Christopher Nolan is a tightrope walker, always stepping cautiously along the line between art and commerce. He’s a big director who makes big movies with big stars but nobody will mistake him for Michael Bay, Roland Emmerich or Brett Ratner. Since his breakout hit MEMENTO, Nolan has continued to grow, challenging himself and his audience. Nolan is said to have begun penning the script for his latest effort INCEPTION ten years ago and it’s easy to see why it took so long. It’s a narrative labyrinth which once again sees Nolan on his tightrope, navigating this multi-layered world of dream space.
Nolan’s other works have all explored weathered male protagonists who attempt to reconcile their grief, guilt and tragedies of the past. MEMENTO’s Leonard Shelby is tortured by the murder of his wife and his endless search for resolution. INSOMNIA’s Will Dormer cannot escape the guilt of an accidental shooting on the job. THE DARK KNIGHT’s Bruce Wayne is haunted by the death of his parents and the city that he sees gradually consumed by darkness. INCEPTION features Leonardo DiCaprio as Cobb, the leader of a team of thieves that travel into the subconsciousness of people while they dream in order to steal information. While inside these people’s dreams, Cobb is often visited by his dead wife Moll who exists within his own subconscious where he is unable to suppress her. Cobb is crippled by guilt for the circumstances surrounding Moll’s death, and her continuous appearances in their heist missions begin to trouble the rest of the team.
Cobb and Co. are commissioned by a man they tried to extract secrets from named Saito who wants them to perform the difficult task of inception, or to place an idea into someone else’s mind. This requires multiple layers of dreams, dreams within dreams, and dreams within dreams within dreams. They commission the talents of a young college student named Ariadne to be their “architect” in designing the dream world they can slip their victim into so he will be most vulnerable to their mind manipulation. One of the film’s biggest strengths is the visual language of Nolan’s dream worlds. There is a great scene in which Ariadne is first introduced to being conscious in her own dream world, as she navigates the shape shifting urban landscape like her own personal playground, twisting and bending her surroundings into Escher-like mazes. Nolan and his cinematographer Wally Pfister have put a lot of thought into the world they’ve created, where dreams can alter perspective, gravity, movement and time.
The third act of INCEPTION is an exhilarating trip down the rabbit hole of Nolan’s dreamscape, through layer after layer of subconscious. This is a very tricky thing to pull off, with Nolan comfortably keeping track of multiple timelines and layers of dream simultaneously. Hans Zimmer’s pounding soundtrack elevates the tension and suspense as Cobb finds it increasingly difficult to keep Moll at bay. In a summer that has offered us CLASH OF THE TITANS, TWILIGHT ECLIPSE, THE A-TEAM and weekend after weekend of sequels and remakes, Christopher Nolan has offered an inventive and original thriller about the environment of our dreams and the loved ones who occupy them.