Films: “Inception” (Christopher Nolan, 2010)

By Emily Waters

If you could jump into someone else’s mind, would you take the plunge? Would discovering hidden truths be worth the risk of never coming  back? Christopher Nolan’s 2010 film “Inception” asks these questions in thrilling fashion, drawing us in with its intricate science fiction plot, captivating sound design and emotional performances.

The film follows Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio), a man with an unusual profession: He steals information from other people’s minds through a dream-sharing technology. With the help of a highly trained and talented group of associates including Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and Ariadne (Ellen Page), he takes on the seemingly impossible job of seeding an idea in the head of a major CEO to cause the failure of his company.

“Inception” is two hours and twenty-eight minutes of action-filled twists and turns. One minute, the thief is doing everything he can to accomplish his goal, and the next he has put the whole mission at risk to speak with a ghost from his past. Before you know it, blizzard-covered mountains have turned into an abandoned city that’s crumbling before your eyes, and then the two settings are intercut in shared suspense.

The CEO, Saito (Ken Watanabe of “The Last Samurai”), is first perceived as an enemy. Threatening and dangerous, Saito puts our protagonist through a violent situation and kills off an important co-worker only to become one of the most important people collaborating with the team. All of these elements could cause confusion, but in Nolan’s hands it all makes sense.

While the music drives the emotion of the film, the sound effects control the reality and make this world believable. Sound is used to connect the different dream levels to one another. A gunshot in one level may be thunder in another, creating a technical bridge as well as connecting the dots in the story. In one scene, Cobb and Ariadne are sitting in a café when the world around them starts to decompose and explode amid sounds of destruction and rushing wind. Underneath, however, we hear deep hums, vibrations, and whale-like noises, and these give the scene its unnerving and dreamlike tone.

DiCaprio brings a depth of emotion to his role that one may not expect. After losing his wife, Cobb is haunted by her memory and the role he played in her death. The scene in which he fights for her life evokes incredibly raw feelings, and as he screams her name, the crack in his voice is like verbalized heartbreak.

Robert Fischer (Cillian Murphy), the son of Saito’s chief competitor, experiences another passionate moment you may not expect in an action film, one that reveals a hidden side of his relationship with his father. While there is dialog to describe what is happening, this plot point actually works because of the emotions on Fischer’s face.

Many big-budget blockbusters struggle to tell a unique story, but “Inception” is different. With such a complex plotline, clichés are swept away in this movie’s twists, and the sound design and strong performances mark it as an original.