Exploring the power of dreams with ‘Inception’

(L-r) LEONARDO DiCAPRIO as Cobb and ELLEN PAGE as Ariadne in Warner Bros. Pictures and Legendary Pictures sci-fi action film INCEPTION, a Warner Bros. Pictures release.

By Susan JAMES

Science fiction meets dream theory in writer-director Christopher Nolan’s exciting new film, ‘Inception.’ Throw in a dash of Jason Bourne and James Bond and a sprinkling of ‘The Matrix’ and all systems are go. Nolan’s space travelers, led by Leonardo DiCaprio’s Cobb, explore strange new worlds but they are the interior worlds created by people’s dreams. Mentored by the comfortably shaggy Professor Miles, an always welcome Michael Caine, Cobb has learned how to penetrate individual dreams and extract or implant information in the dreamer’s mind. That process goes horribly wrong when during an extended dream sequence Cobb’s much loved wife Mal (Marion Cotillard) loses her ability to tell reality from illusion and commits suicide.
Cobb is accused of her murder and forced to flee the country.  Now desperate to return home to his two young children, he accepts one final job from a high-powered Japanese businessman that will guarantee him freedom from arrest. Cobb will lead a team of six into the dream world of the heir to an international business empire and plant the idea that will convince the man to abandon the economic empire building altogether. For an action film, this seems a hopelessly esoteric goal not really up there with the end of the universe as we know it, but the journey the dream travelers undertake is visually stunning and impeccably acted.
Nolan’s impressive cast brings to the screen an unwavering integrity. Where the script may stumble or drag its feet, the actors manage to bypass those weaknesses and rivet the audience’s attention to the screen. Particularly outstanding are the nuanced performances of Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who infuses a potentially minor role with a resourceful intensity, and Ellen Page as Ariadne, the architect of Cobb’s dream worlds. Named for the Greek princess who guided Theseus from the maze of the Minotaur, Ariadne is tasked with constructing layers of architectural mazes to contain the dreams of the targeted businessman. The scenes between Cobb and the young architectural student as she quickly learns to manipulate the architecture of the dream universe are among the movie’s best.
The story’s emotional center revolves around Mal’s suicide and Cobb’s feelings of guilt. Unable to erase her from his memory, he recreates her in increasingly lethal forms in every dream sequence he enters, posing an imminent threat to the team. Having crashed one of these dreams out of curiosity, only Ariadne understands the depth of the danger as she becomes Cobb’s self-appointed guardian.
Knowing nods to other films are nice touches, including an audio homage to Cotillard’s Oscar-winning performance as Edith Piaf. But neither these nor the relationships between the characters provide enough genuine emotion to give the mechanical dream machine a human heartbeat. In the last moments when four layers of dreams open one inside the other, the visual excitement of the multi-layered action will keep you on the edge of your seat but as the credits role, you may find yourself wondering like Ariadne, why was this journey necessary?
See you at the movies!