“True inspiration is impossible to fake”
Say what you will about Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, while both may be great, they simply show Christopher Nolan’s skill at telling a good story with emotion, action, and drama. What sets the auteur on another level of genius than pretty much anyone working in or out of Hollywood today is the imagination let loose in his other films. The ingenuity of storytelling, the intellectual gravitas, and the visionary worlds he leads us through are, quite simply, without compare. But, no matter how fantastic his career-making Memento remains, the revelation that is Inception renders it mere child’s play. Not since his debut Following—a gem in its own right—has he brought a story to screen out of his mind alone. It’s a magnum opus of unadulterated ambition, creating architects of dreamscapes and professionals able to mold those fantasies on at will. Inception questions reality, morality, physics, spirituality, and love, asking us to stop telling the world and ourselves what we think and instead find what it is we believe.
That which we believe makes us. From an early age, whether due to nature or nurture, we cultivate an inner structure of ideals and truths to live by. Each and every person has their own personal rules and regulations guiding all actions—life, death, existence, they are all only real if we give them definition and power. A dream is our subconscious feeding on memory, hopes, fantasies, and horrors, building a construct to test those values within by showing what is, what could be, or what hopefully never ends up. It is a realm of secrets, hidden treasures left vulnerable and free to float to the surface due to the safety of being trapped inside our mind. But what if people had the ability to go inside our dreams; infiltrating and orchestrating every move we make to discover shrouded morsels of information? What if there were trained extractors who create worlds to mirror reality—able to change it to their needs—and they brought you unknowingly inside? Without defenses, without the knowledge to build walls or set filters, we’d be sitting ducks willing to say whatever it was they needed, especially if they could take the form of ones we trust.
Secrets become bought and sold, kidnapping now done while the victim’s unconscious, eventually left to awaken without knowledge of what occurred, the memory fuzzy and fleeting as though a dream. Those with means begin to set up ways to combat extraction, hiring extractors themselves to enter their minds and train their subconscious to be vigilant, cunning, and ruthless to any threat of intrusion. Security literally begins to run around the clock, while awake or asleep. But what really can happen from a secret getting out? Perhaps you lose some money, maybe a little power; it could be the truth uncovered lets justice be served. These truths are there, and always will be. They will more than likely come out by accident anyway, even if coercion fails. The real danger of extraction, then, isn’t what can be taken—it’s what can be put in. Inception, in theory, is possible. By planting the seed of thought, it’s left to germinate into an idea, one so powerful it could alter the subject’s complete intrinsic make-up. If we were to believe that planted thought was our own, it couldn’t only reshape our entire course of self-existence, it could potentially be our very undoing.
And this is where Christopher Nolan’s mind becomes one of the most inventive around. He has not only engineered his own sci-fi dream world of the film’s reality—one where the process of artificial dream creation is possible—he has laid the process out, created the rules behind it, and weaved a mystery to breathe in life, a story of dreams within dreams, dragging the travelers deeper and deeper into illusion, risking their minds to be fractured off in limbo, no longer aware if reality ever existed at all. But he isn’t done with just the suspense thriller of coercing a mark into manufacturing his own 180-degree reversal of action. He also adds in the overlapping tale of another man’s past; a history that has crippled the greatest extractor alive, making the mystery not whether he and his team can prove inception is possible, but instead to see if someone who knows the rules and willingly breaks them in order to reach the only endgame he can fathom is able to find peace. Sometimes the only way to get out is to go even further down.
I know, it all sounds convoluted and impossible to assimilate. And that is why Nolan’s biggest success is his capacity to explain everything simply, not only allowing us to understand what’s happening, but to enter the world as though we knew it all along. Rather than lecture the physics of an infinite loop, for example, he creates a working example—pretty much a manufactured version of MC Escher’s staircases from “Relativity”. The character of Ariadne (Ellen Page) is brought in to not only be the fresh-faced member of a team too trusting of one another, the lone brave soul willing to stand against and fight those in power, she is also our entry point into the entire extraction process. To teach the film’s audience, Nolan teaches the new, young architect. We become this girl, the last visage of comprehending a purity of reality in a community no longer able to easily grasp the edges of a line crossed too often. We are educated with tests and exercises, seeing how the procedure evolves in a controlled state and then its use in the volatile and chaotic realm of live application.
The visceral splendor of the trailer is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the possibilities of bending time and space in dream. With each layer to the mirage comes expanded time. Every motion occurring in the plane above is experienced beneath, (weightlessness or rotating horizons allow for some of the most memorable choreographed fight scenes ever), and that feeling of falling—I know you’ve been jolted awake by it more than once—or ‘the kick’ becomes your only true failsafe of ever waking again. It’s pure imagination inhabited by characters that understand the rules and exploit them. Tom Hardy lends his sarcastic wit to Eames, the chameleon capable of becoming whomever necessary to disarm a subject; Ken Watanabe’s Saito is a shrewd businessman willing to learn the new technology and even partake in the fun; and Joseph Gordon-Levitt breaks through into the mainstream, finally having the opportunity to show the world the immense wealth of talent art-house audiences already know, his Arthur the voice of reason as well as the stoic warrior of strength and intellect, working on the fly to allow all to run smoothly—if that’s even possible.
But besides Nolan’s complete creativity laid bare through both script and frame—a detailed story I glossed over, rather than spoiled, while instead explaining the unique technological process used by the characters—it truly is Leonardo DiCaprio’s Cobb and Marion Cotillard’s Mal who are the driving force behind everything. Their intertwining roles co-exist at every level, showing how the bonds of love can break through almost every wall set to destroy it. The two greatest architects the world has ever seen, Cobb and Mal are the one’s to have uncovered the dream’s brightest jubilations and its darkest dangers. Once you continue on for too long, the path back to truth becomes blurred as fantasy’s infinite possibilities overwhelm. There needs to be a way to remember what is real and what is illusion, but when all is said and done, does anyone truly know?
Much like you could view this life as a short sojourn before the ever-expansive future of the afterlife—a world we see in our imaginations, beliefs rendering it to our every whim—our dreams may serve the same purpose, an escape before true existence. But if a heaven created by our minds awaits; wouldn’t dream be our reality? The world we awaken to then morphing into the waiting room before our permanent residence beyond? It all becomes a matter or perception and feeling. Whether what we think is real is just a lie or not, if we believe we are truly happy and in love, should we care? Ask yourself this question when the screen cuts to black, lingering on a final image full of meaning and profound answers. The truth is ultimately in us all. Realty is because we say so, nothing else matters.
 LEONARDO DiCAPRIO as Cobb in Warner Bros. Pictures’ and Legendary Pictures’ sci-fi action film “INCEPTION,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures
 JOSEPH GORDON-LEVITT as Arthur in Warner Bros. Pictures’ and Legendary Pictures’ sci-fi action film “INCEPTION,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release. Photo by Stephen Vaughan
 MARION COTILLARD as Mal in Warner Bros. Pictures’ and Legendary Pictures’ sci-fi action film “INCEPTION,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures