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Jaw-dropping 'Inception' dreams up new state of mind

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Directed by: Christopher Nolan
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Ellen Page, Marion Cotillard, Ken Watanabe, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Tom Hardy
Rated: R

“In a vision, or in none,
Is it therefore the less gone?
All that we see or seem
Is but a dream within a dream.”
—from Edgar Allan Poe's “A Dream Within a Dream”

All of us have had dreams that seemed utterly real. It's a testament to the power of the human brain that it can create such real scenarios that fascinate – and sometimes horrify – us when we are sound asleep.

The concept of “lucid dreaming” – a dream wherein the dreamer realizes he is dreaming – was explored by Celia Green in her 1968 study titled Lucid Dreams. Green linked lucid dreams to the phenomena of false awakenings. Many times in a lucid dream the dreamer believes to have awakened but instead has merely gone into a deeper “dream within a dream.”

Writer/director Christopher Nolan is no stranger to films concerning the tricks of the human mind. His “Memento” dealt with a character who had lost his short-term memory and was pasting his life back together – in reverse – by observing tattoos inked on his body. “Insomnia” analyzed a man tortured by his chronic lack of sleep, and both “Batman Begins” and “The Dark Knight” explored the dark side of Bruce Wayne's alter ego that had been missing since the campy 1960s TV show and that the successful films directed by Tim Burton and Joel Schumacher had managed to miss.

With “Inception,” Nolan gets down and dirty with a plot concept that will ring true to most viewers while at the same time freak them out.

Can you remember your most vivid dream – one when you knew you were dreaming?

Now, imagine being connected with several other people having the same dream. And your mission is to plant a subconscious thought into yet another person who is having the same dream. All the while the subject you are pursuing has his own force of protectors in this shared dream, with guns and knives and instruments of mass destruction.

That's the premise of “Inception.” It's deep and dark and, at times, somewhat confusing. But Nolan takes the time (2 hours, 28 minutes) to explain things – to a point.

Leonardo DiCaprio is Cobb, the leader of a dream team. They hire themselves out to mess with the minds of corporate heads and politicians and other people who deserve it. Usually, Cobb and his team merely want to extract information from the subject. That's easy. But planting a thought (referred to as inception) is another matter.

It's commonly known that the only way inception will work is by going down to not just a dream within a dream, but a dream within a dream within a dream. It's a tough row to hoe to be sure. And there's another rub. Usually, if you are “killed” in a dream, you simply wake up. But in going three layers deep, the rules change. Rather than waking up, you will just go deeper and deeper down. And never wake up.

Time is crazy in dream state. Minutes of real time can encompass years in dreams.

Cobb has another problem. His wife, who died during a dream episode, still resides in his dream world. There's even an entire world they created together. Marion Cotillard plays the wife and is the most ethereal character in “Inception,” recalling some of her previous emotionally charged roles, most notably as Edith Piaf in “La vie en rose.”

The other female lead, playing the part of the newcomer “architect” of the dream team, is played by Ellen Page, who will forever hold a place in movie lovers' hearts for her title role in “Juno.” I can't think of a more natural actress. Page always seems to totally encompass her characters.

If you are schooled in films such as “Blade Runner,” “The Fifth Element,” “2001” or even “The Wizard of Oz,” you'll be able to forget the “What the heck?” factor and go with the flow in “Inception.”

It's reported that Nolan began the story/screenplay more than a decade ago and rewrote it – any change in one part affected many other parts – and honed it to its present state.

It was worth the work. “Inception” is a jaw-dropping film.
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