Movie Reviews

Inception: Still Dreaming

It has been 10 years since Christopher Nolan's dream-stealing epic astounded moviegoers, and a decade on Inception still remains one of his best.

MAY 25th, 2020


Director: Christopher Nolan | Cert: 12 | Runtime: 2h 28m

© Warner Bros.


n early 2009 movie fans became intrigued when Warner Bros announced they had secured the rights to British director Christopher Nolan’s latest screenplay. After the hugely successful The Dark Knight, many expected the incumbent project to be the highly anticipated sequel. With Nolan’s niche for secrecy, the famed director would neither confirm, nor deny the swirling rumours.

It wouldn’t be until production on the elusive film began that Christopher Nolan thwarted fans hopes. His latest project would not be the much-requested sequel, but an original idea deriving from a pitch made in 2002 to the studio. With approval given, Nolan began writing the script expecting the development to take only months – it would instead take eight years.

The iconic 'folding' city dream sequence - © Warner Bros

Through the detailed and intricate expansion from pitch to completed script, Christopher Nolan’s dream-stealing masterpiece Inception was born. Though, as with most movie ideas, the final project looked quite different to the original concept.

Nolan’s initial treatment was set around a horror film, envisioning ‘dream stealers’ invading the mind of the characters whilst lucid dreaming (whereby the dreamer is aware they are dreaming.) Whilst Warner Bros signed off the concept, Nolan felt he hadn’t yet gained the experience to tackle such a large and complex movie. Instead, he would ‘retire’ Inception and focus on developing Batman Begins, The Prestige and The Dark Knight.

It wouldn’t be until 2009 when the idea of Inception returned, and with a newly sealed budget of over $100 million, Nolan set about beginning production of his long-planned idea.

One important aspect in his vision for Inception was who would bring the characters inhabiting his dream-stealing world to life? Having tried for years to find a project that both Nolan and acclaimed actor Leonardo DiCaprio could collaborate on together, the director presented the script to the Academy Award Winner.

DiCaprio loved the idea stating he was “intrigued by the concept—the dream-heist notion and how the character's unlocking of his dreamworld ultimately affects his real life.” Though he initially was onboard, the actor did still struggle with aspects of Nolan’s vision for Inception. “you really had to have Chris in person, to try to articulate some of the things that have been swirling around his head for the last eight years.” Unbeknown to Leonardo, producer Emma Thomas had stated clearly that DiCaprio was the only choice for the role of the lead part, Dom Cobb, and that the future of the movie had ultimately relied on his involvement.

Leonardo DiCaprio as Dom Cobbs - © Warner Bros

With a juggernaut Hollywood star like Leonardo DiCaprio signed up, the resulting cast formed quickly. Joseph Gordon-Levitt was cast as Cobb’s partner Arthur after a successful and extremely fortunate choice of outfit. Having been provided a basic short brief on the character before his audition, Gordon-Levitt decided that he should wear a suit, unknowingly matching the producer’s vision for the character perfectly.

British actor Tom Hardy joined the cast as Eames, a sharp-tongued associate of Cobb. Hardy had always believed he was given the role after Christopher Nolan had seen his performance in the gritty and surreal biographical film Bronson. This however wasn’t the case. Arriving for his first day on set, Hardy learned that it was his performance in 2008’s RocknRolla which had bagged him the role.

Tom Hardy as Eames and Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Arthur - © Warner Bros

One member who Nolan deemed was essential to appear was Michael Caine, who has starred in almost all the British director’s movies since Batman Begins. Although the veteran actor only appears for three minutes of screen time in Inception, he provides one of the movies most emotive performances.

Whilst the producers managed to hire most of their preferred cast, one role which would prove trickier was Mal – Cobb’s tragic wife. DiCaprio had stated that his former Titanic co-star Kate Winslet was the perfect choice for the role, though Winslet herself disagreed, believing she wouldn’t be able to do justice to the role. Instead, Marion Cotillard auditioned for the part and Nolan fell in love with her nuanced and delicate performance of the mentally tortured wife.

With the cast in place, production began in Tokyo and traversed to another five differing locations, including Britain, Canada, Morocco, Los Angeles, and France. As was a staple of Nolan’s movies, he refused to hire a second unit team, ensuring he had creative control over the shoot.

In 2010, a year after production had ended, Inception was released to universal praise. Many cited the movie as a thrilling, surreal and interesting concept, with a formidable cast and ingenious special effects. Winning four Academy Awards for its technical feats, Inception has since become a benchmark for filmmakers to strive for.

Marion Cotillard as Mal, Cobb's late-wife - © Warner Bros

Though whilst the casting and visuals are celebrated, perhaps one of the most enduring elements from Inception is the music. Composed by Hans Zimmer, the movie’s soundtrack has become a modern classic. Largely seen as Zimmer’s greatest work, the final track ‘Time’ is one of the most downloaded pieces of film music in history.

When watching Inception, it is easy to see where Christopher Nolan garnered his inspiration. As a huge fan of the James Bond films, Nolan based the final dream sequence in the snow-covered mountains on his favourite Bond movie, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

Throughout the film there are numerous factors which demonstrate how intricate the detail of Nolan’s vision is. The iconic French song, Non, je ne regrette rien is an integral part of Inception, featuring at pivotal moments of the movie. To honour the song, Nolan specifically indicated that Inception’s runtime sits at two hours and twenty-eight minutes. This is to coincide with the two minutes and twenty-eight seconds of playtime of Édith Piaf infamous love song.

Another planned anomaly is the name of each of the main characters – Dom, Robert, Eames, Arthur, Mal and Saito. Taking the first letter from each of their names spells ‘DREAMS’, the concept which drives Inception’s plot.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt performed all his own stunts in the corridor scene - © Warner Bros

Whilst there are numerous interesting facts which surround the movie, in the aftermath of Christopher Nolan’s epic dream-stealing masterpiece, Inception has cemented itself as a unique and unbeatable film which explores the human experience unlike any other. Combining the ingenious idea of descending into the manipulative world of dreams and effectively projecting that notion onto the big screen, shows the talent of Nolan’s filmmaking.

Inception was a project almost eight years in the making, and yet it has continuously sustained interest a decade later. Christopher Nolan broke the mould of what a movie could achieve, and proved he is a filmmaker of the ages. Inception showed that anything is possible, and not all is what it seems. It still manages to encapsulate the unbrokered imaginations of the mind and limitless capacities of the subconscious. Inception is, in essence, still dreaming.

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