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'Inception' will have you dream a little dream

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Inception twists the audience’s brain like a Bavarian pretzel, but the movie is a good Leonardo DiCaprio and Ellen Page in "Inception." Photo courtesy of Warner Bros.blend of artistic science fiction film and summer blockbuster.

After the onslaught of empty summer movies that have graced the screen in 2010, an absolute mindf*ck like Inception is bound to throw any moviegoers brain into shock. Christopher Nolan’s  highly anticipated return after his "Dark Knight" hiatus is quite a bold move for the director. Inception is fascinating, thrilling, confusing, and maddening experience, but it certainly falls in the must see category.

Essentially a movie about dreams, and dreams within dreams within dreams (already confused?), Inception does have creativity and originality on its side. Nolan’s story centers around a group of individuals, headed by Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio), that fall into a deep dream state, and then interact within that dream, creating entire worlds that shift and change, populated by people manifested within the dreamer’s subconscious. Each individual has a role within the dream.

For example, Ariadne (Ellen Page) is brought in to be an architect, or the individual who designs the architecture or layout of the dream once all of the players have entered. There is the power to change the landscape as each second passes (shown in a stupendous sequence in which she causes an entire city to flip on its head), but as she crudely learns, this can have disastrous results. Another role is that of the dreamer, also known as the person who populates the dream with his/her subconscious after the layout has been established by the architect.

The bulk of the plot comes into play during the second act of Inception, which has Cobb and his team attempting to hijack the mind of Robert Fischer, a billionaire geared to take over his father’s empire after he passes. The goal is Inception, or to somehow create an original, single idea and plant it into Robert’s (Cillian Murphy) mind while dreaming. After Robert is captures and placed into a catatonic state, the trap is set, the game is on, and soon all the players are roaming around a vast dreamscape attempting to invade the billionaire’s memories.

Things become complicated when Cobb’s past demons keep coming to find him during the dream. Plagued by the death of his wife, who he has blamed himself for, unsettling imagery and memories continues to seep into the interactive dreams, causing dangerous results. Even Cobb’s deceased wife, Mal (Marion Cotillard), winds up literally manifesting herself, now as a dangerous individual who will stop at nothing to wreck his world and keep him immersed in guilt.

As mentioned before, Inception can’t be faulted for imagination and originality. In a world of remakes, re-imaginings, and re-boots, such a concept is very welcomed. Nolan’s plot is crammed with so many levels of information that the film threatens to become overwhelming, but for the most part, the juggling act is expertly handled on his part. Inception manages to be both big budget thrill ride and character driven science fiction film, which is no easy feat. If anything bogs the film down, it’s the heavy subplot involving Cobb’s late wife, which is central to the plot but becomes very straining as the film crawls over the two hour mark.

The performances are all fine across, the board, each player giving capable turns, from Ellen Page’s brainiac to Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s wing man to Marion Cotillard’s blisteringly intense portrayal of a vengeful wife. The exception may be DiCaprio, who is played a very similar role in Shutter Island, released earlier this year. Anyone who has seen that film will notice eerie parallels here, particularly in DiCaprio’s performance, which is essentially just a variation on the Shutter Island character.

Inception is Christopher Nolan’s greatest hits collection. All of the usual players are there, with the exception of newbie Leo DiCaprio. The overall tone and feel has echoes of his mega hit The Dark Knight, but the plot has the intricacies and depth of his earlier work, such as Memento. Normally this kind of thinking man’s blockbuster would be tricky to pull off during the dog days of summer, but Nolan’s deft hand and impressive track record ensure Inception will be a big success, artistically and commercially. Bring on the sequel.

Contact Jim Teti at jteti@philly2philly.com

Photos courtesy of Warner Bros.