Nolan's Mind Games
Date posted: 14.07.2010
"A single idea from the human mind can build cities. An idea can transform the world and rewrite all the rules." That, in the words of Dom Cobb, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, is the premise of new thriller Inception - out in cinemas from 16 July.
Written and directed by London-born and Hollywood's golden boy, Christopher Nolan, and featuring a stellar cast, Inception is a sci-fi actioner which explores the boundaries between the conscious and the subconscious, reality and dreams.
Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio, Shutter Island) is an expert 'extractor' who earns his living by breaking into people's dreams to rob them of their most treasured secrets. He is aided by a team of experts comprised of Ariadne (Ellen Page, Juno), Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, 500 Days of Summer) and Eames (Tom Hardy, Bronson). When a new client (Ken Watanabe, The Last Samurai) offers Cobb a ticket back to his former life and his young children in return for 'planting' an idea inside the mind of a powerful businessman (Cillian Murphy, The Dark Knight), Cobb finds himself in a desperate fight against his own demons in order to succeed.
"At the heart of the movie is the notion that an idea is indeed the most resilient and powerful parasite. A trace of it will always be there in your mind...somewhere. The thought that someone could master the ability to invade your dream space, in a very physical sense, and steal an idea - no matter how private - is compelling", explains Nolan.
Inception was shot in six different countries, and it features sequences filmed in Tokyo, Paris, Tangiers (Morocco) and Calgary (Canada) as well as LA and several UK locations, including London.
Nolan has always been particularly keen on shooting on location and, when possible, he brings his Hollywood adventures - which include Batman Begins and The Dark Knight - to his hometown.
So, despite the sheer complexity of some scenes, his latest film is no exception. "I love watching my team react with a little bit of panic when I first present them with what I'm thinking," Nolan admits, laughing. However, as producer Emma Thomas puts it: "Even when they feign horror, I think they all truly enjoy solving whatever problem Chris throws at them, but they also appreciate that he is challenging himself along with them and he'll be right with them in the thick of things."
Inception is riddled with mind-boggling sequences, most of which were shot on location. These include an impressive explosion in a quiet Parisian café, a foot chase through the labyrinthine Tangiers alleys and an adrenaline-packed car chase involving a freight train in downtown Los Angeles.
A complex sequence set in a hotel, which includes scenes that required the use of a zero gravity effect, was filmed inside the converted airship hangars at Cardington, Bedfordshire, where Nolan had previously shot sequences for Batman Begins and The Dark Knight.
In London, the Flaxman Gallery in the University College of London (UCL) served to reunite Cobb and his father-in-law Miles, played by Sir Michael Caine. Inception is Caine's fourth film with Nolan after Batman Begins, The Prestige and The Dark Knight. "As Michael says, he is our good luck charm," Thomas comments. "I don't think we could make a film without him at this point."
Nolan, a UCL graduate in English Literature, was looking for a unique location to double for the architectural school in Paris which hosts the encounter between Cobb and Miles - and the subsequent introduction of the talented Ariadne to Cobb's intricate plan. Supervised by location manager Nick Daubney, and with assistance from Film London, Inception was a first to film inside the Gallery.
Other locations in and around London featured in the film include: the Victorian Farmiloe Building, which hosts a pharmacy; and the modern steel and glass lobby of a former building of gaming company EA in Chertsey, where Arthur demonstrates the paradox of the Penrose steps to Ariadne. The interiors of Victoria House in Holborn and Farnborough Airport in Surrey were also used.
A Unique Vision
However, the strength of the story, Nolan insists, lays in the emotional journey of the characters and the love story at its core. Oscar® winner Marion Cotillard (La Vie en Rose) plays Mal, Cobb's wife and the source of his angst, who threatens to stop the sophisticated mission in its tracks.
The actress says of Nolan: "On a movie as imaginative as this, you need a director you can trust - someone to take your hand and share his vision - and I trusted him 100 percent". This sentiment is something DiCaprio echoes: "It is this highly entertaining, complex thriller where anything can happen, but at the heart is one man's quest to uncover a long-buried truth and to get back home. It's also completely original; I don't think anyone could say they've experienced anything like it before. That combination made me excited about working on the project, as well as with Chris Nolan. He is an expert at taking this kind of multi-layered storyline and making it true and tangible to an audience."
The numerous sets, as well as the preference for location shooting over visual effects, was a physically and mentally demanding exercise for the cast. They trained hard to do some of their own stunts, including skiing and, in the case of Gordon-Levitt, flying suspended on thin wires inside a spinning set.
DiCaprio comments: "For the actors, it was so intriguing that we were essentially experiencing all of this for the first time, just as the audience will be. As a group, we were on this epic journey and were in a constant state of discovery and surprise. I think that's going to be one of the most exciting things about watching this movie -realizing that there are unlimited possibilities and you never truly know what could happen next."
Nolan, who is already working on a third, yet-to-be titled, Batman film, concludes: "Once you start examining what the dream experience might mean, it invites people to think about their own dreams and what they reveal. It raises interesting questions about how we assess the nature of our own reality".
Inception is released by Warner Bros. and opens nationwide on 16 July.