Inception (2010) Director: Christopher Nolan
Inception is an unforgettable mind-bending thriller. It is an extremely disorienting film. Christopher Nolan takes a warped and challenging plot by recreating the tropes of classic action movies, and reformulating them in an obscure dreamworld. Nolan originally brought a rudimentary for a film wherein dreams can be stolen and erased to Warner Bros., but he ultimately decided to cut his bona fides on other films first, so he completed his amazing Batman trilogy before returning to the Inception project. He was influenced by many movies like The Matrix when creating this extraordinary, fantastical world.
The film has an all-star cast, including Leonardo DiCaprio, who plays Mr. Cobb, an illegal corporate raider, a dream builder and stealer. He steals other people’s dreams and locates their secrets for a profit using secret military technology. He is hired by a Japanese billionaire to dig deep into another man’s subconscious not to steal, but rather to introduce a new idea so well that he believes it is his own. The man is the son of a corporate rival. The offer is appealing to Cobb as he is in a forced exile from his wife and children. He assembles an all-star team to dig into the rival’s subconscious. One is Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) another is a young architectural genius, Ariadne (played by Ellen Page, so named for the legendary Greek woman who helped Theseus escape from the Minotaur). Cobb teaches Ariadne (and also the audience) about the dreamworld. One scene of particular note is when Paris is bent upwards, and folds in on itself. They capture the Japanese businessman target and enter several layers of depth into his subconscious, rather dangerously as one can easily become lost in the dream-world of limbo, never returning to reality. Indeed, this is what happened to Cobb’s wife (a fact we learn that is buried in his subconscious). She never wanted to return to reality, but Cobb forced her to, and she then killed herself for which Cobb feels great guilt. His wife’s name is “Mal” -which is a word in the Édith Piaf which is featured so prominently, 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 escape the limbo of their dreamworld, 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. 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 spinning top left on the table (if it stops he is in reality, if it continues spinning indefinitely he remains in a dream).
The score 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 that plays just before a “kick,” or moments before waking someone up. 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. The film plays on modern views of the conscious and subconscious, or even the unconscious (a la Freud and Jung and others). Reality is never certain. The cinematography of the film is utterly astounding, borrowing techniques from Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. The film explores the depths of the human mind -how might implanting ideas in people’s minds be used or abused? Dreams and dream-making are used as metaphors for the experience of the work of art, the medium of film. You never remember how a dream started, and hours can pass in the space of minutes. Inception was certainly a challenge as well as a risk for Nolan and he proved himself victorious.