Inception: an event that is a beginning. A first part or stage of subsequent events.
Well that's one way of defining it, but it hardly prepares you for the mind-bending, logic-defying silliness of Christopher Nolan's journey into the subconscious. Nolan is the man behind Memento, a film which, it turned out, was about a man who had short term memory loss which somehow led to the entire thing being played out from back to front. Mercifully, Nolan also does Batman movies.
I have had some silly dreams in my time. I once dreamed (dreamt?) that Diego Maradona and Michael Jackson were the same person. I still can't explain what use the moonwalk is to a footballer, but I am sure Diego would have found a use for Michael's glittery glove. Anyway my point is that dreams, or at least mine, tend to be a hotch-potch of snippets of reality which invariably make no sense whatsoever. I'm dreaming now if I think I can go to bed tonight and have a sensible, coherent dream that I will be able to make sense of in the morning.
This is something which Nolan fails to recognise with Inception. The main protagonist is the terribly named Dom Cobb (Leonardo Di Caprio) who has somehow landed a job as a dream thief. Using new technology, sedatives and other such arse-wash, Cobb can enter another person's dream and steal just about any information he can find there. Again it is difficult to see what value he would find in my Maradona-Michael Jackson dream, but in his reality (or at least one of them) dreams unfold in a more straightforward manner.
Cobb is challenged to carry out the inception, that is to actually plant an idea in someone's head without that person knowing that it has been planted there. To fake inspiration, as the film would have it. To do this he assembles a team of dream dabblers including the sedative guy, and a suspiciously attractive young architect. Not just any suspiciously attractive young architect, mind. An architect who constructs the settings for dreams, whether they belong to her or not.
The team embark on their mission, to convince the son of a business tycoon (played by Pete Postlethwaite, who hasn't looked this ill since Brassed Off) to bring down his father's empire. Why would he want to do that when he is about to inherit it? Well, he wouldn't, which just makes the job of making him think it was his own idea all the more difficult.
It is at this point where the dreams get out of control. We're into the realms of dreams within dreams within dreams within dreams now, and the whole thing has more layers than Ashley and Cheryl's wedding cake. Fiendishly, each dream level runs at a different speed so that five minutes in one dream could take an hour in another and so on. Just as well, as Nolan takes the last hour of the film to lead us to the denouement.
Spurring Cobb on throughout is the romantic thought of getting back to reality with his wife and two children. The only problem is that his wife died some time ago, something of which he seems to be reminded in whichever dream he happens to pop up in. Yet being told that someone is dead in Inception means very little because it's all a dream. Or is it? I'm buggered if I know actually.
An attempt at this kind of deep thinking is to be applauded, though it's a little depressing to note that originality now necessarily involves a film drowning in it's complexity. Inception is in real danger of convincing it's audience that it doesn't actually know where it is going or care how it is going to get there. Just believe, will you? Maybe.
Another complaint is that the film could have done without it's nod-to-the-matrix style special effects, all of which thinly disguise the fact that Nolan is trying to distract the people who would otherwise be getting frustrated at the fact that they don't get it. Or that they do get it and it just doesn't work for them.
Rather like dreams themselves, the success or failure of Inception is very much open to interpretation.