Christopher Nolan's science fiction thriller Inception is the event movie of the summer, if the near-consensus from critics and the box office receipts tell us anything. The blockbuster achieved this status by combining two oft-divergent elements: a sophisticated plot---layering dreams over reality, forcing the audience to constantly question whether what it's watching is "real"---and a propulsive actioner.
Even on other subgenre levels, Inception combines divergent elements: a tale of personal regret and guilt mixed into a Mission Impossible-styled heist picture, where a team of specialists attempt to insert an idea into the mind of a sleeping industrialist, the inception of the title. The cast is uniformly excellent, including veteran actor Ken Watanabe (The Last Samurai), future movie star Tom Hardy (Bronson, the forthcoming Mad Max: Fury Road) and Academy Award-winner Marion Cotillard (La Vie En Rose).
Into the midst of this international ensemble strolls Ellen Page. The Haligonian actor is such a relaxed screen presence that she helps root the film in a recognizable reality. Holding onto that reality could be an issue for Inception viewers as the dreamscape layers overlap almost to the point of confusion, but Page, along with other former child actors in the cast, such as Leonardo DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Lucas Haas, bring a comfort on camera that is essential to hooking us emotionally inside the film's labyrinthine structure. Page's character, Ariadne, has a prime role on the dream team and plays a foil to DiCaprio's troubled leader, Cobb.
"Simply put, and not very eloquently, Ariadne is just really rad," says Page on the line from Los Angeles. "She has this innate intellectual curiosity. She's the new member of the team in the film and is the architect in the sense that she's the designer of the dreams, she builds the dreams they work in." Ariadne rapidly gets up to speed once joining the team, and takes a few big risks in the clutch. "She learns a few secrets about Cobb...that could potentially cause some obstacles and thus she ends up really putting herself on the line for her and the team."
Inception is clearly a fantasy, but one of Nolan's gifts is to set his stories in very recognizable worlds with recognizable problems. His last movie, The Dark Knight, is a cinema experience which, as Page points out, "You can go see as a badass Batman movie if you want to see it like that, but there is a sense of honesty and sincerity and it asks a lot of political and ethical questions."
In Inception, if you can accept the idea of technology creating shared dreaming, everything else just flows, say, the way the technology in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind was used to insert a science fiction element into an otherwise contemporary place and time.
"The funny thing about Inception is when I read it, it didn't feel like a sci-fi movie to me at all," says Page. "Everything is incredibly tangible and what feels like reality, with slight impossibilities imposed upon it. I think that's what's incredible about what Chris Nolan has done, he didn't want to make the dreams be filled with overly fantasy-esque disconnectedness. He wanted it to feel like a tangible reality first for the audience. That's more what my dreams are like."
Page compares the film to the writings of Kurt Vonnegut or Haruki Murakami, whose stories have "such a human, human base to them, the world becomes so immersive, you're not even thinking about it."
Nolan's record for doing the same, making the fantastic personal---as well as popular---to a cinema audience, goes back through the Batman movies to earlier hits such as The Prestige. Though Page hasn't done a lot of work in these kinds of genre films before, she's been a fan of Nolan's work since he grabbed our attention with his movie about short-term memory, tattoos and murder.
"I enjoy all of Chris's movies...it's really hard to think of a favourite," she says. "Maybe Memento. I think that was not like something I've seen."