(2010, SciFi/Action/Drama, color)
Mike Nelson, Bill Corbett and Kevin Murphy
The important thing is that, no matter how you interpret the ending, someone on the internet can call you a homo.
In a Nutshell:
A team of experts breaks into a man’s dream to plant an idea.
Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his partner Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) have broken into the dream of Japanese billionaire Saito (Ken Watanabe) to steal secret information. The dinner party heist goes awry when Cobb’s wife Mal (Marion Cotillard) appears to warn Saito. Saito wakes himself up before Cobb can find the information he needs. Cobb and Arthur wake up as well, and a fight ensues in a filthy back-alley apartment. They force Saito to the floor and attempt to get the information out of him at gunpoint. Saito realizes that the texture of the carpet feels wrong, figures out that he’s still dreaming and wakes up again.
We finally return to the real world, where Cobb and Arthur hurry to collect their gear and flee Saito’s train compartment before he regains consciousness. The expository scenes that follow reveal that Cobb misses his children but can’t return to the U.S. to see them. Now he uses his dream infiltration expertise in the service of corporate espionage, hoping to earn enough money to bribe his way home. Having failed their last corporate client, he and Arthur have to flee again.
An attempt to flee by helicopter goes awry when they find it already occupied by Saito. He forgives them of their attempt to hijack his mind and offers them a job. If they can plant an idea into a rival’s mind, he will use his vast wealth and high-level contacts to fix Cobb’s problems with the law. Arthur declares that such “inception” is impossible, as the mind automatically rejects ideas it knows to be foreign. Cobb disagrees. He knows it can be done, but it’s difficult, and it depends on the idea being introduced. Saito wants the heir to a business empire to break up his father’s business upon inheriting it. Cobb agrees.
Cobb goes to his father-in-law (Michael Caine) who introduces him to Ariadne (Ellen Page), a young architecture student who will help them create the recursive dream spaces they’ll need to work in. He also hires professional con man Eames (Tom Hardy) and master chemist Yusuf (Dileep Rao) to study their target and concoct the special sleep serums they’ll need, respectively. Saito will join them as well, to keep an eye on his investment.
During the training/preparation sequences, we learn about tokens: objects that the dreamer carries to tell them whether or not they’re dreaming. Cobb’s is a little pewter top. If he spins it and it doesn’t fall, he’s asleep. If it falls, he’s awake. Ariadne becomes more and more suspicious of Cobb and his refusal to know anything about the dream spaces she’s built, and his inability to follow any of the dreaming rules he lays down from the others. One evening she notices him lost in his own dreams and sits down next to the dream machine to join him.
Cobb’s subconscious is populated with his regrets. His children, whose faces he can never see. His delusional and vindictive wife, now deceased. This is why he can’t design dream spaces or even know about them ahead of time. His guilt over his wife’s suicide always takes her form and stalks out of his subconscious. The job has to be done before she finds her way through the dream space and sabotages him.
Cobb and his team eventually surround their target, Robert Fischer (Cillian Murphy), in the first class cabin of a ten-hour flight to New York. Unbeknownst to Fischer, Saito has bought the airline, and now every other member of the first class cabin is in on the plot to infiltrate his mind. He falls asleep. They hook him up to their dream machine and join him.
The first level of the dream is a rain-lashed city run by Yusuf. They kidnap Fischer within his dream and begin the process of hacking into his subconscious by trying to turn him against one of his father’s advisors. This becomes tricky when they discover that Fischer’s subconscious has been specially trained to hunt and destroy infiltrators. Heavily armed subconscious projections beset them from all sides, wounding Saito. Eames wants to kill him, thus sending him out of the dream, but Cobb prevents him. The sedative they’ve taken is too powerful. Dying in the dream would send Saito to limbo, a place so deep in the subconscious that every second in the waking world feels like infinity. Spending that long alone would drive him insane, eventually turning him into a vegetable. The others are naturally upset that this detail was kept from them, but they have no choice but to continue. In a private moment with Ariadne, Cobb reveals that he’s been to limbo before, and just barely got out with his sanity mostly intact. His wife Mal did not. It was her time in limbo made her suicidal.
Yusuf gathers them all into a van, which he will drive around the city while the rest of them go deeper into another dream. This one takes place in an Escher-esque hotel hosted by Arthur. Instead of kidnapping Fischer, Cobb takes a more direct approach. He goes directly to Fischer and points out that this is all a dream. When Fischer is convinced, Cobb and his team pose as part of Fischer’s subconscious, here to protect him from other infiltrators. Having now turned Fischer against the real subconscious security force, Fischer helps them flee to a random hotel room. They continue to turn him against a projection of his father’s advisor, who now represents Fischer’s wish to keep his father’s company intact. With Fischer’s blessing, they hook him up to another dream machine and leave Arthur behind to go to yet a third level of dreaming.
