Arts and Entertainment

'Inception' gets thumbs-up from Whidbey teen for action and brainy screenplay

It’s a widely accepted truth that in dreams, as in life, little is as it seems.

In writer and director Christopher Nolan’s new film “Inception,” that maxim is taken a step further. Nolan, creator of 2008’s “The Dark Knight,” weaves another cinematic masterpiece, a cerebral heist in which he suggests that our dreams can in fact be invaded and manipulated by members of a secret, highly-trained task force. If this sounds like a strain on the viewer’s credulity, let me just say that it was one so deftly and enchantingly handled that I was more than happy to comply. Not only is the film a visual marvel, but the plot is rich and complex, filled with smart, snappy dialogue.

Leading the undercover team is Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio), a veteran of the practice with issues of his own relating to the line of work.

In the midst of Dom’s struggles with his personal demons, he and coworker Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) are hired by a millionaire (Ken Watanabe) to cause a business competitor to dissolve his father’s corporate empire. The assignment, Dom’s most challenging to date, involves a process called inception, the unprecedented act of not merely investigating the subject’s mind, but actually planting an idea within the subconscious. The pair are joined by a conglomeration of other skilled workers, and the group undergoes an intensive period of what is essentially a lengthy brainstorming session, aided by the technology that allows them to infiltrate and train their minds for the ensuing dream.

Ellen Page is particularly notable as the brilliant yet vulnerable dream architect Ariadne, but each of these characters contributes an intriguing personality to the mix. The group’s witty rapport brings needed comedic levity to the weighty subject matter.

Much of the genius of this film comes from the way Nolan cleverly combines heady psychological issues with the exhilarating sequences of an action flick. Conveniently, the team’s subtle mental machinations, more often than not, require carefully orchestrated bursts of gunfire, with a few exploding buildings thrown in for good measure. Simultaneously within the movie, there’s plenty to suggest that the filmmakers have done their topical homework. Many moments are decidedly Jungian, and metaphorical imagery abounds. Characters wash up on the ocean shore at several key points, signifying their arrival or departure from the subconscious. Allusions are also made to projection, the anima, and the guilt complex. It’s an action flick, but a thoughtful one, and the obvious care that went into constructing its infinite complexity makes all the difference.

And complex it certainly is. The team’s final plan of execution involves constructing three composite layers of consciousness for their subject: a dream within a dream within a dream. At one point, with just a touch of exasperation, Ariadne (Ellen Page) asks, “Exactly whose subconscious are we in now?”

It’s easy to sympathize. As the action nears the climax, everything begins to move at lightning-fast pace. During Ariadne’s training, Arthur explains helpfully that because the mind moves much more quickly during sleep, just five minutes spent within the same dream equates to roughly 40 hours in the dream’s own time span.

The effect is truly dizzying. As I left the theater, I actually found myself wondering if I was in fact experiencing reality or just about to wake up from yet another dream. The doubt persisted for a full five minutes.

Perhaps I owe my marveling to the visual richness and grandeur of the cinematography. True to Nolan’s trademark form, the special effects were dizzyingly grandiose. Dream landscapes proved rich with awe-inspiring paradoxical imagery, replete with Escheresque mazes of staircases, a plethora of buildings bursting like fireworks at the final collapse of a dream, and in one strangely captivating scene, an entire city folding inward upon itself like an immensely warped trick of origami.

Despite such intense visual magnetism, I think that what really held me was the grippingly complex array of emotions at play beneath all the blasts and explosions. For a moment this cathartic conclusion made me wonder if all those sparkly effects are really necessary when you have such striking philosophical questions at the core of the narrative. Perhaps these enhancements serve to illustrate the striking contrast between blind action and an intellectually examined life, or to corroborate the sense of expansive possibility that is so central to dreaming. More likely, they exist to satisfy the need for awe and gratuitous violence common to the summer blockbuster crowd. Hopefully the combination involves at least some of the former, but whatever the formula, Nolan knows how to grab an audience.

On the way out, I heard viewers discussing the film’s intricacies, and I expect that some conversations will continue long after the closing credits. This is a movie whose moments, both quietly heartbreaking and monstrously grand, will stick with you for a long time, much like a dream or a memory that refuses to fade away.

Visit to see when "Inception" is coming to the Clyde Theatre in Langley.

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