Now that I have returned from the simple pleasures of Vermont, I have seen Inception, Christopher Nolan's cryptic puzzle of dreams within dreams. I was warned I would not understand a word of it, so I decided to go with the flow, as we used to say. The flow in this film consists of some of the finest special effects, editing, and pulsating action that Hollywood can offer. And it also boasts strong characters, clever writing, and a poignant love story. But is Inception anything more than a maze of tricks and mirrors?
Certainly the film is constantly entertaining, sometimes humorous, full of cultural allusions, and critiques of corruption in big business. But some critics have carped about too much style over substance, but perhaps Nolan is making style the substance of his film. With a cast that parades Leonardo DiCaprio in his most guilt-ridden role yet, Ellen Page as the architect who designs dreams, Joseph Gordon-Levitt as dream navigator who dances on ceilings and walls as nimbly as Astaire did in Royal Wedding, and the ravishing Marion Cotillard as wife, muse, and enemy to DeCaprio, Nolan does not disappoint. I won't attempt to unravel the plot...because I can't! But let's say that you work for a corporate espionage group that is able to plant alien ideas into a competitor's mind, but your team leader (Leo) has so many inner demons (remember we left him on Shutter Island) that they keep spoiling the team's mission. Of course, this only makes the film more interesting, and every time Marion Cotillard appears the film sparks alive more effortlessly than any modern city collapsing on itself.
Did I mention that Inception is full of film allusions, some to famous films of the past, some as inside jokes. Two quick and clever examples. To be pulled out of the dream state, the team hears a certain French chanteuse. Didn't Marion win an Oscar playing her a few years ago? And our dream architect who builds imaginary worlds for other subconscious states to explore is named Ariadne, not a common name but the name of the mythological woman who lost a spinning match to Athena and was turned into a spider..ah, what a tangled she weaves.
Inception is a movie for movie lovers to treasure. Many have already seen it several times either to understand it or just to enjoy the sheer pleasure of great film-making. Nolan has already given us the two latest Batman films, the second of which was a dark, but often humorous romp that boasted a bravura performance by the late Heath Ledger as the Joker. But his masterpiece is still 2000's eerie cult favorite Memento, a mind-bending mystery that turns chronological time on its head. As a footnote, let me recommend Roman Polanski's latest mystery drama The Ghost Writer, a tense, intelligent film about modern world politics told on a personal scale. It is full of surprises, all logical, and great writing and acting. Rent it now!