Inception (2010) Director: Christopher Nolan

“Once An Idea Has Taken Hold Of The Brain, It’s Almost Impossible To Eradicate.”

A man in a suit with a gun in his right hand is flanked by five other individuals in the middle of a street which, behind them, is folded upwards. Leonardo DiCaprio's name and those of other cast members are shown above the words "Your Mind Is the Scene of the Crime". The title of the film "INCEPTION", film credits, and theatrical and IMAX release dates are shown at the bottom.


Mining the depths of the conscious, subconscious, and even the unconscious (a la Freud and Jung and others), Christopher Nolan’s Inception delivers a high-octane thriller while still maintaining his unpredictable brand of intellectually rigorous film-making. In Inception, reality is never certain. If dreams can be implanted in people’s minds, how might this be used or abused? Dreams and dream-making are employed as metaphors for the experience of art, or perhaps more precisely, the medium of film. Watching a movie is like having a little dream implanted inside your subconscious. In a way, film-makers implant these little dreams in their audiences via moving pictures, time compression, editing, and music. You never quite remember how a dream started, and hours can pass in the space of minutes. One minute you are on the streets of Paris, the next you are speeding toward a snowy mountaintop outpost. However, Inception is also a jarring film. Nolan deliberately confuses our orientation, as if to constantly remind us that we are merely trapped in someone else’s dream. Are you ever fully awake? Or do you even wish to be?

Christopher Nolan originally brought a rudimentary idea for a film wherein dreams can be stolen and erased to Warner Bros., but he ultimately decided to cut his chops on other films first, so he completed his amazing Batman trilogy before returning to the Inception project.

Inception boasts an all-star cast, including Leonardo DiCaprio who plays Mr. Dom Cobb, an illegal corporate raider, a dream builder who steals other people’s dreams and locates their secrets for profit using secret military technology. However, this time he is hired by a Japanese billionaire named Saito (Ken Watanabe) not to steal, but rather to introduce a new idea into a man’s subconscious such that he believes it is his own. The man in question is Robert Fischer (Cillian Murphy), son of Saito’s corporate rival, an elite Australian family based on Rupert Murdoch. If Cobb succeeds, he will be allowed to return to his kids. This offer is appealing to Cobb because he has been forced into some sort of exile from his wife and children. Apparently, Cobb and his wife Mall (Marion Cotillard) traveled deep into a dream where they grew old together after building their own beautiful world. However, was unable to re-acclimate to reality, she kept hoping to wake up again after Cobb tinkered with her totem, so she committed suicide and Cobb was framed so was forced to flee the United States and his beloved children. He has been unable to forgive himself while the presence of thee femme fatale Mal lingers deep inside his subconscious.

Thus Cobb assembles an all-star team to dig into Robert’s subconscious, including a pharmacologist named Yusuf (Dileep Rao), a cocky gambler named Eames (Tom Hardy), the “nuts and bolts” partner Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), and a young architectural genius named Ariadne (played by Eliot then-Ellen Page whose character is so-named for the legendary Greek figure who helped Theseus escape from the Minotaur). Cobb teaches Ariadne (and also the audience) about constructs in the dreamworld and the dangers of when the subconscious becomes aware it has been invaded. One scene of particular note is when Paris is bent upwards, and folds in on itself. They capture Robert and enter several layers of depth into his subconscious, rather dangerously, as one can easily become lost in the world of limbo, never again returning to reality. Indeed, this is what happened to Mal –a word which is prominently featured in Édith Piaf’s song and as it turns out actress Marion Cotillard once played the role of Édith Piaf in another film (2007’s La Vie en rose). As Inception crescendos in an intense and multi-layered scene, we delve deep into Cobb’s subconscious. We learn that he once implanted an idea in Mal’s head that they needed to die to order to escape limbo, but the idea tortured her in real life, ultimately leading to her suicide. This is the deep guilt Cobb bears. At any rate, each layer of a dream within a dream is a nod to some of Christopher Nolan’s favorite films: On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, The Shining, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and Heat among others. In the end, we are unsure if Cobb stays in limbo or has returned to his family. The film ends with Cobb returning home from his flight with his totem top left spinning on a table (if it stops he is in reality, if it continues spinning indefinitely he remains in a dream). Perhaps he does not care anymore. Both he and Robert Fischer have their own catharsis –Robert reconnects with his father and Cobb is reunited with his children.

The central question is the distinction between dream and reality –was all of this merely Cobb’s dream? Is Mal still alive? As with many Nolan films, there are a myriad of clues guiding our way. In particular, Cobb’s wedding ring can be spotted in his dreams, perhaps that is his own totem whereas the spinning top was Mal’s totem, and in dreams he only sees the backs of his children but in reality (and at the end of the film) he finally sees their faces again.

The incredible score for this film was written by Hans Zimmer, with echoes of Ennio Morricone as Johnny Mar (guitarist for The Smiths) plays the lead tune. Zimmer’s score actually reflects a slowed-down orchestration of Édith Piaf’s “Non, je ne regrette rien” (“No, I Regret Nothing”), which is the song playing just before a “kick,” or moments before waking someone up from a dream. The song is about regret, an appropriate theme because characters in Inception grapple with their own guilt and regrets which are buried deep in their subconscious. Interestingly enough, Nolan timed the whole movie to this song at 2 hours and 28 minutes, while the song plays at 2 minutes and 28 seconds.

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