Ski chases, zero-gravity fist fights, and world-bending physics all collide in the mind-blowing classic from the genius of Christopher Nolan: Inception. With it being the film’s ten-year anniversary, and Tenet’s hopeful revival of the cinema in near-sight, I figured it’d be worth taking a second look at the film that in the summer of 2010 had us at the back of our seats simultaneously in amazement and full of questions.
“What is the most resilient parasite?” our main protagonist, Dom Cobb (DiCaprio), asks Mr. Saito (Watanabe), a powerful business magnate, during the introduction of the film. “An idea,” Cobb explains, “once an idea has taken hold of the brain it’s almost impossible to eradicate. An idea that is fully formed, fully understood, that sticks.” “For someone like you to steal?” Mr. Saito responds. See, Dom Cobb and his partner, Arthur (Gordon-Levitt), aren’t your typical thieves – they have the power to enter someone’s subconscious and extract their thoughts. Cobb and Arthur, along with the rest of their team, construct levels, or rather worlds in which they inhabit when they enter the dreamer’s mind, and within those worlds scavenge for the targeted information which may be hidden in a safe or a jail cell that the dreamer’s subconscious uses as a form of protection for said information. Lost yet? It doesn’t get any easier.
After Cobb and his team fail a heist on Mr. Saito’s mind, they are left on the run from the company who hired them. However, while most people would be upset at those who tried to steal from them, Mr. Saito looks to offer Cobb a new job but with a twist; he isn’t asking for anything to be stolen, but rather for an idea to be planted in the brain of another, the act of inception. Mr. Saito wants his rival’s son, Mr. Fisher (Murphy), to have the idea to break up his father’s company in order to prevent global energy dominance. If Cobb can complete this nearly impossible task, he will be allowed to return to the United States and see his children again.
Inception is a film that takes the heist thriller to new heights – there are familiar elements such as a team is assembled, there are people shooting back, and something goes wrong, but what made it fresh in 2010 and keeps it fresh today is the visionary direction of Christopher Nolan. With its complexity and grandiose ambition, Inception would’ve likely failed in the hands of a lesser director. And we witness the full force of Nolan’s imagination, supplemented by the skillful eye of cinematographer Wally Pfister, right from the opening shots where Leonardo DiCaprio washes up on the beach and is dragged inside a Japanese castle. The film’s sprawling set-pieces, trademark use of practical effects, and Hans Zimmer’s pounding score all culminate into an artistic masterpiece.
And for every ounce of style poured into Inception, there is an ounce of substance to go with it. Despite being championed for its visual spectacle, winner of best sound mixing, sound editing, cinematography, and visual effects at the 2011 Academy Awards, and blockbuster performance at the box office, taking in over $800 million USD, the heart of Inception’s story is quite simple and intimate: a man who has lost his wife is struggling to move on. Dom Cobb is not your traditional hero, to call him a hero at all is stretching it, but what makes him so compelling is the contrast of the realness of his problems with the dream worlds he sets himself in. Nolan brings to life the metaphors of locking away memories and being haunted by a loved one through Cobb’s character, and it is the terrific acting from both DiCaprio and Marion Cotillard that make this achievable (the rest of the cast is fantastic too, including the likes of Ellen Page, Ken Watanabe, Cillian Murphy, and the impeccable chemistry between Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Tom Hardy).
The cultural phenomenon of Inception still goes strong ten years later, and we can only hope Tenet is as much of a success; I guess we shall wait and see, some of us having to wait longer than others (damn you COVID!). Even if you don’t adore Inception as much as I do, I think we can all agree that after the year 2020 has been, we can only hope the top is still spinning and we’ll wake up from this horrible dream soon enough.