AT LAST COUNT, Christopher Nolan's bat-sequel The Dark Knight grossed $1,001,921,825 at the international box office. What do you get to do if you make a movie that makes a billion dollars? Whatever the fuck you want.
And if you're Christopher Nolan, and if what you want to do next is forget about Batman for a bit and instead make a weird, mind-bending sci-fi action drama? Well, so be it. Inception is a hell of a movie, all the more so because thanks to The Dark Knight's billion, Nolan's been given the freedom and the resources to turn what could've been a lo-fi genre flick into something baroque, epic, and unavoidable. The eagerly anticipated, keenly marketed Inception, for all its strangeness and all its smarts, looks suspiciously like it could be this summer's biggest blockbuster.
I hope it is. Challenging, exciting, and odd, Inception's also confident as hell (The Dark Knight's gross might have something to do with this) and it's a film that more or less needs to be seen multiple times. (If you handily navigate Inception's dense substrata on your first viewing, congrats—you're smarter than me, and maybe even smarter than my girlfriend, with whom I spent an hour after the film's credits discussing and debating Inception's dizzying levels of plot and meaning.)
Just as you should probably plan for a post-screening debriefing, you should also steer clear from knowing too much going in. So here's the short version: Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a thief in a world that's slightly different from our own: Teaming up with fellow white-collar crooks like Eames (Tom Hardy), Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), and Ariadne (Ellen Page), Cobb hacks into people's dreams to extract valuable information. Until, that is, a wealthy businessman, Saito (Ken Watanabe), approaches Cobb with a different proposition: Rather than stealing an enemy's thoughts, Saito wants Cobb to plant an idea inside the mind of one of his rivals (Cillian Murphy). Such a task is called "inception"—it's at best dangerous and at worst lethal, and it gets even trickier when you factor in the film's kaleidoscopic array of totems, simulacra, "militarized subconsciouses," amateur godhoods, explosions, car chases, and a whole lot of bullets. Intentionally or not, watching Inception is similar to dreaming: nothing makes total sense, but everything makes enough sense. ("Wait—whose subconscious are we going into, exactly?" Ariadne rather understandably asks at one point.)
But Inception isn't about specificity—though, for better or worse, there's plenty of that. (As with Nolan's previous films—The Dark Knight, The Prestige, Batman Begins, Insomnia, Memento—there are clunky, even broken bits of plotting here, not to mention some unfortunate similarities between Cobb and DiCaprio's recent character in the schlocktastic Shutter Island.) With any other filmmaker, these things would be chokepoints; with Nolan, they're only speed bumps. Because above all else, Inception is a sensual experience: By visiting high-stakes dream worlds with a crew of less-than-reputable characters, Nolan gets to play with time, space, and action in a way few directors can. Inception's surreal, jarring visuals are nothing short of breathtaking; when paired with his gorgeous, visceral soundscapes, they're riveting to discover and impossible to forget. Inception isn't perfect, but it kicks the ass of everything else that's out this summer—and I can certainly think of worse things to do in the coming weeks than see Inception a few more times, feeling its visceral rush and hacking through its layers, again and again.