I’ll show you the life of the mind

Director Christopher Nolan has done something extraordinary: He has become a master of the intelligent blockbuster film. It may not seem like much, but consider nearly every summer blockbuster through the eyes of Nolan and you’ll see what I’m getting at. Would Transformers have been the same goofy, loud, cut heavy film that it was? Or how about Christopher Nolan’s G.I. Joe? Yeah, you’d watch that. What Nolan does is treat every story with dignity, even the ones about a man dressed as a giant bat.

Inception is really just a heist film. Never mind that it actually involves planting something rather than stealing it. Its story involves a career criminal gathering up a core group of specialists to help him complete a job. The job is, of course, bigger than anything they’ve ever done before. In this regard, Inception is simple, straightforward storytelling. We’ve seen this movie before. Its elegance is in its execution. It’s not the story you tell, it’s how you tell it and Nolan has chosen to tell his heist story inside the mind.

Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio, singularly named, which is another heist film tradition), the career criminal in question, specializes in breaking into people’s minds via their dreams and extracting information, a high-tech corporate spy. He’s hired by a mysterious man named Saito (Ken Watanabe), not to steal an idea, but to implant one. His target is a CEO with some serious daddy issues played by Cillian Murphy. This planted idea is meant to bring about the CEO’s ruin.

As with any great heist film the joy is in the process. We watch Cobb assemble his team, each bringing their unique skills and character foibles to the job. One of the team’s rookie recruits, a young woman named Ariadne (Ellen Page, whose character name means “Most Holy”) allows Cobb the opportunity to explain the process to the audience as he walks her through inception 101. I won’t go into detail because there is simply too much detail to go into. Suffice it to say that Nolan has thought of just about as much as anyone could regarding the logistics of dream infiltration. Also, there’s a Jim-dandy of a scene where Paris folds in on itself around them. It’s sweet.

I’ve neglected to mention that Cobb’s deceased wife keeps showing up in his dream state, serving to make his job (and his crew’s) a bit more difficult than need be. The nature of their relationship is the heart of the film, driving Cobb’s character and leading to one of the more interesting endings this year. Its ambiguity will lead to many great post-film conversations.

Inception continues Nolan’s streak of creating compelling, intelligent blockbuster films, but will the Academy hand out best picture to such a mainstream success?

Inception is nominated for Best Picture, Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography, Best Original Score, Best Sound Editing & Mixing, Best Visual FX and Best Original Screenplay

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  1. […] Who has time to watch the Oscar nominees? Kevin Mattison, that’s who, and he’ll hook you up with the Cliffs Notes. Start off this week with “This dream must be madness” (Black Swan), “Survival is nothing more than recovery” (Winter’s Bone) and “I’ll show you the life of the mind” (Inception) […]

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