Year 1984

Leonardo DiCaprio as  Cobb  
Michael Caine as  Miles  
Joseph Gordon-Levitt   as Arthur
Ellen Page as Ariadne
Ken Watanabe as Saito
Director - Christopher Nolan  
Screenwriter - Christopher Nolan

Suppose you could enter another's dreams and affect them. What good could you do? What good would it do? That's the hackneyed premise of this movie. If you haven't seen any movie, ever, this one might be a good place to start.

But if you've seen any movies, beginning with silent films like The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari or even TV (that one season of Dallas) then this movie's "surprise" ending will seem a little stale.

If you're wondering why I mentioned the idea rather than the plot, it's because this movie is a series of "cool ideas" rather than a coherent plot. If you must know the plot, it concerns a team of people who must enter the dreams of an heir to a fortune and make sure that the heir sinks his funds into green technology. It seemed to be a way to explain how Solyndra managed to get a half-billion dollars from the federal government for useless, outdated technology.

The explanation of Solyndra brainwashing politicians in their sleep makes as much sense as any.

As for the movie, let's start with the good. Well, there's Michael Caine who plays Cobb's dad. He's usually good. He isn't bad here. But he doesn't have a very big part either so there's not a lot of scenery for him to chew. I liked seeing Pete Postlethwaite, Kobayashi from The Usual Suspects, as the heir's father. But his part was also small. The other actors are trying. I have yet to be convinced that diCaprio is a great actor. He's not bad, but he's no Nicholson.

How about the special effects? Most of them aren't too shabby. The shabby ones are pretty lame though.

The mood is captivating. Yep, that's it. It's got a dark, nihilistic feel to it. This sense of futility is maintained throughout the movie, and that's a definite plus. This atmosphere will keep you watching past the point where you'd normally throw up hands and yell, "But that contradicts a previous scene!" before turning it off.

Now for the bad.

One of the first rules for this type of fantasy is that the story must be true to itself. There can't be any incongruities if the writer/director wants to audience to suspend their disbelief. This is where this movie falls down and rolls into the gutter in search of a storm drain to fall down even further.

Let's start with the dreams. Apparently, multiple people as a team can inhabit another person's dreams. Supposedly they can control the dreams, too. But yet each team has to a have a dream architect to create the environment imagined by the sleeper. Why this is the case, or how it is done, is never explained.

Somehow the design of this architect overlays the dream. The dreamer and interlopers have to interact with it. This almost seems allowable until it's announced that the architect does not have to be one of the interlopers. So how is the overlay introduced into the primary dreamer? And why, once you're in the dream, can't you change the overlay? It's a dream, right?

Then there's the fact that a dreamer must never be told that they're dreaming. Maybe the cartoon that came with the DVD had the reason why, but if so then it wasn't too clear. Oh, of course this rule is broken along the way.

Then, there are dreams within dreams. Say what? I've never seen anyone asleep in any of my dreams muchless gone to sleep in my dreams. But this is the Big Hook. That dreams can exist within dreams and that this special Cobb (DiCaprio) team can architect them is what makes his team special. Pile onto this the "fact" that the wall time of dreams within dreams is compressed even more than it is for a regular dream. In fact, the dream team has a formula for this.

Uh, really? Dreams may last a few seconds and may cover a few hours of "awake" time, but is there really a formula for this? Can you really say, "Every time I dream for three seconds it's like three point two five nine hours of real time have gone by"? This movie makes this type of assumption.

Another assumption is that dreams within dreams affect each other physically. If a person in the top dream is falling, then the dreamer in the next dream level down experiences the effects. Maybe the walls twirl, which makes no sense but it looks cool.

Need to wake up? You can't just wake up when there are dreams within dreams. The primary dreamer needs to wake up from each sub-dream at the right time. Otherwise they'll never wake up (I think). There's a lot of emphasis placed on this waking up at the right time thing.

And of course dreams are so real that the dream team needs a way to know that they're dreaming. So, they need a totem to "take with them". How they take it with them is never explained. At first, the architect doesn't even know about totems, so it can't be the architect who includes them. The architect is only the person who creates the dream, the rules of dream, the items in the dream, etc. but doesn't know about totems? Doesn't make sense.

Cobb's totem is a top. For some reason, all rules of physics apply as needed except for this totem. Cobb's top will never spin down when he's in a dream. Things will fall, the people that the true deamer has in his dream will take on a will of their own, and trains imagined by the dreamer will chew up city streets. But, the top will not spin down. Right.

The architect for this dream creates her own totem. It's a pawn from a chess game. How this will behave differently in a dream versus being awake is never explained.

All of these rules that show up without any reasonable explanation take their toll after a while.

But here's the worst. Dream levels can exist that the architect has no control over. There is even a lowest level which exists even without a dreamer. It ages when the dreamer leaves. It's shared by everyone even though it was created by one person.

In this case, Cobb created a level for himself years ago. But, the dreamer is dreaming it about five levels down and it's starting to come apart because Cobb hasn't visited it in years.

So there're lots of rules that apply to some of the characters some of the time. Any time, in fact, when it would be "cool".

I'd recommend watching the cartoon first. It's a prequel to the movie and lots of terms are defined there.

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