Christopher Nolan's cerebral science-fiction thriller Inception is an absolute dream by two accounts. First, it is a godsend to every mainstream movie fan deprived of anything truly involving this summer (aside from Toy Story 3). Second, it mirrors our subconscious apparitions by being an entrancing reverie as you watch it and a confounding puzzle when pondered in retrospect. In his first film since the megahit The Dark Knight, Nolan has intricately shaped an adventure more marvelous and mystifying than practically every other movie this year has seen so far.

The dreams of the world’s corporate leaders are the targets of Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his team of extractors. Their profession is to invade the subconscious and steal business ideas and information. Japanese industrialist Saito (Ken Watanabe) enlists Cobb to perform the dicey task of incepting the idea of dismantling a corporation into the mind of one of his rivals (Cillian Murphy). However, the assignment is jeopardized when the destructive shade of Cobb’s late wife (Marion Cotillard) threatens to overtake his mind.

Nolan has constructed his screenplay with an acute eye for doling out exposition. The first hour is wisely used to explain the summary details of the dream world and leaves many of the complications for the inception caper. The screenplay also relays Cobb’s past in an apt fashion, neither dropping it all at once nor stopping a steady scene to present another facet. The minutiae of Nolan’s concept do guarantee that a few components will slip out of mind as the audience is carried through different dream levels. Nevertheless, the fascinating mysteries of Nolan’s vision will guarantee that viewers will watch it at least once more to better understand this captivating premise.

Much of the credit for making this movie work should also go to the brilliant cast, which also includes Ellen Page, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Tom Hardy. These actors neither trivialize the plot nor take it too seriously. They are just as in awe as we are about the astounding feats we see here, including an amazing zero-gravity fight set in a hotel corridor. These moments are captured perfectly by Wally Pfister’s magnificent cinematography and the almost seamless combination of practical and digital effects. Hans Zimmer’s score underlines everything with the rhythm of the ocean waves in dream limbo, where the definition of reality can become indeterminable. The contributions of Pfister, Zimmer and the other crew members are invaluable to creating the hazardous dream world in which the actors can fight or fall.

Inception may prove unsatisfying for fans of dystopian science-fiction stories with its relatively high-concept plot. The notion of stealing ideas through dreams suggests a movie that questions the right to invade privacy (think of Steven Spielberg’s Minority Report, in which psychic beings were used to arrest would-be criminals). If nothing else, the promotional tagline, “Your mind is the scene of the crime,” would seem like a dead giveaway. Inception settles on a heist premise and spends the majority of its time on developing and executing that one story. The weightiest plot thread is Cobb's guilt-ridden relationship with his wife, but that story’s meditation on the danger of ideas feels like small change compared to the political and social issues that Nolan could slant with his concept. Because it shows Nolan’s creation without fully considering it, Inception seems like it should either precede or follow another story that permits a more contemplative approach.

The movie’s primary theme appears to be the fear of losing control, and not just Cobb’s control over his guilt. The extractors are always in danger of inadvertently showing their target that they are inside a dream, which can provoke deadly reactions from the target’s subconscious. Delving too far into the mind or dying in a dream may trap a person in limbo, and the presence of Zimmer’s music reminds us throughout that nothing is more perilous than to have one’s mind trapped down there forever. The ability to stay in tune with reality is the most important asset to these characters. Whether control is retained by the end of the caper is anybody’s guess, for Nolan ends this movie with one last piece of inception that may claim otherwise. It is a small touch that ensures audiences will return multiple times to see if they can outsmart this movie and master its intriguing ambiguities.


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