Inception is a 2010 science fiction action heist film written, co-produced, and directed by Christopher Nolan. The film features an international ensemble cast starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Ken Watanabe, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Marion Cotillard, Ellen Page, Tom Hardy, Cillian Murphy, Dileep Rao, Tom Berenger, and Michael Caine. DiCaprio plays Dom Cobb, a specialized corporate spy and thief. His work consists of secretly extracting valuable commercial information from the unconscious minds of his targets while they are asleep and dreaming. Wanted for murder and unable to visit his children, Cobb is offered a chance to regain his old life as payment for a task considered to be impossible: “inception”, the planting of an original idea into a target’s subconscious.
Development began roughly nine years before Inception was released. In 2001, Nolan wrote an 80-page treatment about dream-stealers, presenting the idea to Warner Bros. The story was originally envisioned as a horror film inspired by concepts of lucid dreaming and dream incubation. Feeling he needed to have more experience with large-scale films, Nolan opted to work on Batman Begins (2005), The Prestige (2006), and The Dark Knight (2008). He spent six months polishing the script for Inception before Warner Bros. purchased it in February 2009. Filming spanned six countries and four continents, beginning in Tokyo on June 19, 2009, and finishing in Canada in late November of the same year.
Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his business partner Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) perform illegal corporate espionage by entering the subconscious minds of their targets, using two-level “dream within a dream” strategies to extract valuable information. Dreamers are awakened either by a sudden shock (a “kick”), or by dying in the dream. Each of the extractors carries a totem, a personalized small object whose behavior is unpredictable to anyone except its owner, to determine whether they are in another person’s dream. Cobb’s totem is a spinning top which perpetually spins in the dream state. Cobb struggles with memories of his dead wife, Mal (Marion Cotillard), who manifests within his dreams and tries to sabotage his efforts.
Cobb is approached by the wealthy Mr. Saito (Ken Watanabe), Cobb’s latest extraction target, asking him and his team to perform the act of “inception”; planting an idea within the person’s subconscious mind. Saito wishes to break up the vast energy conglomerate of his competitor, the ailing Maurice Fischer (Pete Postlethwaite), by planting this idea in his son, Robert Fischer (Cillian Murphy), who will inherit the empire when his father dies. Should Cobb succeed, Saito promises to use his influence to clear Cobb of the murder charges for his wife’s death, allowing Cobb to re-enter the United States and reunite with his children. Despite Arthur’s insistence that inception is impossible, Cobb accepts the job and assembles his team: Eames (Tom Hardy), an identity forger; Yusuf (Dileep Rao), a chemist who concocts the powerful sedative needed to stabilize the three-layered shared dream required for inception; and Ariadne (Ellen Page), a young architecture student tasked with designing the labyrinth of the dream landscapes. Saito insists on joining the team as an observer and to ensure the job is completed. While planning the inception, Ariadne learns of the guilt Cobb struggles with from Mal’s suicide and his separation from his children when he fled the country as a fugitive.
The job is set in motion when Maurice Fischer dies and his son accompanies his father’s body from Sydney to Los Angeles. During the flight, Cobb sedates Robert Fischer, and the team bring him into the shared dream. At each stage, the member of the team who is “creating” the dream stays behind to generate the “kick”, while the other team members fall asleep within the dream to travel further down into Fischer’s subconscious. The dreamers will then ride a synchronized series of “kicks” (the van plunging off a bridge, a fall between hotel rooms, and a collapsing building) back up the levels to wake up to reality. In the first level, Yusuf’s dream of a rainy city, the team successfully abducts Fischer, but they are attacked by projections of Fischer’s ‘militarized subconscious’, which have been trained to hunt and kill extractors, and Saito is mortally wounded. Due to the potency of Yusuf’s sedative, however, dying in the dream will send them into Limbo, a deep subconscious level where they may lose their grip on reality and be trapped indefinitely.
Eames temporarily takes the appearance of Fischer’s godfather Peter Browning (Tom Berenger) to suggest that he reconsider his opinion of his father’s will. Yusuf remains on the first level driving a van through the streets, while the remaining team members enter Arthur’s dream, taking place in a corporate hotel. Cobb and Eames turn Fischer against Browning and persuade him to join the team as Arthur runs point. They descend to the third dream level, Eames’ dream, a snowy mountain fortress designed by Ariadne. Fischer is told that it represents Browning’s subconscious, but the team is really accessing Fischer’s subconscious. Yusuf’s evasive driving on the first level manifests as distorted gravity effects on the second, forcing Arthur to improvise a kick using an elevator shaft, and an avalanche on the third.
Saito succumbs to his wounds, and Cobb’s projection of Mal sabotages the plan by shooting Fischer, killing him.Cobb and Ariadne enter Limbo to find Fischer and Saito. There, Cobb confronts his projection of Mal, who tries to convince him to stay with her and his children in Limbo. Cobb refuses and confesses that he feels he was responsible for Mal’s suicide. Using inception to help her escape from Limbo during a shared dream experience, he inspired in her the idea that her world wasn’t real. Once she had returned to reality, she became convinced that she was still dreaming and needed to die in order to wake up, writing a letter claiming that Cobb was threatening her to try and convince him to accept their dream state and commit suicide with her. Mal then stabs Cobb with a knife but Ariadne shoots her. Through his confession, Cobb attains catharsis and chooses to remain in Limbo to search for Saito. Eames defibrillates Fischer to bring him back up to the third-level mountain fortress, where he enters a safe room and discovers and accepts the idea to split up his father’s business empire.
Leaving Cobb behind, the team members escape by riding the kicks back up the levels of the dream. Cobb eventually finds an elderly Saito who has been waiting in Limbo for decades in dream time (just a short time in real time), the two help each other to remember their arrangement, and the team awakens on the flight. Cobb passes through U.S. customs, and reunites with his children at home. He uses his spinning top totem to test reality, but is distracted by his children before he can see the result.
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First Published: Dec 9, 2011 – Last Updated: Feb 15, 2013