July 21st 2010 06:07
"A single idea from the human mind can build cities. An idea can transform the world and rewrite all the rules. Which is why I have to steal it."
After first seeing The Matrix back in 1999, director Darren Aronofsky left asking “What kind of science fiction movie can people make now?” It was as if the sci-fi genre had reached its creative limitations, as though every one of its darkest, previously unexplored corners had been blown up with the daring suggestion that we might be living in a computer simulation. To quote Aronofsky again, “suddenly Philip K. Dick’s ideas no longer seemed that fresh.” And indeed, Aronofsky was not alone in expressing such concerns.
Yet, in the ten plus years that have now passed, we have seen sci-fi’s development and it thankfully renders Aronofsky’s remarks premature. Gems like Children of Men and Sunshine showcased new talent and Oscar winning potential for their respective creators Alfonso Cuaron and Danny Boyle. Then there are the more recent debuts of Duncan Jones’ Moon and Neill Blomkamp’s District 9, both stunning and original in their own rights. And, somehow, it doesn’t feel right without giving mention to Avatar. This year’s sterling addition to the canon of sci-fi is without question Christopher Nolan’s Inception, an ingenious actioner that blends exhilarating special effects with the same sort of conceit all great sci-fi possess, the paradoxical question and answer to What If?
In the film’s earliest and most visually gripping sequence, Leonardo DiCaprio insightfully observes “Dreams feel real while we’re in them. It’s only when we wake up that we realise something was actually strange.” Wise words for his listener, college student Ariadne, who is perfectly cast as Juno’s Ellen Page. She serves as the function of the audience as she is speedily swept into the dangerous machinations of Dom Cobb (DiCaprio) which force her further and further away from her reality. Cobb is called by himself and others the Extractor, a fitting euphemism for a criminal mastermind who steals from the dreams he unwelcomingly enters into.
The fiendishly intricate workings to seeing this dream-hacking method through run the risk of exhausting the audience’s intelligence. Put in the hands of a director less experienced and talented as Nolan, and the first half of Inception could be as uninspiring as your high school biology class on the structure of a plant cell. Nolan though has a knowing way of engaging our intrigue, in allegorising the labyrinth of the subconscious. And, in any case, this is of course all a brilliant plot device, a clever excuse, for some riveting and genuinely thrilling effects.
We are plunged into a time warp with Dom and his team, whose chief purpose by now is not to steal but rather to implant an idea in the mind of Mr Fischer (Cillian Murphy). With each layer of reality or unreality scraped away, temporal dislocation sets in and the stakes get higher with every passing second. Eternal entrapment disguises itself as a second chance for its most gullible leader and our tortured hero, Dom. The romantic subplot of his lost wife Mallorie (Marion Cotillard) evokes much pathos and forges for the audience an emotional connection to DiCaprio, who’s in top form to lead one of the slickest casts all year.
The film sources much of its originality from its dream-within-a-dream ploy. This is, as we know however, not something that Nolan first thought of. The scene in which Ariadne finds herself in a shared dream with Dom perhaps best invites comparison with The Matrix and its long line of imitators. Nevertheless, Inception works on many levels. It’s a vividly dream-like chess game which feels as though Asimov could have written it. And whilst this review has placed it squarely within the confines of sci-fi, knowing that the Godfathers of the genre would be proud, non-sci-fi fans will get a kick out of this too. After all, Nolan has made his name in large part due to his unfailing ability to hold our suspense.
Do yourself a massive favour, even if it’s only to say that you’ve seen a film this year that is not a sequel, remake or adaptation, and go watch Inception. The IMAX is heartily recommended.
Inception is released nationally tomorrow