Christopher Nolan is often praised as a visionary director and master story teller. Today he is most commonly thought of as the mind behind the Dark Knight trilogy, but I seem to be part of a minority who think that those films were over-hyped and that they pale in comparison to his other work. I believe that if you want a true demonstration of Nolan’s visionary directing, you need look no further than his 2010 blockbuster Inception. Shot, edited, and released in the 4 year gap between The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises, I believe that Inception should have eclipsed both of those films in popularity, but it only seemed to be a hit during its initial release. Since then it has been relegated to the realm of “pop culture moments to reference for an probably-not-funny joke” and I think it deserves a bit better than that.
We follow a rag-tag team as they attempt to plant an idea in the mind of a CEO through dream sharing technology. In charge of the mission is Cobb, who as well as stealing corporate secrets with this technology for a living, is grappling with the death of his wife Mal. At its core Inception is a very human story, centering on Cobb and how he deals with (or fails to deal with) a tragic life. Whilst Mal is dead, he refuses to let her go, meaning that within Cobb’s mind there is a projection of who his wife used to be. This projection seems entirely focused on making Cobb suffer as much as possible, even willing to go as far as murder, which puts the entire team at risk. A death in the dreamstate would mean death in reality, which is a fantastic addition to the story because it provides a further sense of urgency and means that the team needs an element of luck. This team is already fighting against the clock, and the CEO’s subconscious defenses to this unstable variable adds a final layer of tension. It also adds a layer of intrigue to Cobb, whose character we gradually learn more about as the plot progresses. Who exactly is he? What is he running from? What did happen to his wife? All we really know is that he cant return home to his two children in the USA, and that his wife is dead. But all is revealed as the film nears its end.
Cobb remains the focus of the plot, but he is only one member of a larger team. It’s clear that Arthur, his associate and the closest thing to a friend Cobb seems to have, and who is responsible for all of the pre-mission research, knows enough about Cobb to know that Mal’s projection is a colossal risk, but he doesn’t feel comfortable enough calling him out on it, opting to prioritise the mission. The role of professional forger is filled by Eames, who specialises in identity theft making him ideal for impersonations within the dreamstate. The beautiful thing about dreams is that you can look however you want, and Eames has mastered this technique which allows him to look like however he needs to for the mission. To maintain the dreamstate for an extended period of time requires a special concoction, which is where Yusuf comes in; not only does he provide the necessary delicacies, but he accompanies the rest of the team into the first level of the dreamstate. This entire operation requires no small amount of funding, which is brought by Mr Saito, whom Cobb had previously tried to steal secrets from. His inclusion here is penance for that, and the CEO being incepted is his rival. The final addition to the team is Adriane, who is the only newcomer to this realm of dream espionage, and is brought in to design the dreams themselves. She is what we would describe as the “audience stand-in” who exists primarily to explain the nuances of the plot. There’s no reason that there couldn’t already be a professional dream-builder, but I will cut Nolan a little slack here. Inception is not difficult for me to understand, having grown up with films featuring time travel, but I can understand why some audience members may need a little bit of assistance. Some people may see the inclusion of a character to explain the plot as slightly pretentious, and occasionally it may feel that way, but I have seen audiences confused by simpler plots so I’ll give Nolan the benefit of the doubt.
Perhaps the largest impact that Inception had on mainstream media came from its score. Composed by the legendary Hans Zimmer and featuring Edith Piaf’s song Non, je ne Regrette Rien, the score is now best remembered for its BWONG. If you’ve seen any action movie trailer or watched any action movie released after 2010, you’ve heard the infamous BWONG, although my personal favourite remains in a 2014 YouTube sketch by Thomas “Tomska” Ridgewell titled The Hole. The incorporation of elements from Non, je ne Regrette Rien into the score is a wonderful example of the score complimenting its film, as it plays a pivotal role in the plot. The timing of this song is what allows the team to know how long they have left in each level of the dreamstate, where each level dilates time further and further. An hour in reality is 12 hours at the first level, which is six days on the second level, which is two and a half months at the third level, which is two and a half years in Limbo (essentially dream purgatory). It’s quite an extreme length to go to in order to squeeze as much time out of two and a half hours of runtime, as possible and I kind of love it. Credit is also due for the effects team who, as in all of Nolan’s films, rely primarily on practical effects. The stand-out moment remains Arthur fighting in the spinning corridor which remains a magnificent feat of filmmaking.
I have done my best to keep the review free of spoilers, but for this last segment it is unavoidable. If you still haven’t seen it, then I highly recommend it, but this is your last SPOILER WARNING.
Christopher Nolan has said that of all his work, he gets asked about the ending to Inception the most, and has stated that the ending is deliberately ambiguous. The final shot is of Cobb finally reuniting with his children while his spinning top spins in the foreground, seemingly perpetually. The spinning top never topples in a dream, so the implication here is that Cobb is still dreaming, and I think it’s important to note two things. Firstly, whether or not it topples here is irrelevant because Cobb isn’t paying attention to it. He has finally moved on from Inception and his wife and hiding in his dreams. He doesn’t care if this is a dream, because he is with his children and they are his reality. Regardless of the circumstances, he is finally ready to move on and be happy with his family. Secondly, the spinning top wobbles in the final seconds of screentime which it could only do in reality and anybody who thinks otherwise is kidding themselves.
Until Next Time…