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Tagline: Your mind is the scene of the crime.

Preshow Entertainment: None

Cool Dialogue: They say we only use a fraction of our brain’s true potential. Now that’s when we’re awake. When we’re asleep, we can do almost anything.

Pizza: L.A. Valley Pizzaland


FIGHT CLUB had eight rules. GREMLINS three. BACK TO THE FUTURE one (88 mph). And when Butch Cassidy kicked Lurch in the balls, there were no rules. But INCEPTION (2010) has a billion rules. Someone actually counted the number of questions asked in this movie – 399. I don’t want to encumber this space with the rules, because they only exist to explain away the illogic of it all so we can take the ride. All we really have to know is that INCEPTION’s rules are plentiful and sometimes ridiculous. And I bought into it all. I liked INCEPTION from its inception to its conclusion. It’s like a set of Chinese boxes that fit within each other.

Entering someone’s dream is so common in fiction that there’s actually a word for it. Yep, it’s “Inception,” and writer/director Christopher Nolan (no relation to Kenny Nolan, who had the 1977 hit “I Like Dreaming”) appropriated the word for his movie’s title, though here its meaning is more specifically “the act of instilling an idea into someone’s mind by entering his or her dreams.” Emma Stone’s good at it. She does it to me all the time.

It makes sense that Nolan would be fascinated by dreams. He did, after all, make a similarly mind-bending film, MEMENTO, a Random Movie Club favorite. And those silly BATMAN movies sometimes have a dream-like feel. Nolan had been dreaming up a dream movie for a decade before actually scripting INCEPTION. I do that too. I sit for years on ideas, let them melt into my brain, scribble notes every now and then. Let the idea grow. Then write the story. The difference here is, he gets his made.


The Puppet Master of this story is Dominick Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio, looking oddly a lot like INCEPTION’s Puppet Master Nolan). Cobb’s a single dad with two small kids he never gets to see, not because he’s like some Robin Williams character who doesn’t have time because he runs a giant corporation, and then must learn to connect with his kids. No, Cobb can’t go back to the USA because, well, something about a murder charge.

By trade, Cobb is an extractor; he can go into your dreams and get information. Because he wants to go home to see his kids, he strikes a deal with Saito (Ken Watanabe), a billionaire who can make it happen. In return, Cobb must get into the dreams of Robert Fischer (Saito’s competition played by Cillian Murphy) not to extract an idea, but to plant one inside of him. To do so, Cobb cobbles a crew together, sort of like MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE’s force, where every player has their strengths (The TV show, not the movie franchise where everyone’s interchangeable). Cobb’s partner is Arthur (the always confident Joseph Gordon-Levitt). Joining them are identity thief Eames (Tom Hardy) and chemist Yusuf (Dileep Rao). Needing a new “architect” to create the dreamscapes, Cobb enlists Ariadne (Ellen Page), who Cobb can somehow tell is qualified by having her draw a maze. She came recommended by Michael Caine, who plays Cobb’s father-in-law, a professor in France who is also wise with advice, you know, sort of like Cobb’s Alfred the butler. So now Cobb’s got his Dream Team.

Dream Team

But I can tell you from first-hand experience that it’s not easy planting information into someone’s subconscious while they’re dreaming. And this plan will eventually have them going into not one level, not two, but three (a dream within a dream within a dream). Level 1 involves a kidnapping, and in Level 2, the team must convince Fischer that his father’s partner is trying to enter his dream to derail him, and that Cobb is there to protect him…and…well, as they say in the relationship biz - it’s complicated. Suffice to say that there are many levels going on simultaneously, although we never reach Level 5, Ladies Lingerie.


If you’re planning an extraction, you should bring along a “totem” when entering someone’s dream. Something only you know how it feels and what it does. Cobb’s totem is a spinning top. If it keeps spinning, he’s dreaming. If it stops, he’s awake. Let’s not get into the reasoning of - If a dream can do anything, why can’t the top stop spinning in the dream? Once you start questioning the logic, you’re out. So either buy into it, or be one of the many who saw this movie as overblown and pretentious (which it is, but it’s also really, really good).


