Before actually seeing “Inception,” it was a sincere challenge not to be swept into the major buildup behind the film, which is famed director Christopher Nolan's first since his ominous 2008 blockbuster, The Dark Knight.
Enigmatic trailers for “Inception” coupled with media whispers on its “epic” proportions added to a sort of infectious, humming excitement over the movie, and had critics mouthing the words “Academy Award” within minutes of its release.
The appeal of the film is more than understandable. A fast-paced heist thriller, which features Leonardo DiCaprio as a corporate spy by the name of Dominic Cobb who specializes in stealing secrets from the dreams of his subjects, makes for a thoroughly engaging two and a half hours.
Without giving away the movie's intricate plot twists, Cobb wishes to give up the life of dream espionage, yet can't return to his home in the U.S. to be with his estranged children without being arrested for reasons that are later revealed.
Enter Japanese business mogul named Saito (smoothly-played by Ken Watanabe), who offers to maneuver his bureaucratic powers and ensure that Cobb doesn't get detained if he returns to the states - in exchange for Cobb's services. However, Saito doesn't want Cobb to steal an idea from someone's subconscious.
Rather, he wants the spy to perform the near impossible task of planting an idea in the mind of a business competitor – a young heir – to break up his father's energy empire which threatens to become a global monopoly.
Thus ensues Cobb's complex, high-tension journey into the mind of his victim. A quirky and atypically attractive set of side-kicks accompany Cobb in his espionage endeavor, with solid performances from Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ellen Page and Tom Hardy.
“Inception's” stunning visuals and cinematography alone are worth the buzz, as we see dream sequences that feature cities delicately folding on top of themselves and gravity-defying fist fights in the halls of elegantly plush hotels.
Aside from the Matrix-esque, “shoot-em-up” violence, of which there is plenty, the movie does offer some depth in Cobb's angst-ridden character. A tortured soul, Cobb wrestles with inner demons of regret and guilt over a series of poor decisions and fate-ridden accidents that have led him to the point of taking this last job out of desperation.
The viewer naturally identifies with and roots for Cobb, and so his morally questionable actions of invading the young heir's subconscious are never fully addressed.
In a somewhat utilitarian fashion, Nolan presents the idea that Cobb's need to be reunited with his children or the potential of the young heir making his firm into a tyrannical monopoly are justifiable reasons to break into someone's mind and psychologically manipulate him for one's own ends.
Another criticism is that the film lends plenty of opportunity for confusion and thinly explained scenarios. Though the journey into the recesses of a subconscious could hardly be depicted in a simplistic way, the movie at times pushes the boundaries of coherence and fails to give satisfying explanation for how or why things are happening.
“Inception” ultimately asks you to take its plot seriously as a plausible analysis of dreams and the subconscious, yet also demands that the viewer willingly suspend disbelief and accept the film as a work of fantasy fiction. This contradiction begs the question as to what the film is actually intended to be.
All hype aside, the movie both lived up to its expectations and fell short. Though a complex and thoroughly entertaining visual delight, the film raises more questions than it answers, and for those who view cinema as an artistic medium through which deeper truths can be explored, the film solicits more quizzical shrugs than serious pondering.
* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.