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Christopher Nolan’s Inception

A tale of dreams and reality

Dom Cobb is a gifted thief, the best of the best in his trade which is the dangerous art of Extraction, that is stealing precious secrets from a person’s depths of the subconscious while they are in their arguably most vulnerable state: The dream state.

Cobb’s singular talent has turned him into a wanted commodity in the duplicitous new world of corporate espionage, but it has also made him an international fugitive from the law and has cost him everything he held dear. When a chance at redemption knocks on his door, it comes with a catch. In order to get his old life back, Cobb must pull off the impossible: an Inception.

Instead of executing the perfect heist, Cobb and his team of specialists must accomplish the exact opposite. Their mission is not to steal an idea from their mark but to implant him with an idea. If successful, they may just accomplish the perfect crime but neither careful planning nor sufficient knowledge can prepare the team for a dangerous opponent, who can seemingly predict their every move. An opponent, only Cobb could have known about before.

Written by


Sep 20, 2022

© Warner Bros. Entertainment

… they are the reason why Inception works in such a strangely surreal way and why it will not only captivate its audience with each and every new viewing but why it will figuratively put them under its spell.

What was initially planned to be a few months turned into eight full years for Christopher Nolan, which he spent finishing the script for Inception. The vast potential that Nolan brings to the table is evident in everything he did while he was busy with that: Suspenseful crime thrillers with Insomnia (2002), elaborate and resourceful duels among magicians with The Prestige (2005) and a gritty reinvention of the Batman series (2005 & 2008).

Inception sees the British filmmaker tap into nearly 100 percent of this potential by staging his most ingenious, original story so far, made with an eye for detail and a certain sense of sophistication. The basis for Inception is the template of a heist film, which has been modernized and expanded upon for the 21st century with revolutionary technologies and possibilities.

Dom Cobb is an extractor, a mind thief and he’s a master at his trade. Together with his crew (Ariadne the architect, Yusuf the chemist, Eames the forger and Arthur the point man) he attempts to accomplish the impossible in his newest mission. Instead of extracting an idea from the mind of a mark, Cobb is meant to implant one. This requires him to dig deep into his bag of tricks and go deeper into the mark’s mind than he would like, as each new step into a deeper dream level brings him closer to having to face his own past.

On the one hand, to reveal more at this point would take away some of the mystery for the viewer, on the other hand however it would give them no real clue about the film whatsoever as any other spoiler would.

Roger Ebert fittingly describes the film as “immune to spoilers: If you knew how it ended, that would tell you nothing unless you knew how it got there” and that along with the many changes the character of Dom Cobb goes through in particular is what makes Inception so fascinating.

© Warner Bros. Entertainment

“No idea is simple when you have to plant it in someone else's mind.”

The mere fact that the internet is already filled with countless theories about how to interpret the film’s ending and final shot and the steps along the way makes it apparent how complex a story construct Nolan has created here and it also explains why he spent a good eight years writing this story.

Precisely the fact that there is no single, definitive interpretation of the experience makes it almost impossible to deny Inception its complexity and to reduce it to a mostly non-linear action thriller that challenges mainstream audiences a little more than usual but that’s it. This film cannot be fully deciphered with one viewing alone and it will not allow you to nail it down to one single, definitive interpretation. If you insist on doing that, you fail to realize that—contrary to mindless action outings like Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen—there is truly “more than meets the eye” here.

And this more is clearly portrayed through the subject of lucid dreams, which is a significant aspect of Inception and very much present throughout. As a viewer, you can’t help but to keep reminding yourself of this over and over again, for as we find out in the film from the character of Cobb, dreams feel real while we're in them. Its only when we wake up that we realize something was actually strange.

This is the premise Inception hinges upon and so too must every attempt at interpreting the film because, basically, it all boils down to one all-encompassing question:

Is the world I’m seeing a dream—or is it reality after all?

This question will stay in your conscious mind long after going to see the film and Cobb’s simplistic explanation of how we perceive dreams therefore takes on a central role when it comes to understanding the film.

Could Inception be a metaphor for cinema itself? We wake up when the credits begin to roll and it’s only then that we realize that certain things that appeared to be real to us may be actually strange at a closer look?

It is this aspect that could be cited to absolve Inception from all its plot inconsistencies for—if it is all a dream—nothing could be considered questionable or illogical because Nolan himself introduces these paradoxes as an essential part of dreaming in the story.

Nolan gives his characters the helpful tool of the totem in order to distinguish reality from dreams. This instrument is presented as the only reliable way to answer the above question with absolute certainty, but what totem is the one the audience is given? What makes us so sure that what we perceive as the reality of the film is reality after all and not just another dream?

Often, we find ourselves in the middle of a scene disregarding the probing question of how it started. How exactly did we get here? Where were we before?

For all intents and purposes, Christopher Nolan himself pulls off an Inception on the audience, following the premise that an idea is like a virus: resilient, highly contagious and the smallest seed of an idea can grow—grow in the mind of the audience.

And it is precisely this complexity and the metaphysical side that make the film such a fascinating experience and …

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