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Christopher Nolan: Inception

img  Tobias Fischer

Produced by Nolan in collaboration with his wife Emma Thomas as well as Jordan Goldberg, ‘Inception’ is his first original director’s screenplay since successful debut ‘Following’ (1998). In ‘Following', a very particular thief named Cobb appeared. The main character of ‘Inception’, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, is also called Cobb: he is a 'thief' specializing in stealing memories and confidential information during episodes of sleep through the manipulation of dreams. He is now hired by the powerful Saito (Ken Watanabe) to complete an even more insidious type of crime, i.e., the graft of a recurring thought in the mind of one of Saito’s business-competitors, Robert Fischer (Cillian Murphy), and he is facing the challenge despite potentially lethal risks and the ghosts of the past that still torment him.

Acclaimed by critics, ‘Inception’ sparked a lively debate on the Internet because of its representation of dreams, judged by some critics too linear and ‘logical’. From Alfred Hitchcock to the Coen Brothers, from Tim Burton to Federico Fellini through Ridley Scott and Terry Gilliam, the ‘dream’ has always given filmmakers the opportunity to invent new worlds and new design solutions, without having to comply with the laws of physics and plausibility because the dream is, in fact, traditionally the closest thing to cinema itself, a ‘different’ world offering refuge to runaways. A place where you invent something not even existing yet. A place where you can forget reality. Where you can create a brand new reality from scratch. Nolan chose to ‘trick’ the viewer and the characters by building a dreamlike dimension so close to reality that forgetting it is just a dream can be deathly. Time is dilated in Nolan’s dreams, but seemingly runs at the usual speed and risks remaining trapped in an unreal dimension sometimes hard to escape. A dimension nourished by fears, memories, concerns, in one word by the unconscious of the dreamer himself, returned with a gradually increasing aggressiveness. The set design by Guy Dryas, the costumes by Jeffrey Kurland and the photography by Wally Pfister support this ‘hyper-reality’ by focusing on the removal of elements, lights, colours, to further emphasize the moment when the dream ‘explodes’ and collapses, revealing itself for what it is.

We've already mentioned Terry Gilliam. Nolan was actually inspired by  Gilliam, and even more by Michel Gondry, two colleagues who in recent years have intelligently explored dream, rêverie, mental projections and memory in works like ‘Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind’ (2004), ‘Tideland’ (2005), ‘The Science of Sleep’ (2006) and lately ‘The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus’ (2009). Other titles that may come to the viewer’s mind while watching ‘Inception’ are of course ‘The Matrix’ (1999) by the Wachowski Brothers, David Cronenberg’s ‘eXistenZ’ (1999) and Kathryn Bigelow’s ‘Strange Days’ (1995). A key element of the movie does not stem from cinematic history or literature, but from graphic arts instead: on more than one occasion, ‘Inception’ specifically mentions the work of artist M.C. Escher by speaking of a ‘paradox’. ‘Paradox’ literally means ‘to go against the common opinion’ and Nolan is not afraid to do so by building and destroying mental worlds one after another: they are increasingly complex, articulate, rich in details and at the same time false, fragile, imperfect. Just like a dream. Just like a movie.

The charm of ‘Inception’ lies in this ambiguity, which can induce a mental experience that goes beyond the mere narrative of the plot. Beyond the 'mission: impossible' entrusted to Cobb, beyond the thriller, beyond the chase, beyond the action scenes and the exotic locations, the deliberately open ending is yet another ‘challenge’, an invitation to go over the film, to rethink about what happened, to choose for ourselves the meaning of what we saw. Possibly taking our totems at hand, just in case.

By Azzurra Camoglio

Homepage: Inception Microsite

Azzurra Camoglio is a Freelance Translator and Movie Critics living in Berlin. Follow her at Twitter and visit her blog.

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