There was a welcome sound at the end of the advance screening of "Inception" the other night - people coming out of the theater talking animatedly.
Christopher Nolan's film explores the dreamscape through the eyes of Don Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio,) a gentleman who makes his living by extracting information from people's dreams. He's on the wrong side of the law, both because what he is doing is industrial espionage, and he's on the run from his past in the US.
This complicates matters no end, because entering dreams tends of have unforeseen consequences and the past can come back to bite you if you aren't prepared. Cobb is tormented by the death of his wife and his estrangement from their children, but he can't admit how much this may effect what he is doing.
Cobb assembles a team of fellow extractors to try something never done before: to plant an idea in the subconscious of another person. The client is a hard-as-nails executive Saito (Ken Wantanabe) who wants the job done on the heir to the founder of a competitor company. Cobb knows from the start it's not going to be easy.
Cobb's world is fascinating. He is a master at entering and manipulating the subconscious mind of his victims, but he can't do it alone.
He enlists his old compatriot Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt,) Eames (Tom Hardy) an old-style British adventurer abroad, Yusef (Dileep Rao) a brilliant pharmacologist who induces the sleep in which to dream, and Ariadne (Ellen "Juno" Page,) a young designer who comes up with the architecture of the dreams where the team members will work their deception.
As with Nolan's 2000 hit "Memento," "Inception" is a film which demands careful attention. To make the deception work takes a lot of careful planning. It also demands that the team create dreams within dreams, going deeper and deeper into the subconscious, and shifting in time and space.
The film is action packed, as the team takes on the fearsome figures we all know from our own dreams. Yet the real action ends up being philosophical. From the beginning sequence the audience is challenged to work out what is reality and what is a dream.
Nolan, who also wrote the script, has wicked fun with his characters, throwing well-aimed wrenches into their carefully built plan.
One hugely entertaining action sequence is predicated on something which is happening to the physical body of a character in another dream, creating a gravity-defying fight which has to be seen to be believed (or not, if you follow the film's philosophical viewpoint.)
Which brings us back to that chattering audience. This is a film which makes you think, and then discuss what you have seen.
At one point Cobb is challenged to choose between what he knows and what he believes. That question, never straightforward in the best of circumstances, becomes even more difficult in the dream world. It's a lot of fun to see what Christopher Nolan does with it, and even more fun to play with it in those post-movie discussions.