Dreaming in Black and Baby Blue.
Who was it that said, “Leo is soooo dreamy”? Everyone. So what’s all the fuss over INCEPTION? It’s Leo being dreamy; that is, appearing in people’s dreams. And hasn’t Leo appeared in ALL our dreams at some point?
Written, produced and directed by Christopher Nolan, INCEPTION proves once again that while everyone was busy excoriating M. Night Shyamalan, Nolan was busy becoming the M. Night Shyamalan that M. Night Shyamalan was trying to be.
Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a dream stealer. He calls it “extraction” and – like Wolverine – he’s the best there is at what he does. Joseph Gordon-Levitt (another dreamboat) is Cobb’s right-hand man Arthur; together, this Dreamy Teamy hire themselves out to gouge the deepest secrets of important men and perform psychological theft for corporate gain. (Some might say that seeing Leo in their dreams is only personal gain, but anyway…)
Businessman Saito (the not so dreamy but nonetheless excellent Ken Watanabe) hires Cobb and Arthur to stop a corporate competitor, Robert Murphy (Cillian Murphy, with those dreamy eyes), from ruining the world market. To do this, Cobb must IMPLANT an idea in Murphy’s head – not steal one – which is a nigh-impossible process called “inception.”
The logistics of the dream infiltration process is thought through in great detail and explained without jargon and complexity, and when the dream stealers are in other people’s dreams, we actually see the action, while their real selves are asleep with electrodes on their heads, all joined to the same terminal. In the dream state, five minutes happens within one second of real time, but the deeper they go – the dream within the dream – the time dilation compounds; 20 minutes pass for each second in the first level… and so on. We learn that Cobb was once trapped down four levels, so long that he built cities. Limbo. Eternity.
This is part of the terrifying subplot: Cobb’s wife (Marion Cotillard, who’d be dreamy if she wasn’t so plain) died tragically four levels down, refusing to return to reality because she thought that was the dream. And in Cobb’s own subconscious, she keeps appearing – while Cobb is in other people’s dreams espionaging them! She is Cobb’s guilt-ridden conscience, still trapped down four levels, and Cobb uses Murphy’s dream theater to try to rescue her – his own id. A testament to Nolan’s writing skills that this plot point makes no sense – but makes perfect sense in the movie!
Disturbing, as Cobb keeps seeing visions of his two young kids playing. Period. Like Gondry’s ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND, Nolan captures that slip-through-your-fingers emotion of familiar things in unfamiliar surroundings being terrifying; an elevator ride to a basement where we hear Cobb’s wife talking to herself, or Cobb seeing his children playing in the grass at the most incongruous times, their faces slipping his grasp, never quite turning to face him.
Another subplot involves Cobb being in exile for his dream espionage job – this last assignment will allow him to return home and see his faceless kids.
And then something exploded in my small green brain! Nolan is using age-old storytelling devices (the One-Last-Job, the Damsel-In-Distress, the Last-Stab-At-Redemption, even the worn It’s-Usually-Safe-But-This-Time-It’s-Fatal gimmick, and the ever-popcorn Ticking Clock), yet within this gargantuan matrix of originality and virtuoso movie-making, we don’t even realize it! What an unoriginal, plagiarizing, masterful, dreamy son of a bitch!
Like 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, or STAR WARS, or PULP FICTION, no amount of description can prepare you for this unique dreammare through a totally unchartered world; Christopher Nolan cements his storytelling, directorial and movie-making genius in this compendium of chaos and concepts that will twist your mind back on itself like an Escher-esque Mobius strip until it begs you to stop before you break it.
Like Nolan’s own MEMENTO – except no one is as oily as Guy Pearce. Like THE MATRIX – except no one is as preachy as Morpheus.
Eames (Tom Hardy, Euro dreamy) is Leo’s facilitator, a cucumber-cool action man. Ariadne (Ellen Page, teen dreamy, but terribly miscast) is Cobb’s “dream architect” and is not a love interest–or even an architect–but someone for Cobb to expose his feelings to, because exposing his feelings to Eames or Arthur would have looked bromosexual. Dileep Rao is the token dark-skinned guy with the Eastern accent, probably dreamy to women who cover themselves from head to foot. Tom Berenger is a decoy (once dreamy, now sadly old). Pete Postlethwaite is Murphy’s dad, only appearing in dreams, so is justifiably dream-y. And the ever-rugged, blue-eyed, Man’s Man Michael Caine is Cobb’s father (now we see where the dream river flows from).
Is it coincidence that in Nolan’s BATMAN BEGINS Cillian Murphy played the Scarecrow, and here they keep putting a sack over his head?
All the extras populating dreams are the person’s subconscious, so it’s no surprise that all the assassins in Murphy’s subconscious (trying to eradicate Cobb’s party) cannot hit them no matter how much they shoot; we are so conditioned by feckless bad guys who can’t aim that even in our subconscious, off-the-rack bad guys can’t aim either!
Eames with a big gun: “You mustn’t be afraid to dream a little bigger, darling!”
And then, The Kick; slang for the primal fear of falling. Your body’s actual fall in real life wakes you from the dream. For some reason, so does Edith Piaf’s song Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien (No, I Regret Nothing), used as a cue to wake up. (As if to wake us from Nolan’s dream, the very last audio we hear as the credits roll to black is a scratchy recording of Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien.)
In the first dream level, a truck falls from a bridge; in the second dream level, gravity fails, resulting in the infamous hallway scene of Joseph Gordon-Levitt literally bouncing off the walls in a thug fight. Cons within schemes as Murphy is drawn deeper into another dream level – and suddenly we’re on Hoth. Explosions, snow chases, gun battles… and Ariadne and Cobb must descend to the mythical fourth level to stop events getting pear-shaped in all the upper levels. (Yes, the analogies with Dante’s descent through the levels of Hell is apropos.)
Nolan stays abreast of events effortlessly, cross-cutting across all levels (in the second level with no gravity, Arthur (Levitt) ropes floating, sleeping bodies together in an ingenious, explosive scene, to create The Kick); we are never lost. Yet we are completely lost – in Nolan’s disorienting fantasy, as he captures that ineffability of being trapped in a dream: skewed cameras, inexplicable fears, insensible events, like we’re running and not moving; driving home that chest-glutting apprehension with Hans Zimmer‘s temple-throbbing score.
When Ariadne finds The Kick in the fourth level and rides it up through the layers, each of her avatars waking, with the soundtrack pulsing that reverberating chord like a bell tolling the death of a city… we bow down at the construction of the film itself; how all the filmic devices pay off at once, how the paradoxical vows of Cobb and Saito haunt us, “We will be young men together again” and “We will grow old together”; how Nolan ever got the chance to make a movie so intelligent and freewheeling in the first place, in a muttonhead filmic environment glutted with homogenized TV remakes, lame sequels and vanilla rom-coms.
INCEPTION. It’s dreamy.