Spoiler alert: The following discusses major plot points and the ending of “Inception” so be warned if you haven’t seen it. You really should, though, because it’s pretty great.
A Christopher Nolan film is usually an action-movie lover’s dream, and his innovative, Oscar-winning, sci-fi thriller “Inception” is a dream within a dream within a dream.
Nolan’s kaleidoscopic effort celebrates its 10th anniversary Thursday, and a re-release is planned for July 31 in theaters as the filmmaker’s legion of fans eagerly await his new mysterious flick, “Tenet” (Aug. 12). But here’s the thing: “Inception,” which stars Leonardo DiCaprio as a thief who extracts secrets from people’s minds while they’re sleeping, hasn’t lost any of its mojo during the last decade, and still feels as groundbreaking now as it did then.
In the film – which was nominated for best picture and won Academy Awards for cinematography, visual effects, sound mixing and sound editing – Cobb (DiCaprio) is hired by Japanese businessman Saito (Ken Watanabe) to implant an idea in the subconscious of businessman Robert Fischer (Cillian Murphy), heir to a rival empire, that he needs to break up his dying dad’s business.
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Ranked: Every Leonardo DiCaprio movie (including ‘Inception’)
Cobb’s inception team – including partner Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), forger Eames (Tom Hardy) and architect Ariadne (Ellen Page) – has to navigate three dream levels to pull off the mission. If Cobb succeeds, he’ll have the chance to return to America and see his two kids, though projections of his dead wife Mal (Marion Cotillard) usually end up complicating the situation.
More crazy than the exposition-heavy story, however, are the snazzy moments in “Inception” that bend reality in the dreamscape. Here are the five most mind-blowing scenes in Nolan’s famous flick:
Leonardo DiCaprio gets slo-mo dunked in a bathtub
That might in itself be a highlight of another film, but in this one, it’s just one moment in an immediate crash course on Nolan’s fantastic world. Before he’s an ally, Saito’s the mark for Cobb and Arthur in a twilight, secret-agent-y mission that starts in a dining room, then flips to its characters asleep in a hotel room with a riot outside, and then shifts again to the main players on a train. The sequence lays out the rules of dream-extraction (dying in a dream means you wake up in reality, falling into a water-filled tub also “kicks” you back), as well as the various layers of sleep that Cobb and his team are experts at exploring.
It’s always awesome to see an entire city fold in on itself
After being hired by Saito, Cobb needs to recruit a dream architect to craft the levels for their new mission. Cobb’s professor father-in-law (Michael Caine) recommends his graduate student, Ariadne. Cobb gives her the rundown on the job at a Paris cafe, and when she understands they’re conversing in an actual dream of Cobb’s instead of real life, the comprehension causes explosions of vehicles, buildings, streets and everything else as the pair watch the chaos unfolding around them. Then comes the whopper: Once Ariadne gets how malleable the dream world is, she defies so many physics laws and bends one side of the street over the other.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt fights bad guys through rotating hallways
Time works differently on various dream levels, and what happens on one level can affect another. Case in point: Arthur battles well-armed projections protecting the second level of Fischer’s dreamscape, while chemist Yusef (Dileep Rao) drives his napping teammates through a car chase in the first level. Yusef’s van crashes and flips down an embankment, causing the second-level hotel hallway to start spinning around and Arthur has to fight the villains in wowing, gravity-defying conditions. Later, when Yusef’s van is falling off a bridge and into the water, Arthur floats around the hotel in midair, tying up his floating, sleeping teammates to protect them and setting explosives that will push them back to the first dream level at the right time.
The explosive dream-closing climax has an emotional touch
Everybody’s got to make it back to reality, and a whole bunch of stuff gets blown up in a superbly edited domino effect that pays off the literal multi-layered narrative. But Cobb’s story is also one of redemption, and to complete the mission, Cobb and Ariadne venture to Limbo, an unconstructed beachfront dream space built by Cobb and Mal that’s comprised of crumbling towers and various houses important to the couple’s memories. Mal is the ghost that haunts Cobb – for good reason. But as Cobb finally has to let her go as Limbo comes apart in a huge swirling storm, he remembers an entire lifetime spent there where they did grow old together before returning to reality.
Is it all a dream? Only the spinning top knows
Everybody makes it back, the mission is successful, but is it truly a happy ending? When Cobb is brought back to his children, he spins his top (aka the dream “totem” he inherited from Mal) on a table and then heads outside to meet the kids, not looking back to see if it infinitely spins – the tell-tale sign that Cobb is asleep in a dream and not awake. The top keeps spinning and just when it looks like it might wobble, the credits roll, and Nolan leaves it up to the audience to interpret the film’s final puzzle.