A Dream Within A Dream

Take this kiss upon the brow!
And, in parting from you now,
This much let me avow-
You are not wrong, who deem
That my days have been a dream;
Yet if hope has flown away
In a night, or in a day,
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.

I stand amid the roar
Of a surf-tormented shore,
And I hold within my hand
Grains of the golden sand-
How few! yet how they creep
Through my fingers to the deep,
While I weep- while I weep!
O God! can I not grasp
Them with a tighter clasp?
O God! can I not save
One from the pitiless wave?
Is all that we see or seem
But a dream within a dream?

-Edgar Allan Poe

Not since The Matrix has there been an original movie with a story that more credibly invokes the possibility that the world we assume is real is actually something else. Here, Christopher Nolan equals the originality and intensity of The Dark Night in what is surely the best movie of this and many other summers.

I’ve been anticipating seeing this movie for a while, because I was very intrigued by the trailer. The good news is that it’s every bit as good as the trailer makes it look (and while we’re on the subject, thank goodness for trailers that don’t give away too much of the movie). Inception’s story is complex and involving, the characters are interesting, the action is intense, the special effects are literally mind-boggling, and the ending is damn near perfect. The bad news? Well, the movie is pretty long, and a bit confusing at times, but the worse news is that it’s not really long enough.

Without giving anything away, allow me to set the scene: Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) is experienced in “extraction,” meaning that he is someone who creates a dream as a sort of trap for a person who has valuable information, then invades that dream with his team of thieves and steals the information for his clients. He has become so good at doing this that he has begun to experiment on the idea in his own personal life, creating dream landscapes to visit with his wife. As you might imagine, there are certain dangers in doing this, and the chickens, of course, do come home to roost, causing problems that threaten both Cobb’s personal and professional lives.

But, as the movie opens, there appears to be a way out. The proverbial “one last job” that will allow Cobb the redemption he seeks and a way to reunite with his family and put the past behind him. This last job involves, not “extraction” but “inception” which is the planting of information or an idea which will cause the target to act in the way you wish in real life. Most people think inception is impossible, but of course Cobb thinks otherwise, and is wiling to do the job, for a price.

The movie is ambitious in the extreme, as it attempts to cover an enormously complex set of circumstances, interweaving plots in different time, technical jargon related to “shared dreams,” the constant dangers related to entering another’s dream world, violent “projections” which are always trying to kill Cobb and his team, and the haunting presence of Cobb’s past, which appears to be always just around the corner, or on the periphery of sight.

To be fair, the movie does not really navigate all these shoals without some serious damage. There is little or no explanation about how the technical gimcrackery of entering shared dreams is accomplished, and there are some glaring plot holes, along with some really bad dialogue (mostly between DiCaprio and the normally brilliant Ellen Page, who is mostly used here to drive the exposition of the flaws in Cobb’s plans), but in the end, none of that really matters. This movie is so visually stunning and the concept is so mentally involving that any problems are easily ignored. Or perhaps the problems are all just a dream, which you experience while you are busy puzzling over the perplexing questions raised by this truly fascinating movie: How much can happen in a dream during the time it takes for a van to fall off a bridge and into the water? How many dreams can you dream before you lose track of what is a dream and what is real? And finally, if the dream is good enough, does it really matter?


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