Director: Christopher Nolan.
Though Nolan’s previous six films had already established him as a talented, innovative filmmaker; Inception certainly solidified his reputation. It’s actually hard to fathom he made this in between his Dark Knight sequels and that Inception is now ten years old. It’s also hard to deny that Inception is one of the most mind-bending, cinematic experiences since The Matrix and no one, including Nolan himself hasn’t come close to topping it. I feel there’s an amount of pressure on the incoming Tenet regarding this, and though Nolan’s films since Inception are on par in terms of quality, they’re all very unique films and I’m hoping Tenet receives the same treatment.
Written and directed by Nolan, this was his first original piece since his 1998 debut The Following and was a script that was eight years in the making, having been given the green light from Warner Bros. after making Insomnia. And even then, the script wasn’t so refined until DiCaprio got to work on it, which Nolan and his wife, Emma Thomas, consider as a great contribution outside of his acting skills, making more sense to the character’s story and bridging some illogical loop holes. There’s no doubt that a story like Inception would be a minefield full of them.
Inception, like the word itself, is actually many things and is hard to describe as any one genre. Yes, it’s thrilling and is certainly science fiction. But it’s also action packed with mind boggling stunts and is essentially a heist movie. But none like any other. It’s corporate espionage to a whole other level; or I should say levels. It’s a mind heist but quite the opposite and a simple premise would to be say extracting information from one’s subconscious mind via the sleep state of dreaming, with Cobb (DiCaprio) being the best extractor in the business. But instead of stealing secrets, they’re breaking in to plant one of their own. An idea. A task that is believed to be impossible to achieve.
And like with every heist movie, you have to have your team of special operatives, there’s a mark and the plan. The set-up, the foundation, the pay-off and more than one “Hurrah”. It’s essentially the greatest con ever to be pulled off that no one will ever know about or even suspect, apart from the those who had their part to play. But it’s way more than just a heist movie and way more complicated making this an unique amalgamation of genres that’s equally psychological and philosophical all at the same time.
DiCaprio plays Cobb, a dream extractor, who is also a wanted man with his own dark secret that keeps surfacing, threatening the not only the safety of his crew, but the very outcome of the entire mission. Each of the team have their own responsibilities, with Gordon-Levitt playing Arthur, Cobb’s trusted right-hand man who oversees everything and tries to keep everyone, including Cobb in check. Hardy, given the role off the back of his Handsome Bob portrayal in Guy Ritchie’s RocknRolla plays the cocksure forger or actor, Eames. Both Arthur and Eames appear to harbour a respectful hate for each other as if at competition with one another. Then you have Watanabe’s Saito, the Japanese magnate and benefactor who employs and bankrolls the whole enterprise. Paige’s Ariadne being the latest recruit and architect who designs the dreamscape, creating the locations for where the heists are to take place. Rao’s Yusuf, the unorthodox and non-regulated chemist who creates the sedatives to induce the correct parameters of consciousness. And finally, Nolan regular, Murphy, who plays the mark, Robert Fischer, son and heir to Saito’s greatest competitor. It is within this person, the team must implant the notion of dismantling his father’s company.
Similar to The Matrix, It’s doesn’t take too much speculation and digging to start connecting names or seeing references to who the characters might be based on; and if you do care to dig a little deeper, you might find some other references beneath the surface, hidden throughout the film. But M.C. Escher’s work is quite evident here, the Droste effect and the use of Penrose’s Stairs. Mal’s literally translation and Ariadne being the Cretan princess who was in charge of the labyrinth, who aided Theseus in killing the Minotaur in Greek mythology. Yusuf is the Arabic, Aramaic and earlier version of the name Joseph, literally meaning “God Increases” and in religious scripture, had the gift of prophesy, being able to translate dreams.
What flips this story, and the entire job as result, is Cobb’s own emotional remorse, as if trapped and haunted by his own guilt of the very idea and mission of what they are pursuing; adding pores of intrigue that seep through continuously throughout. Cobb’s recurring nightmare is constantly looming and is inescapable, creating an anxious anticipation and this is all suppose to make sense some how. But, even with the often subliminal bombardment, the surreal story eventually reveals itself and falls into place. Though no one would judge you for wanting to revisit, possibly more than twice as Inception is one of those films that exposes more little nuances each time.
