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It’s amazing to think that Christopher Nolan’s twisting, turning, action-packed thriller INCEPTION is now 10 years old. Time flies when you’re stuck inside an ever-shifting dreamscape! (Or are you?) Part of what makes the time feel so brief is that most film fanatics can remember, with incredible detail, where they were when they first saw INCEPTION – what the popcorn was like, how the crowd responded, and what you, as a viewer, were thinking as you watched it all unfold. It’s that kind of movie – one that leaves its mark on you long after you’ve left the theater.
INCEPTION is back in theatres this month. To celebrate the movie’s ten-year anniversary while we eagerly await Nolan’s new movie, TENET, we thought we’d run down why we’re still obsessed with INCEPTION. Have your totem handy; we're diving in.
Thoughts of INCEPTION immediately conjure up Hans Zimmer’s epic score for the movie. Balancing an intense moodiness with loud thunderclaps and a slowed-down, time-twisted version of “La Vie En Rose,” the score instantly transported us into the high-stakes world of dream thieves and corporate espionage. Even if you weren’t sure what was going on, or what dream level the story was on, the music clues you in to every important element. (It also signals when things turn from bad to worse for the characters.)
The impact of Zimmer’s music can be felt far and wide, including in the marketing of every big action movie (even to this day). It’s utterly indelible.
Leonardo DiCaprio became a superstar thanks to his role in James Cameron’s monolithic disaster movie/romance TITANIC. Since then, he has mostly shied away from nakedly mainstream movies, instead preferring more esoteric characters in less commercial projects. It’s been fun to see him explore weird characters and eccentric stories; his Oscar for THE REVENANT was well-deserved. (He could have easily nabbed one for last year’s ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD, too.)
INCEPTION shows us an alternate path for DiCaprio, in which he chose to make more high-concept crowd-pleasing movies. This version of Leo — athletic and energetic, clever and ultra-competent in action scenes — is really, really fun. And while Nolan's movie didn't lead to more summer blockbuster fare for the actor, INCEPTION did earn him true goodwill and a new cadre of devoted fans. And for the existing fans who had been around for years, the movie is a total blast.
DiCaprio anchors the movie, with a performance every bit as committed and truthful as his best work, but the cast is also full of wonderful performers in smaller roles. Take Tom Hardy, who wasn’t widely known to American audiences at the time. He oozed so much charisma and presence that he quickly rose to the top of the A-list and is now considered one of our very best and most in-demand actors.
There are a number of key Nolan regulars, too, with Michael Caine, Ken Watanabe and Cillian Murphy all appearing, alongside new members of the Nolan crew that would return for future movies, including Hardy, Marion Cotillard and Joseph Gordon-Levitt (all of whom show up in THE DARK KNIGHT RISES). It’s a dynamite collection of actors and without them, the movie wouldn’t have the same power (and wouldn’t be as much fun). Can you imagine if it was Leonardo and a less compelling ensemble? That’s not a dream, that’s a nightmare.
Structuring the movie around dreams meant that Nolan could embellish a traditional genre movie (in this case a heist film) with all sorts of surreal flourishes. Take the moment when Cobb explains dream mechanics to a new recruit played by Ellen Page. As they’re sitting at an outdoor café, everything starts to explode and atomize around them. Moments later, Page's character folds an entire city street back on itself — one of the truest trailer moments committed to film this century.
Other visions are just as unforgettable, like Joseph Gordon Levitt’s zero-gravity hallway fight or the runaway train that careens down a metropolitan street. These moments wouldn't work in a movie that features everyday logic, but they're just right for a story filled with dream logic, subconscious heists, and memory implantation. There, anything goes. As Tom Hardy's character says, “You mustn’t be afraid to dream a bit bigger, darling.” Nolan, who also wrote the script, does a great job of easing us into these scenarios and making the "rules" feel familiar. When the really crazy stuff happens, we're all equipped for the experience. Ever the magician, INCEPTION is one of his greatest tricks.
One surefire way to ensure a movie’s immortality is to create an ending that encourages spirited debate. (We’re still talking about what the ending of BLADE RUNNER means, for example, even after the sequel came out.) That's easier said than done, however. INCEPTION pulls it off, however, with an enigmatic sequence that (spoiler warning!) follows Cobb, having escaped an intricate, multi-layered dream, as he returns home, where we find that his existence might not be as solid as we'd like to believe.
The key is Cobb's "totem," a small top that is supposed to indicate whether he's in the waking world or a dream. Cobb spins the top, and we know that if it falls, that means he's back in the real world. If it spins indefinitely, he's still in the dream world. The final shot centers on the top, there’s a slight shimmer (maybe a quake), but it keeps spinning before Nolan … cuts to black. Is Cobb out of the dream world, or is he stuck there for good? Does he truly want to be out, no matter what he says?
We're still debating the ending ten years later — like Cobb's perpetual obsession with the top and his own demons, our fascination with the movie and its ending will never cease.
All images courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures.
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