Friday's release of the psycho-action-drama-thriller Inception is shrouded in narrative mystery. Still, someone should be able to explain what it's about, right? Right?
"Please don't ask any questions," pleads actress Ellen Page, who's in the movie. "Don't look at anything, don't sniff around. Just go see it."
Lucky for Warner Bros., Page doesn't work in its marketing department, which is doing a pretty good job of not giving away the plot to a movie it doesn't seem to understand — or, at least, know how to describe. Despite this, and a concept that is distinctly un-Hollywood (it apparently requires more than 10 words to explain), Inception is poised to become one of the bigger hits in a summer that could use a few more, and is being advertised via effects-heavy trailers and oblique references. Clearly, narrative is not what the studio is trying to sell. And that alone might make it the most intriguing film to come along all year.
"I've been interested in dreams my whole life," said director Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight), who based Inception on his own original script.
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Roughly speaking, the Leonardo DiCaprio headliner involves a group of dream "extractors" who steal secrets for their clients from unconscious others. Charged instead with implanting an idea, they wind up crossing multiple, overlapping realities (or unrealities) that were shot in six locales, including Tangier, Morocco, and Calgary, Alberta.
"I think, really, for me the primary interest in dreams and in making this film was this notion that when you're asleep, you create an entire world," Nolan said. "It's something I found fascinating."
Co-starring Marion Cotillard, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Tom Hardy, Inception is also a bit of an oxymoron: a thinking person's summer movie. Producer Emma Thomas doesn't disagree, exactly. "I don't think audiences are given enough credit," she said. "People do like to be challenged. One of the things I love about this film is that if you're the kind of person who wants to really think about a film — the intricacies of the plot, and how the technology works, the dream levels — you can do that. But there's also an enormous amount of fun and action and a great love story."
Besides, any trailer that would adequately explain the story would be 15 minutes long. "It's certainly difficult to balance marketing a film and wanting to keep it fresh for the audience," Nolan said. "My most enjoyable moviegoing experiences have been going to see something where you don't know everything about it, you don't know every plot turn. I want to be surprised and entertained by a movie, and that's what we're trying to do. But obviously, we also have to sell the film."
DiCaprio, who plays Cobb, chief infiltrator of the unconscious, admires Nolan's nerve. "Few directors in this industry would pitch to a studio a multilayered, at times existential, high-action, high-drama surreal film that's sort of locked in his mind, and get the opportunity to do that. And it's a testament to the work he's done in the past, like Memento and Insomnia."
Never mind that Memento was virtually an indie release and Insomnia was a remake: It's The Dark Knight — No. 3 among all-time domestic money makers — that has given Nolan his clout and has whipped up so much anticipation for Inception. The director might be as much an attraction as any of his stars, including DiCaprio, who has been making solidly profitable movies, if not exactly the type, at least recently, that pop stars are made of.
"I don't really question that," DiCaprio said. He picks a script "if I feel I can be of service to the role, and it emotionally engages me and, obviously, if I feel the director has the capacity to pull off the ambitious nature of whatever they're trying to do."