The creation of a character, a couple; a feeling, a frame; a narrative, a novelty; a relationship, a romance; a moment, a mystery. Have no doubt about it, filmmaking is creation, no matter the size of the budget or scope.
But there are very few filmmakers with the knowledge, the willpower, and the vision to create a world. We all remember the first time we stepped into the galaxy far, far away that George Lucas took us to in “Star Wars.” Recent examples include The Wachowski Brothers leading us into the world of “The Matrix,” Peter Jackson lifting Middle Earth off the page and displaying it before our very own eyes in “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, and, very recently, James Cameron giving us a crystal-clear, in-our-face look at Pandora in “Avatar.”
And now, with the release of “Inception,” we can officially add Christopher Nolan to that impressive list of filmmakers. He unravels before our very own eyes what he envisions to be the world of the dream. It’s an incredibly complex world, governed by a set of rules that have graver implications that we could ever imagine. Only he holds the keys to unlocking the secrets of his creation, and he tantalizingly dangles them before our eyes.
Yet he also challenges us to use just the sight of them to figure it out for ourselves. I have no doubt he left us clues throughout the movie, but it’s not possible to catch them your first time. You are simply too awe-struck by what’s on the screen, too busy puzzling out the intricacies of the plot, and too preoccupied trying to stay ahead of Nolan to go a layer deeper. And to go that extra mile, to find what’s really bubbling under the surface of “Inception,” you will have already dug to a great depth. Some people won’t even be willing to go that far, and they will feel left in the dust by the movie, like a kindergartener sitting in a calculus class. But Nolan doesn’t design it for those people, making it an even sweeter treat for those willing to take their mind on a journey it won’t always understand.
Nolan pulls out all the stops to make sure that this world comes to vibrant life, beginning with his own script that never fails to captivate us. It’s heavy on the hard-hitting drama, and he always makes sure to remind us that no matter what’s going on around these people, they are still humans with emotions as complex as the world around them. These characters are fully realized, with rivalries, passions, and hatreds. Sometimes it’s hard to figure out what’s going on when a movie exists in four different layers of reality, but we manage to stay grounded through these characters and Nolan’s impeccable sense of direction.
And he gets great actors to execute the vision for him, beginning with Leonardo DiCaprio at the front. He’s a star who can’t seem to give anything other than fantastic performances, and “Inception” is no different as he keeps his character, Cobb, as much of a mystery to us as the rest of the movie is. The rest of the “dream team,” so to speak, is filled out by plenty of worthy actors. We get a surprising turn from Ellen Page in a role where her main asset, a biting sarcasm, is rendered useless. Joseph Gordon-Levitt, ever the utilitarian actor, has us spellbound in awe, as does the fairly unknown Tom Hardy as a friendly competitor. Ken Watanabe, a collaborator with Nolan on “Batman Begins,” is back and as good as ever. Among the supporting cast, though, the standout is Marion Cotillard, who only pops up occasionally but always floors us. (And I have to mention the team’s chemist, Dileep Rao, who has gotten robbed of name recognition on the poster even though he definitely deserves it.)
The same script also calls for one of the most jaw-dropping visceral experiences anyone has ever seen or imagined. It’s a visual feast as cities fall and gravity is defied. In fact, it’s such a shame that we get so involved in the story that we don’t have the time to appreciate the level of technical depth and mastery the movie has to offer. The editing is flawless, the visual effects astounding, the cinematography breathtaking, the production design stunning, and the sound effects jarring. Add IMAX to that equation, and you may very well find yourself on complete sensory overload.
It’s incredible to watch for two and a half hours as Nolan draws us deeper and deeper into the world of the dream, to levels of depth and complexity we can scarcely comprehend, and then with a snap of his fingers, he wakes us up. ”Inception” is more than just a movie; it’s an experience, and one that I intend to repeat many times. A /