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Inception (2010): ***½

Directed by Christopher Nolan

Inception is an incredibly well-directed film that strikes absolutely just the right pitch-perfect notes in its performances, music, camerawork, cinematography, special effects, just about everything. It’s a heist movie with a sci-fi premise, but don’t worry--it’s not a laser gun and spaceship sci-fi movie. It’s a “one thing” sci-fi story, where the world is exactly as it is today except for one thing, and the film explores the ramifications of that one thing.

In Inception, that one thing is shared, directed dreaming. If you (literally) plug a number of people into a strange little device and induce sleep, each of the people will experience the same dream. It’s a type of subconscious telepathy. So, of course people use this technology to go data mining in other people’s brains for secrets. If you think it’s just a dream, why wouldn’t you divulge your (or your company’s) biggest secrets, especially if you didn’t know you were in a shared dream?

It’s an intriguing set-up, and one thing I really appreciated about Inception was how carefully Nolan sets up all of the rules for this new sci-fi world. Ellen Page’s un-subtly named character Ariadne (look it up) is the audience POV character; she doesn’t know the way this world works, and so the film gets to explain it to us by having the characters explain it to her. It’s then very fascinating to watch as these characters figure out ways to use all of the rules to their advantage to get what they want. And also how those same rules threaten to bite them all in the ass if anything goes wrong.

Inception is a heady, powerful experience dropping through various levels of reality and dreams. It is both intellectually stimulating as any good heist movie must be, and also viscerally thrilling because of the tense situations in which the heist takes place. It’s also at times very meditative about the nature of what we carry in our subconscious mind and how strongly that can affect our consciousness, and vise-versa.

In almost every way this should have been a four-star movie. So why didn’t I give it four stars? Well, in the beginning of 2011 when I made a list of all of the movies I’d seen in 2010 so I could write reviews for them, I could not for the life of me remember that Inception even existed, let alone that I’d actually seen it. And I really have no desire to own it on DVD. It was a wonderful experience in the theater, but ultimately did not stick with me at all afterwards.

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