Visually, the film is aesthetically impressive in all aspects of the film making process. The cinematography and architectural foundations of the story make this lucid dreamscape world so believable and some of the action sequences are truly mind blowing. Nolan’s dedication to his films and the art form as a whole is evidenced very much with Inception, making this being a labour of love. So much so, Nolan has no second unit; not the first time he’s omitted that department, but it proves his absolute attention to detail.
Whilst the film may feel heavy with visual effects, Nolan, gladly has a distaste for CGI and would rather practical and traditional methods of delivering the desired effect over computer generated visuals. Much of the film’s most notable sequences, such as the hotel’s rotating hallway was all done physically real with Gordon-Levitt performing his own stunts leaving quite disoriented. The tilting bar was actually a set purposefully built and tipped at 20-25 degrees with not only the actors but auditioned extras being able to take the sway and act normal when everything else in their environment was not. The paradoxical staircase, the flooding Japanese castle, the mountain fortress and snow scenes were captured practically as oppose to visually enhanced or computer created. The studio even suggested making the film 3D but Nolan refused, believing it was distract the audience away from the story.
And finally, what completes the film, making it a masterpiece is Hans Zimmer immense, harrowing and often looming score. But putting his work aside for a moment, it’s Édith Paif’s song “Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien/I Have No Regrets” that is the pivotal piece here, doubling up as both a cue for the characters/audience and being more than just the foundation to the score. If you listen careful, you might hear the very subtle and slow hint of Paif’s song in Zimmer’s work. It even goes deeper into the film and the songs playtime is 2 minutes and 28 seconds echoing the movie’s runtime of 2 hours and 28 minutes. And to think, Nolan was going to scrap the song due to the pure coincidence of Cottilard having portrayed Paif in Le Vie En Rose and not wanting to mislead or give off the wrong assumptions. Thankfully Zimmer managed to convince him to keep it, possibly sounding his protest by showing how the song influenced the rest of the score. It’s certainly now one of Zimmer’s most iconic and recognisable scores, and yet, whilst having that Zimmer’esque sound to it, it’s a stand alone piece of music. The creation process was quite interesting, actually doing the opposite of having music synthesised electronically, Zimmer did the score electronically first to then have a real, grand orchestra synthesise that. Gathering the largest brass section and pulling in Johnny Marr from The Smiths; Zimmer composed the perfect ambience and atmospheric tones for the film. Tracks like “Dream is Collapsing”, “Time” and the “Dream Within a Dream” are all very different but similar at the same time. A special mention has to go out to Zack Hemsey, who actually composed the music “Mind Heist” that accompanied the trailer and is sometimes mistaken for being the work of Zimmer or part of the finished score.
There’s is no surprise to the amount of awards this film won taking home four oscars and three BAFTAs with even more nominations. And both academies concur on the sound, production design and visual effects. It was also the last film that was shot on celluloid, until La La Land in 2016 to be awarded an Oscar for Best Cinematography. All the films in between were digital.
Nolan, with the help of DiCaprio, his production team, cast and Zimmer’s score; has made an incredible philosophical thriller but in the format of a heist movie. And like a mature rival to The Matrix, it’s loaded with conundrums and unanswered questions. Especially the cliffhanging, anxiety-inducing, closing scene that still to this day, is a point of discussion and debate between fans and viewers. Nolan has managed to layer time and psychological relativity successfully without the story burying itself under its own complexities. All of these elements, overlapping and complimenting each other is what makes Inception not only Nolan’s finest, but one of the best science fiction thrillers of all time. Something that Philip K. Dick, Clarke or even Asimov would have been proud of.
Running Time: 10
The Cast: 9
Job Description: 10
Extra Bonus Points: 10 for so much! Being everything that it is and to uniquely achieve that.
As for the ending, Nolan has never offered any clarification himself, wanting the audience to make up their own interpretation, possibly putting us all into our own perplexing limbo. But there’s been a number of interesting theories out there, even one from Michael Caine himself, who has mentioned it a couple of times, that if he was in the scene, it’s real, and if he’s not, it’s a dream. But that’s still not anything concrete that proves either outcome. There is one concept I do like, and this is Cobb’s wedding ring theory. I can’t credit who came up with this observation but it does make a lot of sense. The spinning top is actually Mal’s totem and not Cobb’s. Cobb’s according to the theory, is his wedding ring. Something that he doesn’t wear in the real world. So this with Caine’s theory and the eventual faces of the children being exposed, notably by different actors; could means the ending is actually real. But maybe some of us prefer to not ever know.
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