The people part of the story is good. Cobb (played Leonardo DiCaprio) is mostly in the business of stealing information from marks of clients by tapping into their dreams. Introducing an idea into someone's mind - which if it takes root can change a person's life (and sometimes therein the world) - is called "inception," and is a much more difficult undertaking. (Here the story picks up on Richard Dawkins' notion of the "meme" as an ideational virus.) Cobb, we learn near the end of the movie, has done this only once before - to his wife, to get her to leave the deep dream state both were in. It had disastrous ultimate consequences for her.
Cobb and team are hired to plant an idea into the new head of a company. The team is a fine assemblage of memorable actors and performances, including especially Tom Hardy (good to see him back from Meadowlands), Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and Ellen Page (meshing well with her Cisco commercials). The action is superb, with car chases and scalings of snowy mountains almost James Bondian in their sweep and power.
But the deepest thrill of Inception resides in the sheer intellectual audacity of its puzzles and their pursuit. The mission requires the team to take their target not just through a dream state, but a dream within a dream within a dream. Time moves more slowly - drastically so - the deeper the dream state, or the further away it is from our normal time in our waking reality. And though death in the first level of dreams just awakens you in our reality, death in the deepest, or third state, can sentence you to limbo forever. When you add these high stakes to the speed and impact of the action, with stunning visuals including the folding of streets and the crumbling of cities, you get one breathless rollercoaster ride of a movie.
As is always the case in which dreams mix with reality, a central underlying question haunts the proceedings: is what we are seeing reality, or some dream of which we're not aware.
Cobb explains that there are ways in which we can tell. One of them, a token that we can rely on as an indication of reality, provides a somewhat ambiguous ending. But there's another way - whether we know how we got to where we are in our current experience. And, on that score, I think the ending is clear.
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The Plot to Save Socrates
"a Da Vinci-esque thriller" - New York Daily News
"Sierra Waters is sexy as hell" - curled up with a good book