Like usual, a SPOILER ALERT is in effect for this post. Though, I’d be very surprised if you have never seen this fantastic movie.
I’m a little biased towards Inception because it is my favorite movie. It takes a totally original idea and is able to build a world around it in two and a half hours, all while crafting a story with memorable characters and iconic moments. Not to mention one of the most iconic final shots in film history. Inception is probably Nolan’s most well-known and universally liked film, other than the Dark Knight Trilogy, with good reason. It takes a deep dive into the mind of Dom Cobb to see what a father would do to get back to his kids.
Cobb is brilliantly portrayed by Leonardo DiCaprio, yet this is the only DiCaprio movie I’ve ever seen that I don’t think of as a DiCaprio movie. Nolan gets an amazing ensemble together so that no one actor or actress is able to steal the movie. Six of these actors are those who have multiple collaborations with Nolan. It also brings back Wally Pfister and, in his first non-Batman collaboration, Hans Zimmer with the amazing score.
Even with this, Cobb is still the protagonist whose psyche Nolan decides to look into. He is without a doubt at the center of the movie. His personal conflict is what drives the plot.
A theme that arises in just about every Nolan movie, as I discussed in my examination of The Prestige, is that they’re meant to be viewed multiple times. I have seen Inception more times than I know, but I still notice something new every time I watch it. Since it is a movie that is so complex, but also airtight, that’s just the nature of it.
If you haven’t noticed yet, Nolan is great at effectively using his openings. There’s no title card at the beginning here. It just opens with the waves and a pan to Cobb in the water. But again, it’s the end of the story at the beginning of the movie. It’s just the way that Nolan gets you to pay attention right from the get go. Then it shows Cobb’s conversation with a very old Saito and does a match cut between Cobb eating in Saito’s palace on the beach to Saito eating in what looks like the same palace. Except now he’s young. We’re getting the hint that these are the same person and we begin to ask, “How is Cobb young but interacting with this man when he is young and old?” It’s a great hook to start the movie on.
But I think at its core, Inception is a metaphor for the filmmaking process, as demonstrated by this picture. Nolan treats films as if they are dreams. Each person involved in making a movie has a different role in making the director’s “dream” come to life. Nolan’s whole life is about making movies. When that’s the case, he comments on what his life is like through this chosen medium.
There’s a quote in the movie that demonstrates this idea well for me. At one point when planning their mission, Cobb says, “An idea is like a virus. Resilient and highly contagious.” This can even be a comment on an idea for a film. When a writer or a director has an idea for a film that they are determined to make, the idea becomes resilient and contagious. Every member of the cast and crew become “infected” with this idea until the movie is made.
Nolan loves and lives film. We know this because he tells us this in his movies. Not directly, but under the surface. And that’s where Nolan wants you to look when analyzing his films.