Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) washes up on a beach and is found by some of the henchmen of the man who lives there; they drag his exhausted body into the presence of Saito (Ken Watanabe), a very aged fellow, and he begins to question Cobb. Does he mean to kill him? To answer that question we must go back in time, though not as far as you might think, to when Cobb was asking Saito questions of his own, or rather, questions of the men who hired him. He had been recruited to find out information, but the methods of doing so were highly unusual as they involved entering their targets' actual dreams...
Back in the nineteen-forties, the flashback began to really take off, which led to absurdities like The Locket or Passage to Marseille where flashbacks within flashbacks, even within flashbacks, were criticised as a ludicrous manner of storytelling and needlessly convoluted - surely there had to be a better way of putting your plot across? Yet with Inception, written and directed by the most popular director in the world at the time Christopher Nolan, the film dared to put dream sequences within dreams within... well, you get the idea, and challenged the audience to keep up, something that lost just as many viewers as it gained in spite of how much time is spent with the characters explaining things to each other and therefore us.
But crucially, such was the buzz about the movie that punters were prepared to take Nolan's test of their mettle, and the film was a huge hit in spite of its overly intellectual reputation that often would turn off the mass market: after all, you don't go to movies for a lesson in philosophy when there's the chance you could be entertained instead. But why not do both? Inception had big ideas on its mind, ideas about ideas themselves for a start, and how memory and dreams are linked, and just what the cost of messing with someone's mind could be, whether for honorable reasons or simply to get one over on them and take advantage. Cobb is a man who has done both, and he's suffering for it.
What he and his team do is to place themselves in the slumbering heads of their victims and extract information from them, facts and figures that could come in very handy to those people's rivals who hire him. But these days he is working outside the law, not because of his illegal activities in espionage, but because of what happened to his wife Mal (Marion Cotillard), who he still sees in his own dreams, but that's the only place he does. He longs to see their children again, but cannot risk being caught as he is basically regarded as a possible murderer thanks to the results of an extended stay in the world of he and his wife's subconscious that ended badly - so badly in fact that she haunts his missions and does her best to mess them up.
This would appear to be the mechanism of Cobb's own guilt making inroads into his business, and you get the impression he has the right to feel that due to the lack of morals he displays otherwise. This is the ulitmate invasion of privacy he and his cohorts are getting up to, but it's about to get worse: now he has been hired for a job that will lift his restrictions in the real world, but would otherwise give Freddy Krueger pause. He must enter the dreams of business heir Cillian Murphy and place an idea in his head that will change his personality, giving the company over to other hands. Nolan approached this not as full of fairyland cliché imagery, but as something more fitting in a spy movie context, so with Cobb as our damaged 007 and an ensemble of character stars to back him up, things may have gotten bizarre, but there was an integrity to what we were seeing. If there was a problem, the emotional wrench intended did not quite slot into the rarefied visuals and mood, but there was time to see if Nolan was ahead of the game in his concept of our inner lives being the next modern battlefield. Music by Hans Zimmer, and what music it is.
British director specialising in dark thrillers. Made an impressive debut with the low-budget Following, but it was the time-twisting noir Memento that brought him to Hollywood's attention. 2002's Al Pacino-starrer Insomnia was a remake of a Norwegian thriller, while Batman Begins was one of 2005's biggest summer movies. The hits kept coming with magician tale The Prestige, and Batman sequel The Dark Knight was the most successful movie of Nolan's career, which he followed with ambitious sci-fi Inception and the final entry of his Batman trilogy The Dark Knight Rises. He then attempted to go as far as he could with sci-fi epic Interstellar, another huge success at the box office, which was followed by his World War II blockbuster Dunkirk.