07/13/2010 07:10 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Movie Review: Inception

Christopher Nolan's visionary Inception, opening Friday, July 16, looks at a world in which our very sleeping moments are vulnerable to government (or other) snooping, whether our secrets are merely embarrassing or of extremely high value.

It's a deliciously layered subject, which Nolan exploits in a story that, itself, is working on more than one level of consciousness.

This is Philip K. Dick territory -- the world of shifting realities and seizing the reins of the reality you happen to be in. Or finding your way clear to the "real" reality. Whose reality exactly will that be?

The dream state in which the characters of Nolan's ingenious film operate is reminiscent of The Matrix, another Phil Dick-inspired film. Nolan, whose films include Memento, Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, manages to tell a story that operates emotionally on as many levels as it does literally. And it's frequently working on several different levels at a time.

Yet it never loses its ability to surprise -- and contains one of those overwhelming visual moments that become iconic -- like that first shot of Darth Vader's spaceship in the very first Star Wars. It's one of those moments where you recognize immediately that this is a movie trying something that hasn't been done before.

In this case, it's a simple shot set on a semi-vacant city street, as Leonardo DiCaprio explains life in the dream to a newcomer to his team, played by Ellen Page. She commands the world, he tells her -- and to prove it, she literally folds the horizon in half, like closing a book over on top of the spot where they stand. It's a stunning effect, dizzying in its scope and meaning.

DiCaprio plays Cobb, an "extractor" in some near future, a thief working in industrial espionage to extract secrets from competitors. He does it by invading their dreams: all very scientific, with sedatives and electrodes and an ability to improvise in someone else's dream and take control of it.