Ah. Nothing like seeing a movie you’re really excited about, that you have really high hopes for, and walking out of the theater with your expectations exceeded.
I expected Inception to be very good. After all, the cast includes Leonardo DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Michael Caine, and Ellen Page. It was written and directed by Christopher Nolan, who made some of the best and most original movies of the 2000s. Sounds like a recipe for a good, entertaining summer flick.
But Inception went beyond that. It’s one of those rare movies that grasps your attention so firmly that it dominates your thoughts for hours after the credits roll, and there’s no doubt you’ll see it again. I felt the same way after seeing The Matrix and Memento, Nolan’s first movie.
Like The Matrix and Memento, Inception uses good writing, directing, pacing, and special effects to draw you into a fascinating alternate reality so completely that you almost forget you’re watching a movie. The first time I saw Memento, when the movie ended it felt strange for me to go back to my normal life of not forgetting everything that happened more than five minutes ago. The movie’s unusual structure, with the plot moving backwards in time with every scene, put me in the amnesiac hero’s state of mind so effectively that I had to readjust after it ended. I felt the same after Inception ended, except I had to adjust to not being in multiple layers of dreams.
Multiple layers of dreams – sounds like the basis of a complicated plot, doesn’t it? Indeed, the plot is a doozy. Leonardo DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Ellen Page are members of a team that invades the dreams of others to steal their knowledge for paying clients. This time, however, they are hired by a Japanese businessman to plant an idea into the head of his rival, a much more delicate task. They plan to accomplish this by designing a multi-layered dream for the rival, full of oblique, personal imagery that will put the idea in his head while convincing his subconscious that it is his own.
In case you slept through Oneirology 101, let me explain how dreams work. Time passes much more slowly in a dream than in reality – an hour passes in a dream for every minute of real time, or something like that. Time passes even more slowly for a dream within a dream, and even more slowly in a dream within a dream within a dream. If you get stuck in too deep a layer, decades could pass for you in what is only a few minutes of reality.
It turns out that evolution has provided us with subconsciouses that protect against futuristic dream-invaders. If your subconscious senses that a foreign agent is messing around with your dream, it will get angry at it and, if it goes too far, kill it. The subconscious manifests itself through the “extras” in the dream. If you manipulate the dream too boldly, you get stares from people passing you on the sidewalk or chatting at adjacent restaurant tables. Cross a certain line and they will tear you apart. This makes for some very scary and paranoid scenes.
Layers of reality. Incarnations of subconsciousness. Different speeds of time. The ability to construct worlds with your mind. Nolan uses these intriguing concepts to form amazing scenes and images. You see characters return to reality, wide-eyed and sweaty, after being stabbed to death in a dream. Characters driven mad after spending too much time in a deep dream layer.
Nolan also takes advantage of the lawless nature of dreams to make some wild action scenes. In one scene, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and a member of the subconscious rabble are fighting in a hallway when the car carrying Gordon-Levitt’s real-life body drives off a bridge and twirls multiple times in the air; of course, the dream world itself is turned topsy-turvy, and the fight becomes a zero-gravity one, then a reverse-gravity one, etc.
If my explanation of the plot is making you confused, wait until you see the movie. You will probably leave the theater with lots of unanswered questions. But with lots of cool images and ideas to mull over, as well. And don’t worry, you’ll want to see it again anyway.