Any attempt to summarize the plot of Chris Nolan's new film Inception ends up sounding like an unconvincing lecture on Jungian principles of psychotherapy or quantum physics. The plot dives in and out of France and Japan, past and present, the conscious mind and the dreaming mind. Viewing this film requires complete attention: this is not the film for bathroom breaks or popcorn runs or glowing Blackberries.
Leonardo diCaprio plays Dom Cobb. Think of him as a sort of robber, but rather than thieving cash or jewelry, he enters the mind of his victims and steals their ideas as they dream. His specialty in this futuristic branch of criminality is corporate espionage. Part Matrix and part Avatar, the film weaves together the confounding story, as the protagonists plug in and out of reality and of the dream state.
When approached by businessman Saito (Ken Wantanabe) to plant an idea in the mind of another corporate mogul (rather than steal one), Cobb assembles a team of Ocean's Eleven-style specialists: an architect, a chemist, an impersonator, and a fixer.
Whether you appreciate science fiction films or not, Inception is worth a careful viewing. As an art historian, the movie became a dynamic René Magritte painting or M.C. Escher print, questioning the mysteries of our existence and our perception of reality.
Nolan precisely and artfully constructs every detail of the film, just as Ellen Page as the aptly named Ariadne engineers every detail of the subconscious lands as Cobb's architect. Nolan fills the screen with labyrinthine textiles and Greek key patterns and Rorschach ink-blot art to underscore the elusive nature of the film's surreal subject.
While Leo offers up the consistently rich acting we've come to expect from him, his wife played by Marion Cotillard (of La Vie en Rose Oscar fame) haunts her every scene. In a cinematic allusion, the gravelly sounds of Edith Piaf are repeated on loop in the film, playing a key role in waking Cobb's "dream team" from their deep sedated slumber.
If you invest two and a half hours in viewing Inception, I assure you, you'll leave the theater perplexed. Visually innovative and bewildering in its narration, this is the thinking-man's summer blockbuster.
You may want to sleep with one eye open or forgo your next nap on a plane or train after viewing this film; but, in a summer movie season filled with animated toys and Iron Men, I found it incredibly refreshing to be challenged by a film, to mull over the plot for hours after and to grapple with some of the weightiest issues in the human psyche.
Images above are M.C. Escher Relativity from 1953 and René Magritte's Les Pyrenées from the 1960s. Both of these artists, in my opinion, inspired Nolan's Surrealist vision.