There’s a common term employed in the world of dream thieves headed by Leonardo DiCaprio’s Dom Cobb, and it’s an important one. It’s called a “kick,” and it refers to an act of propulsion that produces an adrenaline rush so intense it wakes you from your dreamland. Submerging a head underwater, driving a car off a bridge, creating a giant explosion in a zero-gravity elevator shaft — these are all acts that produce kicks and thrust their subjects headfirst toward the real world.
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But a kick is something else too, something less tangible. When you kick, you’re taking a plunge. You’re jolted away from what you had previously believed your reality was. The earth turns on its side. The walls crumble around you. And if this happens to you when you’re watching a movie, well, maybe that movie just kicked your ass.
“Inception” is a feature-length kick. It’s a heist movie that hops across dreamscapes instead of across the globe. It pulls rug after rug after rug out from under the audience and justly earns every pull. Here is a movie so smart and all-knowing that its writer-director, Christopher Nolan, was able to plant the idea of its greatness into the mind of its audience even before anyone saw it. Who told us to love this movie so much? Maybe our dreams did.
Nolan, of course, is known for making movies that mess with his characters, whether they’re forgetful detectives (“Memento”), tortured superheroes (“The Dark Knight”) or obsessive magicians (“The Prestige”). And he also knows how to mess with his audience in a hyper-contextualized, pay-attention-every-second-or-you’ll-regret-it kind of way. This is the brand of filmmaking wizardry that’s on display in “Inception,” partnered with ingeniously contrived action sequences that push the limits of the mind. It’s like if James Bond were sent to Shutter Island and got trapped in Dr. Parnassus’s Imaginarium.
Figuring out how “Inception” works is half the fun, so it does no good to relay a plot description or offer a detailed explanation of the worlds of the dreams. After all, when the good guys have to enter a target’s mind, the experienced ones know they have to enter the dream cold; any knowledge of the environment could become intertwined with their own subconscious and jeopardize the mission.
Similarly, any background info on the content of the film could cloud viewers’ interpretations and prevent maximum enjoyment. Which means you shouldn’t know what a totem is, or why the film doesn’t employ the device to its full potential. And you shouldn’t know how the rules of the dreamland affect what it means to “die,” or why being sent to Limbo strikes more fear into the character’s hearts than anything else.
So what can be known about “Inception” going in? Well, for starters, the ensemble cast is tremendous. Youthful Ellen Page (“Juno”) and Joseph Gordon-Levitt (“(500) Days of Summer”) more than hold their own against the seasoned vets. Nolan gets great leverage out of his usual company of actors, from Ken Watanabe as a shady businessman to Cillian Murphy as the unwitting star of his own dream (both previously featured in “Batman Begins”). And Marion Cotillard (“Public Enemies”) gives the movie’s best performance in her many incarnations, but the particulars of who she is and why she keeps appearing are best left unanswered.
There’s also the sheer audacity of this filmmaking endeavor to be considered: Nolan shot “Inception” in six different countries, even though the majority of the movie is set within non-location-specific dreams. And those zero-gravity action scenes … holy moly, do they look great (if a bit “Matrix”-inspired).
Will “Inception” contain as many satisfying secrets in its repeat viewings as “The Prestige?” Probably not. Will some call it out for similarities to that other 2010 release starring a mentally unstable DiCaprio? Perhaps. Should this stop anyone on the planet from seeing the movie as soon as possible? Absolutely not. This nonstop adrenaline rush to the psyche will blow minds with every passing second. The movie is a living thing. It kicks.