Christopher Nolan has always enjoyed playing mind games with both his characters and his audience. “Memento” might have been the ultimate mental trip, but even movies like “Insomnia” and “The Dark Knight” played with the audience’s ideas of perception, reality, and the choices people make.
“Inception” is no different. While it might play out in a more straight forward sense than “Momento,” it is no less intriguing. “Inception” focuses on the idea of perception versus reality. Is what we see real? How can we ever be sure?
On the surface, “Inception” is simply a well-thought-out heist movie. Leonardo DiCaprio plays Cobb, a man who steals people’s ideas by infiltrating their dreams. He is a troubled hero, marred by the death of his wife, and the fact that the American authorities accuse him of her murder.
When he is offered the chance to clear his name by performing one last job, Cobb jumps on it. This job, however, is not of the normal idea stealing kind. An Asian man named Saito (played by Ken Watanabe) hires him to plant an idea in the mind of Robert Fisher Jr. (Cillian Murphy), the son of a dying powerful corporate man. The planting of an idea is called inception, and many believe it’s not possible.
Like all good heist movies, Cobb begins by assembling his team. The majority of these people are familiar with navigating dreams, but one, Ariadne (Ellen Page), is a newcomer. As she learns how to be the “architect” of the heist (the one who builds the dream world), we learn the rules of this universe. We learn how dreams are controlled and how one can be lost in their dreams, stuck forever in limbo, if they are not able to keep a grasp on reality.
The dream worlds provide an opportunity for outstanding visual effects sequences – and “Inception” more than delivers. When Ariadne first visits a dream, she causes the world to literally fold over itself. Most impressive though is when Cobb’s right hand man Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) has an entire action sequence in zero-g that rivals anything in “The Matrix.” Why these outstanding effects work though is because the rules of this universe are set up so clearly and distinctly for the viewer. We understand how these worlds work and because of that these effects seem real, rather than absurd.
At its core, however, “Inception” is not about the effects. It’s not even about the navigating of dreams. It’s about the characters – specifically Cobb, but also all those around him. The characters are developed so well that their faults feel like our faults. We root for their successes and cringe at their failures. And the result is an edge-of-the-seat thrill ride.
It’s likely that the ideas in “Inception,” will be debated for some time. One will leave the movie wondering what actually happened – and yet at the same time, not be at all confused. This is the point of the movie – that perception is reality and we can never be sure what actually is real. It takes a master like Christopher Nolan to make this ambiguity seem so clear. And for that reason, “Inception” is one of the best movies to come around in a long long time.