DESIGNER DREAMS, DESIGNER THRILLS
In Inception, the auteur Christopher Nolan draws us into the world of dreams, which have been depicted not as vistas of subconscious idyll, but as relentless outbreaks of rapidly spawning ideas in the most hyper-imaginative settings you can think of. The protagonists in this world are mind-extractors who can enter a subject’s dream and draw out the most closely guarded secrets but not before getting embroiled in a series of spine-tingling escapades tinged with a global flavor. Even waking up is quite an adventure and must be achieved with a jolt or a ‘kick’, each one more spectacularly inventive than the last, whether it is through a burst of waterworks, or a freight train hurtling across the street, or even a veritable city collapsing unto itself.
Nolan calls upon his audience to participate willfully in this excitement and in order to sell us his peculiar kind of suspension of disbelief, he works assiduously with a hand-picked crew of mind technicians (after a kind) who include a spaced-out fabricator of sedatives (Avatar's token Indian, Dileep Rao), a dapper mind-thief, a young architect of dream-states, even a yuppie sidekick; who all go about their business in disarmingly corporate-like fashion, with much brainstorming in board-rooms and gizmo-talk (these are a band of geeks, only dressed like action heroes), till the requisite synergy can be achieved and they can embark on what is to be the most perilous of assignments—not the drawing out of confidences that are already a part of some cavernous psyche, but the planting of the seed of an idea that is then allowed unmitigated transmission in a person’s mind like a virus, literally the inception of true inspiration.
Losing your way in this mission could mean treading water forever in some vicarious realm, but the stakes are high, as there will be significant repercussions in the real world when the subject wakes up—in this case it is attempted to will upon the scion of an industrial empire (Cillian Murphy investing his character with the requisite indecision) to dismantle his father’s legacy.
Such a high-concept premise is made all the more tangible because the acting all around is top-notch. Leonardo Di Caprio plays the conflicted leader of this pack without the slightest hint of teeth-gnashing showiness. He brings to vivid focus the psychological toll all of this dream-traversing has taken on his mind, as you sometimes find him wallowing in the cesspool of his own sub-conscious in which his dead wife (Marion Cotillard) is miraculously still alive, although she is now some kind of double crossing femme fatale. Ms Cotillard has chalked up a pleasing body of work since her Oscar win (despite mouthing off on 911 conspiracy theories on occasion) and here she provides us with an alluringly chilling portrayal. Ellen Page makes good use of her particular brand of precociousness, and relishes playing the architect who conjures up designer dreams meant for deception, while lacing the going-ons with an inquiring conscience.
We have had dreams (and minds) excavated in this way in the movies before. The Nightmare on Elm Street franchise comes to mind, and the cinema of Charlie Kaufman. The latter did it in self- referencing comic book fashion, whereas Nolan (who gave the Batman saga its darkest ever telling in The Dark Knight) situates his unrelenting madness in a entirely plausible metaphysical realm. The premise is tantalizing, each dream is a rush of adrenaline, and accelerated enough to provide the film a certain intrepid pace. Nolan flirts with moral ambiguities but not long enough to stay the proceedings. This stops the film from entering the territory of truly galvanizing cinema.
Throughout, there are those common notions associated with dreams that are exploited quite ingenuously to set up each turn of event. However there is a sense that all of this build-up doesn’t quite pay off completely. In the end, as this rapidly spiraling action adventure unspools, and all the levels in the dreams become easier to unravel; each dream introduced within each dream now seems like a plot contrivance that only seeks to extend the film’s running time. When the film falls upon us with full force, we can finally see it for what it really is, merely an engaging thriller and a good time to be had (and incredibly so) at the movies. It is edge-of- the-seat, yes, but not gut-wrenchingly so. However, that is hardly something anyone who emerges from a screening of Inception would want to complain about.