Reviewed by: Michael Karounos
|Featuring||Leonardo DiCaprio (Cobb), Ken Watanabe (Saito), Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Arthur), Marion Cotillard (Mal), Ellen Page (Ariadne), Tom Hardy (Eames), Cillian Murphy (Fischer), Tom Berenger (Browning), Michael Caine (Professor), Lukas Haas (Nash), Tohoru Masamune (Security Guard), Claire Geare (Phillipa (3 years)), Johnathan Geare (James), Carl Gilliard (Hotel Guest), See all »|
|Director||Christopher Nolan—“Batman Begins,” “The Dark Knight,” “The Prestige”|
|Producer||Warner Bros. Pictures, Legendary Pictures, Syncopy, See all »|
|Distributor||Warner Bros. Pictures|
“Your mind is the scene of the crime.”
Review updated July 19, 2010
“Inception,” written and directed by Christopher Nolan, is one of the most complicated sci-fi thrillers you will ever see. The premise is that professional thieves called “extractors” invade people’s dreams to steal information via a drug-induced sleep that is shared by two or more people while connected to a briefcase-sized dispenser. Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his team hire themselves out as the sleep thieves who risk pain and even permanent loss of consciousness while wandering through the surreal landscapes of other people’s dreams. Eventually, Cobb wants to quit, but he is convinced to do one last job, the most dangerous yet, in exchange for having murder charges against him dropped, and being able to see his children once again. To do so, he has to perform an “inception”: plant an idea in someone’s head.
Cobb’s dilemma is that he performed a sleep experiment with his wife that had unintended results and indirectly led to her haunting his dreams with potentially disastrous consequences. Putatively, his quest is to thwart a malignant corporate entity from expanding its power. The more important purpose of the job for Cobb (and the viewer) is for him to rectify his past mistake and purge himself of the guilt that has crippled his life.
Cobb’s team includes Ariadne (Ellen Page), Hardy (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), and several others, each with assigned tasks and skills. As you watch the movie, keep in mind that every time they utilize the suitcase, they descend one layer deeper into a person’s mind. The norm is two levels, but the last job calls for a descent to the third level, with the unsettling possibility that a mistake or dream-death will leave the person stranded in a fourth level called “limbo” from which there is no return.
The character of Ariadne imparts a mythic aspect to the film’s plot, allowing it to be read as a quest myth as famously defined by Joseph Campbell in Hero with a Thousand Faces. (Campbell’s categories were distilled by Stuart Voytilla in the very useful text Myth & the Movies: Discovering the Myth Structure of 50 Unforgettable Films, which I use in my film class and is accessible to a general audience.)
For those familiar with Freudian theory, it will be helpful to think of the film as an existential march through depth psychology. Kierkegaard’s phrase, “leap of faith,” is used three times in the movie, and the dream-world’s layers roughly correspond to the superego and the id, with their associated characteristics. The superego, as you might expect, has lots of guns, while the id contains the closely-guarded secret. Additionally, viewers who have had Psychology 101 will have fun spotting the categories of Freudian behavior. “Projections” describe the phantom people who inhabit the dream, but numbered among his core issues there are also examples of crisis, regression, repression, avoidance, denial, and displacement—to name the most obvious. (I don’t think anyone will miss the blatant symbolism of the knife.)
The introduction of the term “limbo,” also, raises religious connotations, as the job is performed while everyone is in a plane, a figurative “heaven,” thus juxtaposing metaphysical poles of existence with the objective being to escape limbo and return to the “heaven” of the plane.
Nolan’s script is remarkably clever, and the rules of the dream world are consistent and logical. Every 10 minutes spent in the first level represents one week at the second level, six months at the third level, and an indeterminate time in limbo. Thus, a ten hour flight could potentially represent 35 years of aging in the third level, and more, if one were in limbo that whole time.
Although there are some regrettable instances of emphatic blasphemy—“Jesus Christ” (2), “Jesus” (2), “G**-damn” (6), “My God” (2), “For G-d’s sakes” (1), “God” (1), “hell” (8), “*sshole” (2), “damn” (2), there are no inappropriate sex scenes or gory deaths.
Christopher Nolan proves once again that he is the most intelligent filmmaker working in Hollywood, crafting art out of genre vehicles like “The Dark Knight” and now “Inception.” This one is a must-see, if you are not squeamish about violence.
Ecclesiastes 3:11 reads:
“He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end.”
Great filmmakers like Nolan, yearning toward the eternity hidden in their hearts, and lacking any new way in which to define it, retreat into the metaphysics of the mind. That is why the ultimate conflict in the movie takes place between Cobb sleeping on the plane and Cobb desperately trapped in the dreamworld. The juxtaposition of limbo and its damning potential, with the peaceful assurance of Cobb sleeping in the “heavens” (on the plane) signifies the metaphysical struggle that takes place out of the body and in the soul. Milton’s Satan said something similar:
“The Mind Is Its Own Place, and In It Self
Can Make a Heav’n of Hell, a Hell of Heav’n.”
Violence: Extreme / Profanity: Heavy / Sex/Nudity: Mild
See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.