More mind-bending than Memento and more enthralling than The Dark Knight, Christopher Nolan’s latest exceeds even his own lofty ambitions. Inception is nothing short of a monumental achievement; a tour de force of imagination that thoroughly engages visually, intellectually, and emotionally.
At its core idea, Nolan’s film is a science fiction heist thriller, and one that snatches full advantage of a sideways reality where the mind can be infiltrated. Neo-noir anti-hero Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a dream thief, and he’s the best “extractor” in the illegal business of exploiting the surreal as a gateway to the subconscious’ most intimate secrets.
His unique specialty has rendered him a fugitive, a threat to powerful organizations, and an outcast from his own home. Presented with an opportunity for redemption, Cobb assembles a crew of the very best to break into a competitor’s mind and plant the seed of an idea at its fundamental genesis, or inception. A point man (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) with mind crime experience, a forger capable of shape-shifting imitation (Tom Hardy), a chemist (Dileep Rao) who concocts the sedatives, and an architecture prodigy (Ellen Page) tasked with designing the labyrinths.
DiCaprio is a tiered fountain of emotion, erupting in anger or collapsing in despair as Cobb struggles for control of his own subconscious and imaginary projections of his estranged family. Gordon-Levitt and Hardy are the wit and action components, stealing scenes and cracking wise/skulls in zero gravity. The characters occupy a globe-trotting set of practical locations, ranging from Canadian mountaintops to Parisian streets, and exist in a rich realm of text and subtext that topples and folds on itself, revealing high-minded ruminations on the metaphysical and Freudian philosophy amongst the gunfire, explosions, and captivating set pieces.
Nolan harnesses the dreamscape as a realm of infinite possibilities and plunges his enraptured audience into a complex, immersive narrative that deliberately, simultaneously shakes up the laws of physics, the rules of conventional plot structure, and even his own early established principles. His creation winds, bends, and twists until the cinematic experience becomes an extension of his fabricated, multi-layered dream world. You’re thrust so deep into this dizzying illusion that when you stagger out into the real world again, you’ll feel as though you just woke up.
The easiest and most accurate comparison is the Wachowskis’ The Matrix, a similar sci-fi mind-bender that broke new ground over a decade ago. But Nolan pushes past untethered, dazzling action and into cerebral territory navigated by Charlie Kaufman’s Synecdoche, New York or Kubrick’s own oeuvre. As an auteur, Nolan has outdone himself and orchestrated a personal drama and epic adventure that co-exist on a grand scale.