We get to see all these dream sequences play out, which is good since the rest of this 2 ½ hour movie is made up of three things – 1) Rules being explained 2) A large corporation hunting Cobb down for an unsuccessful extraction, and perhaps the reason this whole story is taking place - 3) Cobb’s ex-wife, Mal (Marion Cotillard), who haunts his dreams (cause in his dreams, they’re still together) so badly it messes up both his real life and his dreams. And if you mess up your dreams while in the dream-sharing business it can jeopardize the extraction, as well as leave you in limbo for ten years (toldya there are lots of rules). Plus, there’s that whole can’t-see-my-kids-because-I’m-a-wanted-man-in-the-USA thing. Nicely done, Nolan. Give your hero as much conflict as you can, layer it on like dreams on top of dreams. And sure, while you’re at it, make him really good at fighting and being chased. I’m in.



If ever there was a movie that deserves to have the run of the FX house, it’s INCEPTION. By crafting a story about people in dream states (within dream states within dream states…), Nolan gives himself license to incorporate creative effects throughout, and they’re astonishing, be it a slo-mo explosion featuring minute details or an Escher-like city. This movie is truly a trippy masterwork. The scene where Cobb takes Ariadne through the dream is breathtaking, as we watch an entire city unfold into itself. It’s rewarding to see CG pay off so well. So many FX-heavy films are devoid of story and characters, making them passive videogames. But unlike most CG-heavy films, INCEPTION did not rely totally on computer trickery. Many of the effects were “in camera,” with actors and stuntpeople.

Inception Train

hotel fight

Making INCEPTION must have been like creating a magic trick. First you think up the result, and then you spend your time and money thinking how to achieve it. This was undoubtedly a ridiculously hard, challenging shoot, and on a huge scale - yes, the entire restaurant tilted at a 45 degree angle, and yes, that was downtown L.A. in the daytime for the extended car chase sequence, and yes, a train is speeding down a boulevard and crashing into cars, and yes that spectacular zero-gravity hotel fight was a set built inside a gigantic centrifuge…which should be a ride that anyone can take provided they sign an injury and death indemnity waiver. This sequence alone is worth the price of admission (though it’s cheaper to buy the Blu-ray than to have seen it in a theater).

Nolan shoots cityscapes like mazes in dreams where dimensions can shift and environments become Escher-y (maybe that’s why Robert’s dad is named Maurice Fischer…as in Maurits Escher). Nolan’s sets or filters (How would I know? I only went to NYU film school.) wash the screen in slaty tones. Or maybe it’s the inverse. Maybe it’s an absence of color.


INCEPTION’s grand finale plays out in three levels of dreams (plus a bonus limbo layer!), all occurring simultaneously and all action sequences with mostly the same players (some had to be left in previous levels to provide the “kick” that wakes everyone). Each dream moves at a different speed, and each dream has its own goal. Just as the city folded into itself earlier, the stories do now. With all this dreaming going on, it’s amazing no one bumped into Freddy Krueger.


Just like the dreams, INCEPTION itself is a movie with many levels. Yank away its plumes and it’s a heist movie. The next level reveals a love story. Dig deeper and you get a story about a man who hides his guilt and suffers on the inside because he can’t let go. This movie is fun but it’s also complex, and attention must be paid.

One night, amid the days it took to write all this up, I had a dream. I won’t go into it, but it was frightening, and when I awoke I told the dream to my girlfriend. I remembered it very clearly. I went back to sleep and had another dream. In this new dream, I saw the location where the first dream took place, and exclaimed to someone in my dream, “Look! I told you! This is where it happened! There’s the room with the sheet hanging up where a wall should be!” I’m sure trying to figure out how to write about INCEPTION while I was falling asleep was the reason these dreams occurred, but come on, it was just so weird. When I got into bed the following night I took a totem with me. Just in case.

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