The Review: I reckon, if hard pushed, we could all remember a particular dream we’d had at some point in our lives. Our brains, for some as yet unknown reason, go off on flights of fancy while we’re asleep, and some we can remember as clearly as events that have happened to us. When I was just a child, I had a dream that Tim Brooke-Taylor, ostensibly one of the gentlest men in show business, beat me up in my back garden. I once dreamed for two weeks solid, and in every dream everyone in that dream had a dog with them. I once stood on the runway of an airport and watched as a 747 crashed and exploded at the other end. And I once had a dream that I was in a purple room with no doors or windows, and that I was hungry.
What our subconscious is doing, rather than giving us Daliesque landscapes to run about in with four headed giraffes and unlimited naked orgies (although if you are dreaming that, well done and can I come and live in your head?), is giving us variants on the world we know, grounded in reality but extrapolated further. What Christopher Nolan has seen is the potential to play around in your head, but assuming your head is the extrapolated reality dream world, and not the Dali-giraffe-orgy one. So if you’ve heard that this is a David Lynch-like study of what the potential of dreams are, then you’ve heard wrong. Dreams are merely the canvas for what Nolan is attempting to construct.
I can only assume that he reads and studies Heath Robinson and M.C. Escher during the day, then eats a fair bit of cheese before bedtime, because what he has constructed is an intricate and complex adventure within that space. Into that world, he’s deposited one of the finest rosters of actors since The Dark Knight (and some Nolan regulars, including Cillian Murphy, Ken Watanabe and Michael Caine get varying length turns here), but although most of them, especially the lesser known such as Tom Hardy, shine with what they’re given, the movie is anchored around Leonardo DiCaprio. Aged 35 and finally starting to show it, this and Shutter Island have seen his acting achieve a new level of nuance recently and he’s comfortably able to take the weight of the emotional hooks the movie hangs on him.
There are two key women in DiCaprio’s Dom Cobb’s life, Ariadne (Ellen Page) and Mal (Marion Cotillard), and it’s his interactions with the two that drive the plot forward. And here’s where any attempts to explain said plot are likely to come off as completely futile, even if they weren’t likely to spoil things. This is a global movie, filmed in seven countries on four continents, and once it’s established the basic rules in the first fifteen minutes, it starts running and almost never stops. It’s a heist movie, but that’s about all you get to ground you; then the rules are gradually layered on over the next hour or so until we’re in a world completely of Nolan’s construction, at which point he launches the key heist.
A key trope of horror movies, occasionally edging into science fiction, is that of the dream within the dream. Wake up and you then realise you’re still dreaming. What Nolan has done is take this a stage further; debates rage about the merits of 3D when it comes to the visual dimensions, but what Inception does is take the dimensions through the plot, and specifically through the heist that forms the last hour or more of the movie. So you get Bond movie, sci-fi action, conventional action movie and even psychological thriller, with all of them running at the same time but at different rates, and events in the levels filtering up and down. It’s a five dimensional action movie, done for the most part without the ridiculous over-cranking of a Michael Bay, and in that sense it’s never less than brilliant.
But there are concepts and ideas running through this that, once your pulse has steadied from the action beats, will try to engage your mind. The emotions of the movie are all wrapped up in that dimension – there is a huge depth of emotion here, but in the same way as the secrets that the character’s minds lock away, it’s not immediately accessible and you will be required to fully open yourself up to the experience to get the most from it. Thankfully, the quality of the direction, acting, editing and script will allow you to do that if you’re willing. And just to show he’s not tired of it, having done a whole movie by giving us layered variations on what we’ve seen before, he takes another route. Not the deliberate cliff-hangers of his Batman movies, or the twisty-turniness of Memento or The Prestige, here we get the debate ending. A simple choice from the last shot which will define you and what you want to take from the movie, and is bound to generate healthy pub debate for as long as Inception is watched, whether that be ten minutes or fifty years.
Why see it at the cinema: This is bold, thought-provoking cinema at its action-oriented best, and it was intended to be seen in the cinema. It won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but the reaction of your fellow cinema-goers to the final shot is worth the price of admission alone.
The Score: 10/10