"You're waiting for a train, a train that will take you far away. You know where you hope the train will take you, but you can't be sure."

Christopher Nolan's Inception is an astounding film. Emotionally, the film focuses on a somewhat plodding psychodrama involving Leonardo Dicaprio's character's late wife, unfortunately in the same year that he hit many of the same notes in Shutter Island. I understand the expository babbble, the laying out of the dream-stealing rules, can be a little much for people.

But the setpieces! A spinning hallway houses one of the most thrilling fistfights in recent cinematic history. A folded-over Parisian street, a collapsing ornate tea-house, a Bond-villain-like snow fortress. The bombast (thanks, Hans Zimmer!) and complex plot structure bravura of the film's second half more than make up for any sense of undue weightiness- and the performances of Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Tom Hardy, limited in time as they are, make the cast winning on the whole.

Inception is about dreams, yes, but it's not a "dream movie," which for some reason everyone expects it to be. Would you listen to someone tell you about a dream they had for two hours? Dreams make no sense, tell no stories- I implore the critics that found fault with Nolan for failing to capture the feel of dreaming to watch Michel Gondry's The Science Of Sleep instead- dream-logic, stopping and starting in fits and petering out into lost corners of distraction, is a good fit for awkward misfit romanticism, but not the kind of spectacle that Nolan has proved himself so adept at creating with both Batman films.

Instead, he uses the narrative idea of shared dreaming as a springboard for mind-bending exploration- there's even a form of time travel, with the flow of time different at every level of the dream. This is all a backdrop for one of the greatest heist movies, perhaps ever, even though the titular objective is to leave an idea behind instead of steal one.

Wrapping up the entire package, inviting repeat viewings and endless theorizing, is an ambiguous ending that's thrilling and tantalizing all at once. Go see Inception, as soon as you can.

And once you do, return to this post and read my contribution to the endless theorizing, below.


So many different ways to read the spinning (but wobbling!) top at the end.

1. It was totally about to fall, you guys- you saw the wobble. Why would Nolan work so hard to get us to care about Cobb's catharsis and return to his children, and then yank the rug out from under it?

2. Cobb is still lost in limbo- this would make everything from waking up on the plane onward a dream- it's plausible, since it all goes very smoothly and seems almost trancelike- and then Cobb's children appear no older and wear the same clothes they do in his dreams/memories. Also the way that he spent the entire film JUST MISSING THEM SO MUCH had me thinking in general that a lot of time had passed. I think, if this were definitely the case, that we would have ended on a fade to black on the ominously spinning top, instead of the ambiguous abrupt cut.

3. There's a cockamamie theory out there that Cobb was the one being incepted, that it was all a plot to get him to move on from Mal and release his guilt, but there are too many holes in this one- it reminds me of the ridiculous "The machine didn't work" theory people have about The Prestige. But that's not to say I can't get behind...

4. The entire film is a dream: many, many things could be used to support this theory. The mirror hotel room across the way that Mal jumps from looks suspiciously like the honeymoon suite. The "old man filled with regret" and such banter between Saito and Cobb seems dreamlike to me. And I definitely need to see the film a third time to see if the train that they pass going the other way in the very beginning in the supposedly real world is the train that Cobb and Mal used to get out of limbo.

This last one is impossible to prove definitively- but appealing in that it would spell out the metaphor of films themselves being a shared dream. Which is why a showstopping, pulse-pounding movie that also engages us is such a delight- everytime I sit in the theater, waiting to be taken far away, I know where I hope the train will take me, but I can't be sure.

Sometimes you just have to take a leap of faith, and it's nice to be rewarded so richly.

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