, Shutter Island) and Ridley Scott (Body of Lies), DiCaprio has turned into Mr. Reliable and once again turns in a great performance from a difficult, multi-faceted role.
Dom (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Mal (Marion Cotillard)
in a rare moment of peace
Photo: Warner Bros.
In addition to the main story thread of getting Robert Fischer to change his mind, there's also a subplot involving Dom and his previous experiences in dream sharing and mental sabotage. The man's mind is haunted and he's been living in exile in France; returning to the United States would lead to his arrest for murder.
If Dom doesn't have a regret or two, then he most certainly is burdened with a lot of inner conflict.
It's fitting, then, that Edith Piaf's rendition of Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien is the song of choice to cue the dream sharers that their time is almost up and they need to wrap up their activities in order to wake up and move on. Translated down to a simple level, the song is about living life without regrets; Piaf singing Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien in Paris is like Frank Sinatra singing My Way in New York.
The song is iconic and it serves as the perfect musical cue, especially given Dom's mental mine field and Francophile life. He married a French woman – and it's one of those sublime cinematic connections to note that Cotillard, who plays his wife, won an Oscar for her impeccable portrayal of Piaf in La Vie en Rose a couple years ago.
Dream Out Loud
It's a rare sensation to watch a movie and walk away feeling like something exciting, fresh, and original has just been witnessed. Inception is such a case.
In the end, the most exciting idea raised by Inception is the possibility that Nolan has once again raised the bar for Hollywood. He did it with Batman Begins by showing how movies based on comic book characters can have depth and relevance. Others quickly followed suit. Now he's raised the stakes in making meaningful – but entertaining – movies that use special effects to help tell the story instead of distract from it.
Dom (Leonardo DiCaprio) on a mission with Ariadne (Ellen Page)
Photo: Warner Bros.
Nolan's created a fascinating world of possibilities and all the rules that go along with making the story work. It's a landscape of the mind in which five minutes of reality equate to one hour of dreaming. But things get much more complex when one starts talking about dreams within dreams.
Much more important, though, are the observations about pain and how the mind deals with it. Given the sensitive nature of the work being performed in Inception's mind game, one character's comment that the stronger the pain, the more powerful the catharsis proves to be a concise summary of what's at stake.
Nolan, who is the screenplay's sole author, first conceived of the idea 10 years ago and clearly, given the immaculate amount of detail and thought on display, this isn't the kind of material that's cranked out at a keyboard over night.
The attention Nolan pays to the details of this fully-realized world of ideas and technology is evident right down to the music during the last of the end credits. It's Piaf singing Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien.
• Originally published at MovieHabit.com.