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Their dream, our dream

A film ain’t over after it’s over. It slips into your subconscious and starts to define you in some way. That’s what sets a great film apart from a very good film. Inception is not just a great film. It is a cinematic landmark, 146 minutes of celluloid that should change how films are written, made and, most importantly, watched.

Akira Kurosawa never wanted you to investigate who killed the Samurai in Rashomon. Michael Haneke didn’t want you to find out who sent the surveillance video cassettes in Cache. Christopher Nolan doesn’t want you to decipher which of his scenes in Inception are dreams and which are real.

He wishes to blur the lines. Because you may wake up from a dream but the reality can be a nightmare. Because the mind may be the scene of the crime but it is the heart that pulls the trigger.

So the cardinal rule for watching Inception is not to fret about whether you are lost in a dream or witnessing the real world. Just play along because even if you don’t fully understand initially what all is whizzing past you, the jigsaw puzzle comes together in the second half making it a mindbending trip in time and space.

A dreamer’s guide — Freudian theories don’t apply here — would have been in handy but since that’s not being handed out at the door like 3-D glasses, you may want to brush up the basics before entering the plex.

Ideas can be stolen by entering the subject’s dream. There are professionals who have machines to put corporate tycoons to sleep and then extract information from shared dreams. But the subject can build an army from beforehand to combat the extractors in the dream space. This space again is not a real world but pre-designed spatial labyrinths by architects to facilitate the extraction.

But Saito (Ken Watanabe), the businessman who employs dream-stealer Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio), does not want him to extract. He wants him to incept. Inception is planting an idea in the mind of a subject through a dream. It has to be so organic that when the man wakes up, he imagines that he has thought of the idea himself.

So Cobb goes about hiring a team of experts who can help him plant the seed of a difficult idea in the mind of billionaire Robert Fischer (Cillian Murphy). There’s Arthur (Joseph Gorden-Levitt), his long-time partner, Eames (Tom Hardy), a forger who can change forms, Yusuf (Dileep Rao), a chemist who concocts sedatives, and Ariadne (Ellen Page), a bright young architect. The last-named has no clue about dreamology and it is only when Cobb explains the dream dynamics to the wide-eyed protege that you understand how the worlds stack up.

Because here we are not dealing with a single dream. We are talking about a dream within a dream within a dream within a dream, that too dreamt by different people at different times in different places. Besides the real world it’s a total of four levels of the sub-conscious. There comes a point in the second half where five scenes are inter-cut and all are in different temporal (five minutes in one world is one hour at the lower and deeper level) and spatial (from icy mountains to swank hotels to long river bridges) dimensions.

Not to forget, Cobb has his own dreams that involve his wife Mal (Marion Cotillard) and their two children (the dream of them playing on the seashore is surely a nod to the original dream-maker Federico Fellini). And when the worlds of the dreams overlap, every sleeping beauty is at risk.

This is not the first time a film has been made on shared dreams. In fact, an Indian, Tarsem Singh had made a film back in 2000 called The Cell, where Jennifer Lopez could enter dreams of other people and try to clear their heads. There have also been Michel Gondry’s Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind and The Science of Sleep. Charlie Kaufman tried to create this maze of worlds or world of mazes in his directorial debut Synecdoche, New York.

But what Nolan does is create a blockbuster action thriller around what is a very niche idea. Much more expository than his own Memento, Inception has a universal intrigue that’s hard to sleep off. Not only is his mastermind brilliant at hatching original ideas, after The Dark Knight Nolan has earned the gift of infusing those ideas onto a canvas many times larger than the idea. The way he shoots the dreams collapse — how the worlds react when the subjects are ‘kicked’ up from their sleep — is an amalgamation of superior visual effects and an ingenious vision. Inception is, to quote a character of the film out of context, “a pure creation”.

Not just the crew, the talented ensemble cast helps Nolan’s very auteur-driven world come alive. Special mention must go to Leonardo DiCaprio who has played similar guilt-ridden troubled souls in the recent past — in The Aviator and Shutter Island — and yet manages to lend a dreamy quality to Cobb which is difficult to read. Not just by the audience but by the other characters around him.

Leo mentions somewhere in the film that the brain is hardly used in real life and is only used to the hilt during dreams. That would mean you need to watch Inception in a dream-like state because it is sure to test your grey cells. The 9am first day first show crowd at INOX (Forum) certainly wasn’t sleeping as the spontaneous two-minute applause proved.

Did they pinch themselves awake or did they find their own totems? Was the top still spinning or was the shot blacked out just before it stopped?

Just get incepted. Sweet dreams!

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