Inception (2010)

Inception is another masterpiece from Christopher Nolan and it is considered cinematography at its finest. This movie is so layered that it is hard to keep this review brief. The plot centers on dreams within dreams if that were possible. The imagery switches between time and settings using cinematography as a guiding point to keep the story together. Sit tight and prepare to feast your eyes and your imagination, this is going to be a wild ride.

Layer 1- The subconscious mind

Have you ever experienced a lucid dream? Dreams tend to be all over the place, and we hardly notice that perception and creations from our mind are happening at the same time. In a lucid dream state you are in complete control, you are conscious of your power to make anything happen and that is how you know that you are creating the reality that you see. These are very powerful experiences; it is like opening a door to your subconscious desires and insecurities. You can see it all, do it all and it is not fun when you realize it is time to wake up and you are losing control again. If you never had them, there are some techniques that you can try to create a lucid dream. It is truly a remarkable experience that can ease your anxieties.

This movie evoked very vivid memories of my lucid dreams. However, the photography employed to construct the dream in the movie, highlighted the poverty of my own imagination. My settings were rather simple compared to the wonderful worlds in this movie. This is fantastic intro to the next topic.

Layer 2- the dream architect

The movie was filmed around the world (Tokyo, Paris, Los Angeles, Morocco) and takes the viewer on a journey of perfectly manicured settings and beautiful contrast of colors. Wally Pfister is the real architect of this dream world and he spared no effort to make this movie a truly remarkable experience. Nolan worked for five years on developing the techniques to make this film. Before the team assembled the vision this movie may have been considered un-filmable. It is hard to watch without appreciating the amount of unique details that went into this work of art. Some of the techniques used to create the illusion of reality are:

  • Building a rotating 360 degree hallway to simulate a zero gravity fighting scene
  • Pfiser utilizes color palettes in each one of the layers of the dream to help the viewers differentiate the different layers. During the first layer state that was filmed in Los Angeles, he uses a combination of gun-metal grey and a tint of metallic blue.

Both Christopher Nolan and Wally Pfister are avid James Bond fans. Much of how Christopher Nolan approached the Dark Knight trilogy gained its inspiration from the Bond series itself. For the third layer of the dream, the color palette Wally Pfister chose came through inspiration from a Bond film, as well. Considering the setting here took place in alpine mountain ranges and a fortress in the middle of an Arctic desert, the color palette for the sequence was monochromatic – vividly white and gray.

As the film progresses and switches from layer to layer, to a metallic rainy setting we know exactly which dream state we are in. 

  • Dramatic use of lighting to change the story: The last sequence of the dream is the one it started off with in a setting built for Saito.

Where in the beginning of the film he was young and energetic, here he was old and demented. What Wally Pfister does here is essentially a summary of what cinematography is all about. Through using nothing but lighting, he wakes one set, used in both the film’s opening and closing dream sequences, and changes the story it tells the audience.

  • Changes in film type to manipulate perception: Inception was shot by Christopher Nolan and Wally Pfister on anamorphic 35mm film, with significant sequences filmed in 65mm. Aerial shots were taken with VistaVision.

Layer 3- inception of an idea

Cobb (the protagonist) is hired by a powerful corporate mogul to gently guide his competitor into thinking that he had an idea to break his father’s empire. Thus, influencing his mind while being unnoticed through the induction of a very deep dream state. The plot seems a bit over elaborate to achieve this objective, as we see that consumer influence is used daily on advertising and even news without having to use complicated machinery. There is a funny episode of ‘magic for humans’ that shows how easy it is to influence even the most trained influencers.

Layer 4- What is reality?

Just like the Matrix movie, this film challenges the notion of reality itself. Considering that our perception is made of electrical impulses and that lucid dreaming is possible without the use of complicated machines, it makes you wonder, how do we know when we are awake? Why do we even need to dream? Couldn’t the brain reset by simply doing nothing? Why do we remember our dreams? If we take this question one step further and we mix science daring to open our minds to the impossible, one can’t help but wonder if our reality and our dreaming is not a dream within a dream. Quantum Bayesianism claims that perception is reality. This obviously would be crossing the border of delusion, but what if?

Real or not, I think this movie should be saved for posterity in a museum so that it can be appreciated and re-interpreted like we do with many classic pieces of art.  

I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

 Sources: dyiphotography.com

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