Inception: In between reality and the dream | Sunday Observer

Inception: In between reality and the dream

11 December, 2022

Inception is a 2010 science fiction action film written and directed by Christopher Nolan, who also produced the film with Emma Thomas, his wife.

The film stars Leonardo DiCaprio as a professional thief who steals information by infiltrating the subconscious of his targets. He is offered a chance to have his criminal history erased as payment for the implantation of another person’s idea into a target’s subconscious. The ensemble cast includes Ken Watanabe, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Marion Cotillard, Elliot Page, Tom Hardy, Dileep Rao, Cillian Murphy, Tom Berenger, and Michael Caine.

After the 2002 completion of ’Insomnia’, Nolan presented to Warner Bros. a written 80-page treatment for a horror film envisioning ‘Dream Stealers’, based on lucid dreaming. Deciding he needed more experience before tackling a production of this magnitude and complexity, Nolan shelved the project and instead worked on 2005’s ’Batman Begins’, 2006’s ’The Prestige’, and ’The Dark Knight’ in 2008. The treatment was revised over six months and was purchased by Warner in February 2009. Inception was filmed in six countries, beginning in Tokyo on June 19 and ending in Canada on November 22. Its official budget was $160 million, split between Warner Bros. and Legendary. Nolan’s reputation and success with ’The Dark Knight’ helped secure the film’s US$100 million in advertising expenditure.

‘Inception’s’ premiere was held in London on July 8, 2010; it was released in both conventional and IMAX theaters beginning on July 16, 2010. ’Inception’ grossed over $828 million worldwide, becoming the fourth-highest-grossing film of 2010. Considered one of the best films of the 2010s, ’Inception’ won four Academy Awards (Best Cinematography, Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing, and Best Visual Effects) and was nominated for four more: Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay, Best Art Direction, and Best Original Score.

Reality and dreams

In ’Inception’, Nolan wanted to explore “the idea of people sharing a dream space. That gives you the ability to access somebody’s unconscious mind. What would that be used and abused for?” The majority of the film’s plot takes place in these interconnected dream worlds. This structure creates a framework where actions in the real or dream worlds ripple across others.

The dream is always in a state of production, and shifts across the levels as the characters navigate it. By contrast, the world of ’The Matrix’ (1999) is an authoritarian, computer-controlled one, alluding to theories of social control developed by thinkers Michel Foucault and Jean Baudrillard. However, according to one interpretation Nolan’s world has more in common with the works of Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari.

David Denby in ’The New Yorker’ compared Nolan’s cinematic treatment of dreams to Luis Buñuel’s in ’Belle de Jour’ (1967) and ’The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie’ (1972). He criticized Nolan’s “literal-minded” action level sequencing compared to Buñuel, who “silently pushed us into reveries and left us alone to enjoy our wonderment, but Nolan is working on so many levels of representation at once that he has to lay in pages of dialogue just to explain what’s going on.” The latter captures “the peculiar malign intensity of actual dreams.”

Deirdre Barrett, a dream researcher at Harvard University, said that Nolan did not get every detail accurate regarding dreams, but their illogical, rambling, disjointed plots would not make for a great thriller anyway. However, “he did get many aspects right,” she said, citing the scene in which a sleeping Cobb is shoved into a full bath, and in the dream world water gushes into the windows of the building, waking him up. “That’s very much how real stimuli get incorporated, and you very often wake up right after that intrusion.”

Nolan himself said, “I tried to work that idea of manipulation and management of a conscious dream being a skill that these people have. Really the script is based on those common, very basic experiences and concepts, and where can those take you? And the only outlandish idea that the film presents, really, is the existence of a technology that allows you to enter and share the same dream as someone else.”

Dreams and cinema

Others have argued that the film is itself a metaphor for filmmaking, and that the filmgoing experience itself, images flashing before one’s eyes in a darkened room, is akin to a dream. Writing in ’Wired’, Jonah Lehrer supported this interpretation and presented neurological evidence that brain activity is strikingly similar during film-watching and sleeping.

In both, the visual cortex is highly active and the prefrontal cortex, which deals with logic, deliberate analysis, and self-awareness, is quiet. Paul argued that the experience of going to a picture house is itself an exercise in shared dreaming, particularly when viewing ’Inception’: the film’s sharp cutting between scenes forces the viewer to create larger narrative arcs to stitch the pieces together. This demand of production parallel to consumption of the images, on the part of the audience is analogous to dreaming itself. As in the film’s story, in a cinema one enters into the space of another’s dream, in this case Nolan’s, as with any work of art, one’s reading of it is ultimately influenced by one’s own subjective desires and subconscious.

At Bir-Hakeim bridge in Paris, Ariadne creates an illusion of infinity by adding facing mirrors underneath its struts, Stephanie Dreyfus in ’la Croix’ asked “Is this not a strong, beautiful metaphor for the cinema and its power of illusion?”

In popular culture

Numerous pop and hip hop songs reference the film, including Common’s ‘Blue Sky’, N.E.R.D.’s ‘Hypnotize U’, XV’s ‘The Kick’, Black Eyed Peas’ ‘Just Can’t Get Enough’, Lil Wayne’s ‘6 Foot 7 Foot’, Jennifer Lopez’s ‘On the Floor’, and B.o.B’s ‘Strange Clouds’. While T.I. had ’Inception’-based artwork on two of his mixtapes. An instrumental track by Joe Budden is titled ‘Inception.’ The animated series ’South Park’ parodies the film in the show’s tenth episode of its fourteenth season, titled ‘Insheeption’. The film was also an influence for Ariana Grande’s video for “No Tears Left to Cry.” ‘Lawnmower Dog’, the second episode of the animated comedy show ’Rick and Morty’, parodied the film. In an episode of ’The Simpsons’, named ‘How I Wet Your Mother’, the plot spoofs Inception with various scenes parodying moments from the film. The showrunners of the television series ’The Flash’ said its season 4 finale was inspired by ’Inception’. In February 2020, American singer-songwriter Taylor Swift released a lyric video for her single ‘The Man’, which featured visuals bearing resemblance to the film. The song also mentions DiCaprio in its lyrics.

The film’s title has been colloquialized as the suffix -ception, which can be jokingly appended to a noun to indicate a layering, nesting, or recursion of the thing in question.