Judging from the huge first weekend buzz over Christopher Nolan’s remarkable head trip of a film, Inception quickly takes its place in the elite ranks of movies which are both blockbusters and cult films. In a way, Nolan, in his role as writer/director (and chief head-tripper) is bringing the special vision he showed in Memento, but now with a big Hollywood budget and actual stars, to make a film that moves sideways, backward, up, and down through his cleverly constructed subconscious.
If that multi-directional imagery sounds dizzying, you don’t know the half of it. Leonardo DiCaprio (fresh off of another heady puzzler, Scorsese’s Shutter Island) plays Cobb, a highly skilled operative of the dream realm, who uses his skills to extract valuable information and manipulate minds with “inception,” implanting an idea that becomes a virus-like force. In a nod to a cliché of the super-spy/executioner genre, he embarks on “one last job” before going straight: a hyper-complicated caper involving altering the will and mind of a corporate magnate. Of course, the caper also involves much gunplay and chase scenes of a highly visceral order.
To further complicate matters, the ever-lovely Marion Cotillard plays Cobb’s wife, but exists only in another realm. (As a clever in-joke reference to Cotillard’s lead role in La Vie en Rose, Nolan uses an Édith Piaf song as the musical trigger used to wake up the dreamers.) Meanwhile, Ellen Page appears as a “dream architect” who poses the operative question to her new employer: “What happens when you start messing with the physics of it?”
Considering the beguiling complexity of this film, in its plotting, realization, and multiple layers, one can imagine Nolan’s office—and brain—being a crazed labyrinth of Post-it notes in the storyboarding phase. Just keeping the logic of its story and backstory straight is hard enough. At times, our senses are pummeled by Nolan’s skills in dialing up vivid, scarifying action sequences, while other corners of our movie-watching mind grapples with figuring out which dream-state layer goes where. In short, the old trope of action film as psychological roller coaster has rarely been more apt and true.
But on another level, Nolan is proving himself to be something of a cinematic visionary, who manages to pump up the adrenaline of the movie-loving masses while demonstrating new links between cinema, dreams, and collective unconscious sensations, all the way to the memory banks.