Image Credit: Stephen VaughanJust a few weeks ago, the buzz on director Christopher Nolan’s new film Inception was that it might be too complex and too difficult to become a true blockbuster hit with mainstream audiences. Today, the buzz on the helmer’s puzzle-box thriller about thieves who steal ideas from dreams is that audiences can’t get enough of it. The film opened last weekend at $62.8 million and could reach $140 million at the box office by the end of this weekend. It’s tempting to say something like “maybe Inception wasn’t as daunting as advertised” or “maybe audiences aren’t as stupid as assumed”—although both are surely true. Perhaps it’s what Roger Ebert (@ebertchicago) recently tweeted: “Inception has entered into the category of a film people think they must see so they can participate in dinner conversations.” (Of course, that dinner conversation could be rather contentious, as not everyone thinks Inception is all that dreamy. Case in point: Our own Owen Gleiberman, who was less than impressed.)
Like Nolan’s other movies Memento and The Prestige, Inception is a lean-forward-and-pay-attention experience that takes chances with the narrative and invites various interpretations about its themes, meaning, and plot. My initial thought was that Nolan had crafted an elaborate allegory for filmmaking and moviegoing. There’s a lot to be said about this theme—and it’s already being said, including Devin Faraci’s smart and lengthy essay at CHUD.com.
In the new issue of Entertainment Weekly, which features Inception on the cover, Nolan says that the metaphor for cinema developed organically as he wrote the script over a 10-year period. Cobb’s crew of mind-hackers don’t infiltrate people’s “real” dreams—they actually build ersatz dreams and place them inside people’s heads, in the same way moviemakers craft worlds that are transmitted into our brains via movie projector. Nolan explained that each member of the team serves a role that has a movie analog. The Architect (Ellen Page) would be the production designer. The Forger (Tom Hardy) would be the actor. The Point Man (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) would be The Producer. The Extractor (DiCaprio) would be the director. And The Mark (Cillian Murphy) would be us—the audience. “In trying to write a team-based creative process, I wrote the one I know,” says Nolan.
There’s actually a great deal more of Nolan in the film. Inception is also a reflection of his artistic life. The various dream scenarios are implied homages to his favorite movies (including 2001: A Space Odyssey) and filmmakers, including Alfred Hitchcock, Ridley Scott, and Michael Mann. He also says he can relate very much to his hero, Cobb, who is at risk of becoming lost in dreams and must fight to reconnect with reality and return to his family. “I can lose myself in my job very easily,” says Nolan. “It’s rare that you can identify yourself so clearly in a film. This film is very clear for me.”
For more on Inception, pick up the new issue of Entertainment Weekly, on stands July 23rd.