Funny things, dreams. Fascinating for the dreamer, but as dull as a late morning in Slough for anybody else, unless, of course, your guide is Freud. Or, as it turns out, Christopher Nolan, the 39-year-old British director of ‘Memento’ and ‘The Dark Knight’, whose solution to the boredom of other people’s dreams is to collide their woozy, ever-changing, upside-down and roundabout nature with the thrust of a fast-paced, men-on-a-mission movie and a startling visual language that mirrors their strangeness. Better still, the dreams preferred by Nolan include images of Paris folding in on itself and a trackless train thundering through a city. The limited, sleepworld excitements of retaking your A levels ad infinitum or forever missing a flight at the airport don’t figure here.
Nolan throws a perfect storm of stunts, effects, locations and actors at one big idea: that it’s possible to pilfer ideas from dreams by a process called ‘extraction’, which involves hooking yourself up to a drip, falling asleep and entering the world of the subconscious. The holy grail of this process is to reverse it, which is ‘inception’, the planting of a new idea in another’s mind. That’s the trick that experts Dom (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Arthur (Joseph Gordon Levitt), aided by new recruits Ariadne (Ellen Page) and Eames (Tom Hardy), try to pull off while hopping from Tokyo to Paris to Mombasa. They’re working for Saito (Ken Watanabe) in pursuit of business magnate Robert (Cillian Murphy), and their motives vary, from financial to intellectual. But DiCaprio has another driver: the memory of his wife Mal (Marion Cottilard) is haunting him and it’s going to take a lot of psychological spring-cleaning for him to reconnect with that lost world.
All hail Nolan for mastering a higher class of mass entertainment. Like all good science fiction, ‘Inception’ demands we pay serious attention to pure fantasy on the back of strong ideas and exquisite craft – but it also combines fantasy with real observations about our sleeping lives. Like a dream, Nolan’s film fades swiftly in the light – but while it lasts, it feels like there’s nothing more important to decipher.