This post may contain spoilers. Read at your own discretion.
It took me the entire two hours or so of the film’s running time and a couple of weeks to realise I have no idea how the hell Christopher Nolan’s “Inception” works. Much to my relief, this lack of understanding is not an isolated case. Instead of analysing the film and coming up with theories behind the story, I’ll stick to what I’m able to ruminate to some relative depth.
I remember seeing the teaser trailer long before the hype behind the film reached deafening proportions, and being excited then. At that time, I had less than absolutely no idea what it was about. Facts that I picked up prior to watching the film is that it stars a few former 90’s teen heartthrobs and a handful of the names that brought the 2008 box office hit, “The Dark Knight”, to life. With collective talent as viscous as molasses, it is unsurprising that “Inception” was nothing short of mind-blowing.
The main character, Dominic Cobb (played by Leonardo DiCaprio) wakes up at a beach, the context of his arrival not provided at this point in time. While struggling to regain consciousness, guards scrutinise his body and find him armed. He is brought to the quarters of an elderly man, one who Dom later reveals is someone he intends to meet. The scene switches to the dream of his current client, Saito (played by the dashing Ken Watanabe), where Dom reveals the nature of his job as an extractor. An extractor is someone who infiltrates a sleeping person’s — or target’s — subconscious and takes information from them. In the words of Dom, he specialises in “subconscious security”.
But he doesn’t operate alone. Dom has a point man, Arthur (played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and a dream architect, Nash (played by Lukas Haas). Arthur is also responsible for researching the targets prior to infiltrating their dreams in order to ensure the success of the mission. Nash, as implied by his title, designs the dream’s space. Everyone involved in the mission should be asleep within close proximity to each other, and their biggest threat is the target’s knowledge that their subconscious is being burgled or waking up before the mission is complete. Pain can be experienced in dream state, but death in the dream will throw the target back to consciousness. In the name of abusing puns, it’s the job of their dreams.
Shortly after that mission, Nash gets taken away, and Dom’s team is left without an architect. But that’s not his only predicament. Dom is not without internal conflicts of his own, and his conflicts that are so haunting they have been elevated to become an intregal part of his identity. His dreams are consistently disturbed by the manifestation of his wife, Mal (played by the mesmerising Marion Cotillard), for reasons that Dom refuses to discuss. It is also revealed he is a fugitive of his passport country, preventing him from seeing his children. His secret remains unquestioned until he takes on a new mission, which will be his ticket home.
The mission, called “inception”, is one that is commonly known to dream specialists as impossible and dangerous. To “incept” is to infiltrate a target’s subconscious and plant an idea, with the intention of said idea coming to fruition when the target awakens. The particular idea in question is to enter the dream of Robert Fischer (played by Cillian Murphy), the son of Saito’s business rival, Maurice Fischer. Maurice has long been a threat to Saito’s investments. However, already being terminally ill and near death, the fate of his empire hangs on his last mortal actions and whatever stipulations lie in his last will and testament. Saito knows his problem will be eradicated by the destruction of the empire, and asks Dom to plant the idea of disintegrating Maurice’s life work into Robert’s mind.
Though accepted as impossible, Dom manages to convince a number of people to assist him. Dom recruits new members to carry out the operation: Eames, Yusuf, and Ariadne. Eames (played by Tom Hardy) acts as a forger who can enter dreams and change his appearance in order to resemble people familiar and intimate to the target. Yusuf (played by Dileep Rao) is a chemist who provides potent sleeping agents that assist in achieving dream states of varying degrees. Ariadne (played by Ellen Page) is a student who is recruited as the team’s new architect after gaining Dom’s approval by creating successful and mind-blowing dreamscapes for the mission.
Ariadne’s presence turns out to be crucial to the team, as she provides more than just designs for the mission. She also becomes the agent who unites Dom with the solution to his anguish.
One word: mindfuck.
Prior to watching the film, I have been advised to approach “Inception” without harbouring any assumptions — advice worth taking. Being an adolescent in the 90’s, it is impressive to see former teen stars take on roles that they probably couldn’t imagine accepting when they were all sporting bowl cuts, plaid shirts, and a seemingly simpler type of angst. Namely Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Allow that name to sink in for a moment, because if he continues in this upward direction, his name will carry quite a lot of weight in the film industry.
Joseph makes the film for me. Rising above the push-over he plays in “500 Days of Summer”, he is clinically methodical, concocts explosions, and kicks lots of ass. He is one of the people involved in one of my two favourite scenes: the anti-gravity hotel corridor fight sequence. (My other favourite scene is where Dom manipulates Ariadne’s coffee shop dream. The shattered scenery in non-violent suspended animation is breath-taking.) Joseph has been noted for wanting to grow beyond the mould of his teenage career. From his re-emergence into mainstream film, he appears to be maintaining his word. Funnily enough, my interest in “Inception” is rooted in Leonardo DiCaprio’s involvement.
Leonardo is an actor who has become attractive to me recently. It is not just physical attraction, though I will happily admit as someone unfazed by him during his teenage heartthrob days, age seasoned him very well. I find the man talented, his resume plump with experience dating from as early as his childhood years. However, I have now grown to respect him because he still chooses roles that continue to foster his career as an actor. I also appreciate his activism. Unsurprisingly, his performance as Dominic Cobb does not disappoint.
Likewise, Marion Cotillard’s performance as Dom’s wife, Mal, is sufficiently beautiful as it is scary. Ken Watanabe shows poise with every fluid movement, although his character has to endure injuries during the inception mission. “Juno” sweetheart Ellen Page’s performance as the young cornerstone to the team swells beyond her petite stature. Of course, this is to name a few.
“Inception” is a film worth watching not just once. Perhaps additional rounds at the theatre are necessary for some to catch the details one may have missed on the first run — or because it’s worth paying for another powerful dose of a Nolanian masterpiece.