This dream is a snow-covered fortress with Fischer’s most secret desires in an enormous safe near the center. Cobb and the others fight off Fischer’s subconscious drones while Fischer goes inside. When he’s almost to the safe, Mal shows up and kills him, sending him to limbo. Cobb wants to scrap the mission, but Ariadne convinces him to follow Fischer into limbo.
Ariadne and Cobb wander the wreckage of Cobb’s deepest subconscious. They eventually come to Mal’s house, where she holds Fischer prisoner. Cobb confesses why he knows that inception is possible. When he and Mal got stuck here before, she got lost and wouldn’t believe she was dreaming until he found the innermost part of her mind and inserted the idea that this world wasn’t real. They committed suicide together and woke up back in the real world. But the idea didn’t wear off, and Mal remained convinced that she was still asleep, eventually committing suicide to look for a world even realer. Hoping to force Cobb to join her, she left behind evidence that Cobb had murdered her. Ariadne shoots Cobb’s projection of Mal. While she lies dying in his arms, Cobb lets go of his guilt. Ariadne pushes Fischer off a high building (falling is the trigger to wake up) and then jumps off herself. Cobb refuses to follow. He knows that Saito has died of his injuries a couple of dreams up and vows to find his employer and return him to the real world.
Up in the snow fortress, Fischer has returned to open the vault and found a desire to not be like his father. Eames destroys the fortress’s supports, dropping the dreamers and sending them up to the previous dream. Meanwhile, Arthur has come up with a way to drop his dreamers in the zero gravity brought on by the sensation of falling in a previous dream (it’s too complicated to adequately explain, but it looks freakin’ cool) eventually stuffing them all into an elevator and using explosive charges as rockets. In the first dream, Yusuf has elegantly solved the falling dilemma by driving his van off a bridge. Everyone wakes up except Cobb and Saito.
Back in limbo, Cobb washes up on a beach outside a Japanese manor. Inside he meets Saito, now confused and elderly. Cobb brings back memories of who Saito used to be, and they commit suicide to make themselves wake up. Cobb wakes up on the plane next to his companions. Nearby, Saito wakes up too. Saito makes a call, and his agents in the United States make the appropriate bribes and connections. By the time Cobb gets to customs, all charges associated with his wife’s death have been dropped, allowing him to go home to his children. At home, he spins his top to see if he’s still dreaming. The film ends before we see whether or not it falls.
No doubt interpretations of the film and its ending abound, but surely these can only be variations on one of two possible themes: 1) The top falls, indicating that he has made it back to his children in the real world. 2) The top continues to spin, indicating that he hasn’t escaped limbo. (I briefly considered a possibility number three: The top continues to spin, indicating that Dead Wife Guilt Puppet is right and everything in the film from beginning to end is Cobb still trapped in a dream one level down from Mal. This interpretation ignores all the times the top has previously fallen, rendering it meaningless as an indicator of reality.) If I get to choose, I’ll go with interpretation number one, because I like happy endings and it’s not the kind of film that would be cheapened by one.
I don’t get to choose, though, and I probably shouldn’t. Auteur Christopher Nolan deliberately cut before we could find out one way or another, a little slap on the wrist for anyone looking for resolution. Resolution implies plot, and Inception doesn’t have a plot, per se. It has a logic puzzle disguised as one, but here too he deceives; it’s dream logic—compelling and urgent, but it only makes sense in the midst of the dream. Like an M.C. Escher drawing, Inception an illusion, an elegant construction of lines and angles that can’t possibly meet, but do anyway. The movie ends at the point where the top of Nolan’s paradoxical staircase appears to meet the bottom.
On to the Rifftrax. A few favorite comments: during her interview, Ariadne designs a maze that satisfies Cobb, and Bill says, “You got the job. Welcome to Highlights For Children.” When dream Paris folds over on itself, Mike says, “All this caused by one French mime pulling on an imaginary rope.” As the rules of dream space become more and more convoluted, Kevin says, “If we’re just making up rules as we go, let’s say there’s a monkey that steals bikini tops.” The commentary has its moments, but riffing Christopher Nolan’s films has proven to be a tricky proposition, and I don’t know that Mike Nelson et al. have ever gotten it quite right. This includes their treatment of Inception, unfortunately, but the comfort here is that they’ve never gotten it quite wrong either. Like Memento and The Dark Knight, Inception is absorbing. Often it defeated the commentary in the contest for my attention. Maybe the Rifftrax works better if you’ve already seen Inception a dozen times and have thoroughly worked over the inconsistencies for yourself. I wouldn’t know and I don’t have time to try.
(2010, SciFi/Action/Drama, color)