'Inception': Behind the scenes of a movie about movies -- and the mind of its maker

inception-box-officeImage Credit: Stephen VaughanJust a few weeks ago, the buzz on director Christopher Nolan’s new film Inception was that it might be too complex and too difficult to become a true blockbuster hit with mainstream audiences. Today, the buzz on the helmer’s puzzle-box thriller about thieves who steal ideas from dreams is that audiences can’t get enough of it. The film opened last weekend at $62.8 million and could reach $140 million at the box office by the end of this weekend. It’s tempting to say something like “maybe Inception wasn’t as daunting as advertised” or “maybe audiences aren’t as stupid as assumed”—although both are surely true. Perhaps it’s what Roger Ebert (@ebertchicago) recently tweeted: “Inception has entered into the category of a film people think they must see so they can participate in dinner conversations.” (Of course, that dinner conversation could be rather contentious, as not everyone thinks Inception is all that dreamy. Case in point: Our own Owen Gleiberman, who was less than impressed.)

Like Nolan’s other movies Memento and The Prestige, Inception is a lean-forward-and-pay-attention experience that takes chances with the narrative and invites various interpretations about its themes, meaning, and plot. My initial thought was that Nolan had crafted an elaborate allegory for filmmaking and moviegoing. There’s a lot to be said about this theme—and it’s already being said, including Devin Faraci’s smart and lengthy essay at CHUD.com.

In the new issue of Entertainment Weekly, which features Inception on the cover, Nolan says that the metaphor for cinema developed organically as he wrote the script over a 10-year period. Cobb’s crew of mind-hackers don’t infiltrate people’s “real” dreams—they actually build ersatz dreams and place them inside people’s heads, in the same way moviemakers craft worlds that are transmitted into our brains via movie projector. Nolan explained that each member of the team serves a role that has a movie analog. The Architect (Ellen Page) would be the production designer. The Forger (Tom Hardy) would be the actor. The Point Man (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) would be The Producer. The Extractor (DiCaprio) would be the director. And The Mark (Cillian Murphy) would be us—the audience. “In trying to write a team-based creative process, I wrote the one I know,” says Nolan.

There’s actually a great deal more of Nolan in the film. Inception is also a reflection of his artistic life. The various dream scenarios are implied homages to his favorite movies (including 2001: A Space Odyssey) and filmmakers, including Alfred Hitchcock, Ridley Scott, and Michael Mann. He also says he can relate very much to his hero, Cobb, who is at risk of becoming lost in dreams and must fight to reconnect with reality and return to his family. “I can lose myself in my job very easily,” says Nolan. “It’s rare that you can identify yourself so clearly in a film. This film is very clear for me.”

For more on Inception, pick up the new issue of Entertainment Weekly, on stands July 23rd.

Comments (32 total) Add your comment
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  • poop

    That’s why Leo looks like Nolan.

    • movieman

      People often associate ‘Inception’ with ‘The Matrix’. I would associate ‘Inception’ with ’8/12′, it’s a film about film making. Cobb is the director, Arthur is the producer, Ariadne is the script writer, Eames is the actor, Yusif is the special effects supervisor, and Saito is the financier.

      • Devin Faraci

        Thanks for stealing my idea on Chud, movieman.

      • coolhandkate

        Nolan says as much in the EW cover story article. When he needed to write a team, he wrote the creative team he knew–film.

      • Anne

        I kept thinking about “Blow-Up” and “8 1/2″ while watching “Inception” — the best films are about film!

    • Devin Faraci

      Owen Gleiberpoop is a moron. Remember, this is the guy who gave an “F” to O Brother Where Art Thou.

      • DT

        Yes, it’s strange that EW keeps referencing Glierman’s review, as if those on the staff who liked the movie want to keep pointing out what an idiot he is.

      • DFSF

        O Brother was a big steaming pile of tripe.

      • Won’t be Reading to Owen’s Review Ever Again

        When it’s someone’s job to critique movies intelligently and their intelligence is not high enough to get such a smart film (that makes sense if you simply listen and pay attention as well as use your brain) as Inception, I say, they’ve lost a lot of creditability. Like it or not is one thing, but you not understand it says a lot about the person’s lack of imagination, attention to their own dreams, and plain smarts.

