"It's just a dream, one of those that goes on and on,
Scene after scene, with the rhythm of a gypsy song.
When I really woke, I was frozen in between,
Didn't know who I was, it was a dream inside a dream."
-- Joan Baez, "The Dream Song"
What would noted dream warrior Sigmund Freud make of Inception, Christopher Nolan's first film since the eye-popping success of The Dark Knight? That's impossible to say, of course, but personally, it left me absolutely giddy. And if "giddy" sounds like a rather juvenile word to use to describe such an astounding experience (I can't imagine Freud would critique it in such terms!), that's simply the fault of the picture itself, a moviegoing marvel with the ability to get cineastes intoxicated on the pure pleasure and the pure possibility of the medium of film.
Nolan, who's been engaging audience intellect since the days of Following and Memento, has come up with another head-scratching one-of-a-kind, a movie that takes place on -- and consequently works on -- numerous levels. It's so densely plotted that it occasionally loses the viewer, yet it's so vastly entertaining that it'd hardly be a chore catching it a second time to fill in some pieces. Yet I suspect even repeat viewings won't be enough to nail this one down: Like 2001: A Space Odyssey, it's both knotty enough and ambiguous enough to lead to conflicting opinions down the years. Besides, our dreams are open to different interpretations, so why not some of our movies as well?
Offering any sort of synopsis is a risky business, since this is one of those pretzel-shaped pictures that rewards the unaware. Suffice it to say (and this is pretty much shown in the trailer) that in what appears to be the near future, it will be possible to enter other people's dreams. Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) is the best in the business of creeping into targets' minds and extracting valuable secrets for which others will pay a hefty price. His latest customer, a businessman named Saito (Ken Watanabe), wants him to infiltrate the mind of a rival, Robert Fischer Jr. (Cillian Murphy), but rather than extract info, he wants Cobb to try the near-impossible art of inception, i.e. planting an idea. For this assignment, Cobb cobbles together a crack team, including his dependable sidekick Arthur (Joseph-Gordon Levitt) and newcomer Ariadne (Ellen Page), who's tasked with designing the various levels of the dream world they'll be inhabiting. Yet while Cobb appears to have things under control, he's repeatedly distracted by the unexpected presence of his wife Mal (Marion Cotillard), who keeps popping up while he's on the job.
To explain Mal's connection would be to reveal too much, but she's at the heart of one of the picture's prominent themes, this one involving (to borrow from another dream expert, Salvador Dali) the persistence of memory. To back up his lofty ideas, Nolan has assembled a typical A-list of behind-the-scenes personnel, including Oscar winner Hans Zimmer (who delivers what might be his best-ever score) and a special effects crew that serves up some truly spectacular images -- the incredible sight of a Paris street folding over on itself still takes only the silver when positioned next to Arthur's weightless hotel-corridor fights. And Nolan also slyly borrows from the classics of yesteryear, with particularly obvious nods to Citizen Kane, select Hitchcock titles and the aforementioned 2001. It all adds up to a superb motion picture, one with the ability to infiltrate both our dream state and our waking life.