‘Inception’ captivates but lacks morality

Leonardo DiCaprio stars in ‘Inception.’ (AP Photo)

He may no longer be a teen heartthrob, but Leonardo DiCaprio still knows how to find his way into audiences’ dreams.

In “Inception,” DiCaprio is Dom Cobb, an international fugitive and master of dream invasion, whose talents are coveted and conversant in the world of corporate espionage. Cobb and his point man, Arthur, played by Joseph Gordon Levitt, invade the human mind when its most vulnerable — while asleep — to siphon secrets from the dreamer’s subconscious.

After Cobb and Arthur fail a mission to infiltrate the mind of a powerful businessman, Saito, played by Ken Watanabe, they are challenged by Saito to reverse their well-crafted art by creating an idea in the mind of the dreamer, a practice known as inception. The dreamer is Robert Fischer, played by Cillian Murphy, heir to Saito’s business rival. The idea? To relinquish his inheritance and allow his father’s empire to fall.

Offered a chance to return home to his children a free man, Cobb recruits a dream architect, Ariadne, played by Ellen Page, and an identity forger, Eames, played by Tom Hardy, to delve into three layers of the subconscious, battling Cobbs inner demons the entire way.

True to his reputation, Christopher Nolan delivered moviegoers with a twisted thriller this summer easily superseding its box office counterparts as top seller in its first weekend in July. “Inception” bore the anticipated action-packed scenes expected of the same director of “The Dark Knight” and “Memento,” yet managed to counteract any violence with its pervasion of purpose — any explosion or shot fired was in service to the plot.

The film is crafted from a number of philosophies, which is perhaps why it occasionally falters in consistency. Inception dives too deep into the layers of its creation, and at times, seems to forget its foundations. Discrepancies arise in the effects of the layers of dreams on the others. While the gravity of the first dream level affects that of the second, resulting in an airborne Joseph Gordon Levitt, the third level merely experiences an avalanche. Though the conditions of the shallower dream levels affect the other levels less and less as the team dives deeper into the subconscious, Saito’s wound sustained in the first level appears worse in the third level. Though he is initially in better shape in the second level, he is reduced to crawling on all fours in the third. This is a minor slip. What’s more distracting is how little the movie addresses the implications of its mission to alter Fischer’s life. By laying the groundwork for Fischer, the team essentially creates a reality for him that perhaps is as far from the truth as possible — one in which his estranged father cared for him more than he was ever able to express while actually alive. After the team leads him in the right direction, Fischer convinces himself that his father would have wanted him to give up his legacy.

The immorality of this — of possibly destroying a man’s life — is barely discussed to an appropriate degree. No team member seems to struggle with this fact, even the newest additions. As Cobb reiterates throughout the movie, an idea can “grow to define or destroy you,” but Fischer’s fate is left ambiguous. The magnitude of their actions merits more than a brief acknowledgement.

Though not without its faults, “Inception” leaves a profound impression. You may not go as far as questioning reality when leaving the theater (though, pretty close), but you’ll certainly question everything

Limelight

during the film. The boundaries between reality and subconscious blur throughout the movie, which is due in part to the presence of Cobb’s wife, Mal, played by Marion Cotillard. Though she is merely imagined, her presence is all too real. Her character heralds back to the femme fatale archetype introduced in “Shutter Island,” with Dolores, Teddy Daniel’s wife, who is the cause for Teddy’s insanity and guilt. In both films, the “ghost” of his mentally unstable wife challenges Leonardo DiCaprio’s character. The similar dynamics make for interesting parallels, though Cotillard’s character has a stronger presence. Martin Scorsese and Nolan use the image of woman as a cause for the protagonist’s downfall, Nolan with a more literal interpretation of the seductress archetype, as Mal attempts to lure Cobb into accepting his subconscious as reality.

Accompanying the multi-faceted plot is the film’s stunning setting — a true product of imagination. “Inception” stays true to its dreamlike nature with a world of pop-up book landscapes that collapse and materialize at the architect’s whim. Don’t let yourself get too invested in the film’s intricacies because — spoiler alert — its ending is as cruel as it is genius.

Katie Brenzel can be reached at brenzel2@tcnj.edu.