Friday, July 16, 2010

Dream-based 'Inception' boggles eyes, mind

By Steve Crum
Never has a movie forced me to think about it, mull it over, for two days past seeing it. To absorb and make sense out of Inception, out of its dreams within dreams premise and the flashbacks within flashbacks permeating the intricately edited story, Inception still puzzles, but not quite intrigues.

Still I marvel at its eye boggling visions, and have been able to piece together more of its complex plot. Yet the movie pleases and entertains only superficially, and requires extreme focus. Yet again, it feels right to call Inception a classic of its genre.

Speaking of making sense, even the film’s title will have many reaching for a dictionary. No doubt director-screenwriter Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight) chose the title as a hint of things to come in the movie itself. For the record, “inception” means “the beginning of something, such as in an undertaking.” As it turns out, the title has not only a double but a triple inference in the plot. There are beginnings and endings criss-crossed throughout the story. Time is manipulated frequently. It is reminiscent of 2001’s Memento, wherein the story unfolds in reverse fashion. Is it surprising Nolan wrote and directed both Memento and Inception?

Leonardo DiCaprio stars as Dom Cobb, a specialized thief called an Extractor, since he has to penetrate someone’s mind to steal valuable information. His fame is based on maintaining any idea or concept in his subconscious, which is an invaluable gift. The timely plot involves big business and corporate shenanigans, but this sci-fi element of mind fusing takes it to skyscraper levels. Cobb is, by now, well known--too well known among the espionage world. A fugitive, he is disconnected from his wife and young children. This aspect of Cobb’s existence wears on him throughout the movie. We see scene after scene of his wife and children, usually playing on the beach. That is a problem about being an extractor of the first kind, you just can’t let memories of images go.

Cobb leads a veritable team of mind melders who will team dream in a process called “dream sharing.” They all hook into a subject’s dream via cables connected to a ultra tech, portable machine. There are a handful of movies that have employed a similar device to invade another’s mind. Remember Sleepers, Brainstorm, and Dreamscape? The difference here is that the subject is also inserted into the dream as an active player along with the mission impossible troupe.

That specialized unit, like most fictional units (think The A-Team, Leverage, and even The Great Escape trappings), is composed of not only experts, but experts with nicknames. There is Arthur aka “The Point Man,” well played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt. He and Cobb go way back, and are trusted friends and co-dreamers. Cobb plans the job, Arthur organizes the details. Ellen Page is Ariadne, “The Architect,” who designs and builds places that do not exist. THE visual highlight of Inception is Ariadne’s creation of a huge city that literally folds up onto itself. One can walk to the end of the street, up a wall with buildings and people intact, and continue strolling upside-down, gravity free. It must be seen to be appreciated, and believe me, you will appreciate it.

Other team members are Eames, “The Forger” (Tom Hardy), Saito, “The Tourist” (Ken Watanabe), Yusuf, “The Chemist” (Cillian Murphy), and Robert Fischer, Jr.’s “The Mark” (Cillian Murphy.) It is good to see Tom Berenger, who has been absent in recent years from the screen, in a prime role as Browning, one of the dream team’s subjects. Browning’s particular case in a first for the team. They have to implant, instead of extract, an idea this time around.

Marion Cotillard’s role as Cobb’s deceased (or is she?) wife Mal has an aside to it I have to mention. Remember first that Cotillard won a Best Actress Oscar for her brilliant portrayal of French singer Edith Piaf in La Vie en Rose. Then watch and listen for one of the dreamers as he listens on a head set to Piaf singing. This is an inside joke within a movie that is anything but humorous. Like everything else in Inception, even a joke is layered within.

Inception is loaded with gun shots, explosions and knuckle fights (many of them in zero gravity a la The Matrix), balanced by believable, sensitive acting and some of the most stunning visuals ever conceived. The negative is the often confusing plot...or plots.

This seems to be the year of taking visuals in movies up a notch. Cameron did it with Avatar, Nolan does it with Inception.
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GRADE: On an A to F Scale: B+
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