Film Review: Inception, Christopher Nolan’s Newest Takes Viewers On A Major Head-Trip

Christopher Nolan’s Newest Takes Viewers On A Major Head-Trip

Devin D. O'Leary
4 min read
“I had a dream I was on this great
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Are you familiar with brain freeze? That icy, slightly painful but ultimately exhilarating sensation you get from sucking down a slushie or other tasty frozen beverage? It kinda hurts, but you kinda want more. Inception is hell of a lot like that.

Inception comes to us from the big, fat cranium of writer/director Christopher Nolan ( Memento, Insomnia, Batman Begins, The Prestige, The Dark Knight ). Whereas most summer blockbusters are overloaded with brawn, Inception is overstuffed with brains. Not that the film lacks action. There’s plenty of big-budget razzle-dazzle. But it’s all wrapped around a plot that’s part mind-bender, part head-trip, part “I’m gonna have to watch that again to figure out what the hell just happened.” So are audiences ready for a thinking man’s sci-fi action thriller? We’ll see.

The cast alone is enough to land asses in seats.
Leonardo DiCaprio heads an impressive list as Cobb, a mysterious thief with a shadowy past. Cobb’s no common burglar, either. He specializes in breaking and entering—people’s heads, that is. In Nolan’s nonspecific, sometime-in-the-near-future world, drug technology allows us to enter the dreams of other sleeping humans. Cobb’s job is to sneak into those dreamworlds and wheedle out top-secret information for select, high-paying clients.

After a job inside the mind of an energy company executive (
Ken Watanabe) goes wrong, Cobb finds himself blackmailed (more or less) into performing what is considered an impossible task. Instead of stealing information, Cobb has got to break inside the brain of a soon-to-be corporate heir ( Cillian Murphy) and plant a crucial piece of information.

Cobb assembles a team of forgers, architects and chemists (
Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ellen Page and Michael Caine chief among them) and starts formulating a plan. It’s a complicated setup, one that requires quite a bit of explanation. Nolan wisely gives us just enough to get by and forges ahead with the crazy story.

Inception plays out like a crackerjack Ocean’s Eleven or Mission: Impossible -style heist thriller. Only, in addition to taking place in various exotic locals (Paris, Tokyo, the Middle East), Inception also takes place inside several people’s minds. This could have opened the floodgates for all sorts of trippy, Dreamscape / What Dreams May Come / The Lovely Bones- inspired imagery. But Nolan sets up some hard-and-fast rules. The glossy urban dreamworlds are carefully constructed by imaginative architects. Mess with the physics or the landscapes too much and people’s minds start rebelling, recognizing that this isn’t the real world. Of course, good dream architects still have a few tricks up their sleeves.

Nolan is smart enough to dispense with the hoary “dream within a dream” concept right away. Kid’s stuff! By the end, our main characters are trapped four levels deep within a dream, racing against time, unable to tell real from fake and trying to escape up the chain of dreams before it all collapses into mind-melting nothingness.

Yes, at that point in the narrative, it takes quite a bit of brainpower to keep track of what’s going on exactly. But Nolan pulls a deft sleight of hand, distracting viewers with some slam-bang chase scenes, a few explosive shoot-outs, a cliffhanger or two and a couple of real doozy SFX sequences. Gordon-Levitt’s manic fight in a hotel without gravity, for example, is a perfect example of this film’s inventive nature. Admittedly, the film gets a bit too dense toward the end of its 148-minute runtime. A James Bondian assault on a snowbound fortress of secrets near the bottom of the dream chain seems to go on for quite a long time. Of course, Nolan seems well aware of this and may even be playing a little joke on audiences with it. The overstuffed-to-bursting climax of the film technically unfolds over the five or so seconds it takes for a van full of dreaming passengers to fall off a bridge. It could be the longest slo-mo scene in movie history.

For some, the devilish complication of
Inception will be too much. I haven’t even touched on half the subplots. It’s a lot to absorb in one viewing. Happily, the film invites another. And possibly another. Hell, you’ll probably just have to buy the DVD when it comes out. Wildly original, fiendishly smart and comfortingly familiar, Inception is an exhausting, exhilarating mind game dropped smack dab in the middle of the summer movie season.

big ocean liner and it was sinking.”

“Housekeeping! Do you need any towels?”

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