      • Steve

        OK. This is absurd. Just because a man critiques a movie you enjoy does not make him an idiot. If you actually READ his thoughts on “Inception” they are well voiced, fully formulated, and exceedingly intelligents, as are all his reviews. What makes a critic a good critic is when they can validate their positive or negative criticism of a film, and I think Owen does that 99% of the time. He clearly “got” “Inception” he just didn’t think it was a phenomenal film (I happen to agree, it really left alot to be desired. Yes I “got” it. and yes I enjoyed it. But it was not great. I think soimeone who harps about Ineption’s greatness is one who is at fault. Read the numerous critiques on the film and maybe you’ll begin to understand what it lacks in terms of plot, charchter, and emotional development). Again I do not always agree wtih Gleiberman’s taste but i do think he is an extraordinarily good critic. Maybe it is you who can not understand his critiques, not he who cannot understand the movies you so passionately defend.

      • Mel

        @Won’t Be Reading, perhaps someone whose premise is “I’m smarter than everyone” should check to see if “creditability” is actually a word.

  • Arabang

    Inception is becoming like true blood and twi.The articles are so many.

  • movieman

    People often associate ‘Inception’ with ‘The Matrix’. I would associate ‘Inception’ with ‘8/12′, it’s a film about film making. Cobb is the director, Arthur is the producer, Ariadne is the script writer, Eames is the actor, Yusif is the special effects supervisor, and Saito is the financier.

  • Necro

    Nolan, just keep doing what you’re doing.

    • gee

      i agree haha =p

  • Terry

    With all the absolute garbage being pumped out as mass appeal cinema, I am glad that this thought provoking and multi-layered
    film has proved that there are still many intelligent movie goers out there.

  • Madd

    I’m glad that at least one other person in the world (Nolan) likes 2001: A Space Odyssey besides me.
    And I love this other interpretation that Inception is actually Nolan’s 8 1/2. I’m loving all these theories about the film!

    • Lisa Simpson

      You and Nolan are not alone. I love “2001”, and have ever since I saw it in the movie theater. Like “Inception”, it’s a good mind #*&@.

      It’s interesting to see “Inception” as a metaphor for moviemaking and, by extension, the creative process. That may be why, even though the movie is populated with many characters, it still semes to be a very lonely film, as the creative process is ultimately very lonely as the creator only has himself and his mind.

    • Ceballos

      If it makes you feel any better, I was as surprised as you were that “2001”s approval rating was apparently in the toilet in that previous post about classic movies that let us down.

      When I posted my comment, I was bracing for a barrage of comments questioning my intelligence and criticizing me for not having the attention span to fully appreciate it.

      I’m also loving the filmmaking interpretation for “Inception.” Please keep the thought-provoking posts like this one coming.

    • Vina

      If Inception is Nolan’s 8&1/2, let’s hope Batman 3 isn’t his Juliet of the Spirits.

  • justin

    Necro, you are preaching to the right choir.

  • Idiots

    Owen Gleiberman is a moron. Please give him movies like Prince of Persia to review. He’ll have fun with that.

    • Won’t be Reading to Owen’s Review Ever Again

      I love, love, love Memento and Inception. Plus I enjoyed watching Prince of Persia – it’s a movie you watch w/o having to think, but it’s still fun and a good way to spend a hot summer day. Plus Jake Gyllenhaal is fun to watch even reading a phone book.

  • Won’t be Reading to Owen’s Review Ever Again

    Now Twilight was unwatchable for me. The dialogue, plot and acting was so painful to watch that I couldn’t finish watching it. There’s not having to think when you watch a movie and one where you literally feel your brain cells dying as you watch it. Sorry, Twi-hards, when you get more brain cells, you’ll know what we are talking about someday.

  • allison

    i wonder if the real idea behind inception was also to plant in our mind the idea of gordon-levitt as the riddler in the next batman movie. they used some of the same sets from batman begins & dark knight, plus some of the same actors. he was the only actor to have extended fights scenes, thereby showing us what he could do. to me it seemed like an audition piece for us to buy into gordon levitt playing the riddler, we’ll see in 2012

    • fleursdumal

      Because the Riddler is such a bad-ass villain and is likely to have a lot of fight-scenes and blow things up, right?

  • Betthy White

    Great movie and Swedishfriendfinder was very good

  • tigersmurfette

    just saw this movie, and two hours after its ending i finally figured out why i didnt like the ending. first i saw it coming, second, one word, gimmick.

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    • Alya

      Nick Shannon / You’re just not getting it. Do you rlelay think The Avengers and Transformers are that different that one is great and one is garbage. They have 99% of the same elements. Mindless CGI, cheesy dialogue, misplaced comedy, annoying side characters, etc. That 1% is in TA and that’s the superheroes themselves. But hey, I think the Autobots could be considered (super) heroes, right? TA and Trans aren’t all that different. Your praise for Whedon betrays you, young Skywalker.

  • coachfactoryoutlet

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  • Affiliate MasterClass

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