Director Christopher Nolan with Leonardo DiCaprio
It has been one of this years most talked-about Hollywood mysteries. Everybody in the film industry knew that the British filmmaker Chris Nolan was making Inception, a big-budget movie about dreams, with a stellar cast headed by Leonardo DiCaprio. But that was about it.
Its cryptic title and the fact that Nolan kept the plot a closely guarded secret from day one added to the speculation. Actors he was considering casting had to read the script in his office or have it hand-delivered to their homes where someone stood guard while they perused it. Even the visually dazzling but enigmatic trailer failed to explain exactly what the film was about.
Now the secret is out. An early screening in Los Angeles reveals that Inception is a startlingly innovative tale of a group of freelance dream thieves who steal peoples ideas by inserting themselves into strangers subconscious while they are sleeping.
Like Nolans early films, Following and Memento, Inception toys with perception as it travels through time and space unravelling a tale of corporate espionage by way of dream invasion.
Ive been interested in dreams since I was a kid and Ive wanted to do a film about them for a long time, says 39-year-old Nolan, sitting with his wife and producer Emma Thomas in a Beverly Hills hotel.
I was thinking along the lines of a horror movie at first, but it eventually became this project. I was looking for a device whereby the dreams would become important to the story, and the thought that someone could invade your dream space and steal an idea is immensely compelling to me. The concept that dreams feel real while were in them underlies the whole film.
He came up with the idea 10 years ago and then, shortly after finishing Insomnia and long before Batman Begins and The Dark Knight made him one of Hollywoods hottest directors, he wrote an 80-page treatment about dream-stealers.
Emma Thomas, who has produced all his movies, recalls: When I read it I thought, Oh my gosh, how would we ever do this? We looked at making it over the years but it never quite happened and then, after The Dark Knight, Chris cracked the script and we were ready to go.
Im really happy that it worked that way because, having been involved in the Batman films and The Prestige, which had a fair amount of cinematic sleights of hand, and with all the experience wed gained, we were ready to make it.
Nolan had initially tried to write Inception as a small, low-budget film but abandoned that idea as he progressed. Its intimate and emotional, but I realised I had this concept that lent itself to an epic-scale movie.
He had been talking to Leonardo DiCaprio for some time about various projects, and this time the actor, fascinated by the multi-layered story, signed on.
He plays Dom Cobb, the leader of the dream thieves, who agrees to take on one last job; and the supporting cast includes Oscar winners Marion Cotillard and Michael Caine (making his fourth appearance in a Nolan film), Cillian Murphy, Ellen Page and Pete Postlethwaite.
Combining the riddles and psychological puzzles of Memento with the sheer scale of The Dark Knight, Inception jumps between dreams and reality, globe-hopping to Morocco, Paris, Tokyo, London and beyond.
As with The Dark Knight, Nolan didnt want to rely on special effects to tell the story, so he built massive sets around the world. In a converted aircraft hangar in Cardington, Bedfordshire, where he filmed parts of the two Batman movies, he built a massive rotating set, and, in Calgary, Alberta, he constructed a multi-level fortress on top of a mountain and then waited for a huge snowstorm, which eventually arrived. A key scene was filmed at the architecture school at University College London, where Nolan studied English and met his future wife.
Warner Bros, who coughed up the £120 million budget, are banking on Inception catching on as a brainy Mission Impossible or Matrix and were hoping to take it a step further by converting it to 3D. Unenthusiastic, Nolan toyed with the idea, but, after a few tests, decided there was not enough time to do so to the standards he required.
It has been rumoured that the third Batman film, which is due to start filming in March, will be in 3D, as will the new Superman adventure, which Nolan and his wife are producing, although Nolan himself is non-committal.
Im taking a bit of a wait-and-see attitude towards 3D, he says. Its come and gone many times over the years. I dont particularly enjoy watching films in 3D because I think that a well-shot and well-projected film has a very three-dimensional quality to it, so Im somewhat sceptical of the technology.
Until we get rid of the glasses, or until we really massively improve the process, Im a little wary of it.
Then, as if suddenly remembering Warner Bros urgent desire to keep up with the latest trend and cater to the needs of young moviegoers, he added: But well be looking at it, and if thats what audiences are demanding from blockbusters — and were making blockbusters — then its something well address.
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A sci-fi action thriller
Director-Producer-Writer: Chris Nolan
The Story: Dom Cobb is a thief, skilled in the dangerous art of stealing valuable secrets from deep within the subconscious during the dream state, when the mind is at its most vulnerable. His rare ability has made him a coveted player in the world of corporate espionage, but it has also made him an international fugitive that cost him everything he loved. Now he is being offered a chance at redemption. One last job. Cobb has to pull off a reverse act this time. This time it is not stealing an idea but planting one. If they succeed, it would be the perfect crime. But he seems to be up against a dangerous enemy that can predict his every move. An enemy that only Cobb could have seen coming.
Leonardo DiCaprio as Dom Cobb, the Extractor — a man who specialises in subconscious security, but steals his clients’ ideas
Marion Cotillard as Mallorie ‘Mal’ Cobb, — Dom Cobb’s deceased wife, who manifests in the dreamscape beyond Cobb’s control
Ellen Page as Ariadne, the Architect — a college graduate student who constructs the world of the dream
Ken Watanabe as Saito, the Tourist — a businessman who employs
Cillian Murphy as Robert Fischer, Jr., — the heir to a business empire and Dom’s latest client and target
Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Arthur, the Point Man — the person responsible for researching the team’s targets
Tom Hardy as Eames, the Forger — a team member who impersonates the target within the dream world
Michael Caine as Miles, Cobb’s mentor, teacher, and father-in-law, and Ariadne’s college professor. Miles is also the guardian of Cobb’s
Inception releases today.