Saturday, July 17, 2010

Inception ****

Christopher Nolan's new movie, Inception, asks us to imagine what would happen if we could enter someone's dreams to extract information.  Like all of his films, there is great use of editing to layer intersecting plotlines, but Inception officially stands as his most seamless and conceptually ambitious work. 

The story follows Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio), a master "extractor" who specializes in infiltrating the minds of the rich and powerful.  His crack team of experts includes Ariadne (Ellen Paige), an "architect"who is able to construct and manipulate elaborate cityscapes in the dream world, Arthur (Joseph Gordon Levett), Cobb's resourceful troubleshooter (both literally and figuratively), and Earnes (Tom Hardy) a master impostor who is able to conjure up the image of other people based on some carefully utilized behavioural tics.  Cobb has been exiled from the U.S. ever since his wife took her own life and framed him for her death.  The reason for this is not as mercenary as it sounds, but her suicide has left a powerful imprint upon him -- an imprint that threatens to undermine his work when he is traveling through the subconscious.  

Cobb is offered a chance to go home to America and return to his kids, if he agrees to an assignment that involves hijacking a wealthy heir's subconscious during a 10 hour public flight.  The catch is, this time instead of extracting a thought he's been asked to plant one.  Inception examines the genesis of our innermost thoughts and asks us to consider where they come from.  In the process Nolan comments on the subjective nature of perception and suggests that what we call reality could be just a state of mind.   After all, where do our ideas come from?  How do we know that our waking life is the reality and our dream life is the fiction?  These are hugely ambitious questions and somehow Nolan manages to dramatize them while providing just enough answers to satisfy and provoke.

This is Nolan's densest, most accomplished film yet.  It raises the bar on the gritty spectacle of The Dark Knight, it teases you with more mysteries than The Prestige and it achieves a breathtaking visual scope.  Inception captures the logic and tempo of the subconscious like nothing I have ever seen before.  A movie about such an epic subject is bound to occasionally sacrifice character to concept, but Nolan deftly juggles the various ingredients of his dream world and does so with more cinematic imagination than any movie since Spielberg's AI: Artificial Intelligence.   Unlike A.I. however, Inception is seamless.  It ends on a pitch-perfect grace note that promises to linger long after the lights have come up.  Production design and cinematography are all one-of-a-kind and truly groundbreaking.  The only weak link is the dialogue, which (at times) is too heavily expository.  Still, nothing can diminish the thrill of a populist film that is able to subvert expectations and deliver as many surprises as this one.  Inception is a mind-blowing work of pop art.  It's the movie to beat this summer and for the rest of the year.