Inception is a 2010 science fiction film written, co-produced, and
directed by Christopher Nolan, and co-produced by Emma Thomas. The
Leonardo DiCaprio as a professional thief who steals
information by infiltrating the subconscious, and is offered a chance
to have his criminal history erased as payment for the implantation of
another person's idea into a target's subconscious. The ensemble
cast additionally includes Ken Watanabe, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Marion
Cotillard, Ellen Page, Tom Hardy, Dileep Rao, Cillian Murphy, Tom
Berenger, and Michael Caine.
After the 2002 completion of Insomnia, Nolan presented to Warner Bros.
a written 80-page treatment about a horror film envisioning "dream
stealers" based on lucid dreaming. Deciding he needed more
experience before tackling a production of this magnitude and
complexity, Nolan retired the project and instead worked on 2005's
Batman Begins, 2006's The Prestige, and The Dark Knight in 2008.
The treatment was revised over 6 months and was purchased by Warner in
Inception was filmed in six countries, beginning in
Tokyo on June 19 and ending in Canada on November 22. Its official
budget was $160 million, split between
Warner Bros and
Legendary. Nolan's reputation and success with The Dark Knight
helped secure the film's $100 million in advertising expenditure.
Inception's première was held in
London on July 8, 2010; it
was released in both conventional and
IMAX theaters beginning on July
Inception grossed over $828 million worldwide,
becoming the fourth highest-grossing film of 2010. The home video
market also had strong results, with $68 million in DVD and
Inception opened to acclaim from critics, who praised
its screenplay, score, and ensemble cast. It won four Academy
Awards for Best Cinematography, Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing,
and Best Visual Effects, and was nominated for four more: Best
Picture, Best Original Screenplay, Best Art Direction, and Best
3.2 Locations and sets
3.4 Visual effects
4.1 Reality and dreams
4.2 Dreams and cinema
5 Cinematic technique
6.2 Home media
6.3 Putative video game
7.1 Box office
7.2 Critical reception
7.3 Top ten lists
8 In popular culture
9 See also
11 Further reading
12 External links
Dominick "Dom" Cobb and Arthur are "extractors", who perform corporate
espionage using an experimental military technology to infiltrate the
subconscious of their targets and extract valuable information through
a shared dream world. Their latest target, Japanese businessman Saito,
reveals that he arranged their mission himself to test Cobb for a
seemingly impossible job: planting an idea in a person's subconscious,
or "inception". To break up the energy conglomerate of ailing
competitor Maurice Fischer, Saito wants Cobb to convince Fischer's son
and heir, Robert, to dissolve his father's company. In return, Saito
promises to use his influence to clear Cobb of a murder charge,
allowing Cobb to return home to his children. Cobb accepts the offer
and assembles his team: Eames, a conman and identity forger; Yusuf, a
chemist who concocts a powerful sedative for a stable "dream within a
dream" strategy; and Ariadne, an architecture student tasked with
designing the labyrinth of the dream landscapes, recruited with the
help of Cobb's father-in-law, Professor Stephen Miles. While
dream-sharing with Cobb,
Ariadne learns his subconscious houses an
invasive projection of his late wife Mal.
When the elder Fischer dies in Sydney, Robert Fischer accompanies the
body on a ten-hour flight back to Los Angeles, which the team
(including Saito, who wants to verify their success) uses as an
opportunity to sedate and take Fischer into a shared dream. At each
dream level, the person generating the dream stays behind to set up a
"kick" that will be used to awaken the other sleeping team members
from the deeper dream level; to be successful, these kicks must occur
simultaneously at each dream level, a fact complicated due to the
nature of time which flows much faster in each successive level. The
first level is Yusuf's dream of a rainy Los Angeles. The team abducts
Fischer, but they are attacked by armed projections from Fischer's
subconscious, which has been specifically trained to defend him
against such intruders. The team takes Fischer and a wounded Saito to
a warehouse, where Cobb reveals that while dying in the dream would
normally wake Saito up, the powerful sedatives needed to stabilize the
multi-level dream will instead send a dying dreamer into "limbo", a
world of infinite subconscious from which escape is extremely
difficult, if not impossible, and a dreamer risks forgetting they are
in a dream. Despite these setbacks, the team continues with the
Eames impersonates Fischer's godfather, Peter Browning, to suggest
Fischer reconsider his father's will. Yusuf drives the van as the
other dreamers are sedated into the second level. In the second level,
a hotel dreamed by Arthur, Cobb persuades Fischer that he has been
kidnapped by Browning and Cobb is his subconscious protector. Cobb
persuades him to go down another level to explore Browning's
subconscious (in reality, it is a ruse to enter Fischer's). The third
level is a fortified hospital on a snowy mountain dreamed by Eames.
The team has to infiltrate it and hold off the guards as Cobb takes
Fischer into the equivalent of his subconscious. Yusuf, under pursuit
by Fischer's projections in the first level, deliberately drives off a
bridge and initiates his kick too soon. This causes an avalanche in
Eames' level and removes the gravity of Arthur's level, forcing him to
improvise a new kick synchronized with the van hitting the water.
Mal's projection emerges and kills Fischer; Cobb kills Mal, and Saito
succumbs to his wounds. Cobb and
Ariadne enter Limbo to rescue Fischer
and Saito, while Eames sets up a kick by rigging the hospital with
Cobb reveals to
Ariadne that he and Mal went to Limbo while
experimenting with the dream-sharing technology. Sedated for a few
hours of real time, they spent fifty years in a dream constructing a
world from their shared memories. When Mal refused to return to
reality, Cobb used a rudimentary form of inception by reactivating her
totem (an object dreamers use to distinguish dreams from reality) and
reminding her subconscious that their world was not real. However,
when she woke up, Mal still believed that she was dreaming. In an
attempt to "wake up" for real, Mal committed suicide and framed Cobb
for her death to force him to do the same. Facing a murder charge,
Cobb fled the U.S., leaving his children in the care of Professor
Through his confession, Cobb makes peace with his guilt over Mal's
Ariadne kills Mal's projection and wakes Fischer up with a
kick. Revived at the mountain hospital, Fischer enters a safe room to
discover and accept the planted idea: a projection of his dying father
telling him to be his own man. While Cobb remains in Limbo to search
for Saito, the other team members ride the synchronized kicks back to
reality. Cobb eventually finds an aged Saito in Limbo and reminds him
of their agreement. The dreamers all awake on the plane and Saito
makes a phone call.
Upon arrival at Los Angeles Airport, Cobb passes the U.S. immigration
checkpoint and Professor Miles accompanies him to his home. Using his
totem—a spinning top that spins indefinitely in a dream world but
falls over in reality—Cobb conducts a test to prove that he is
indeed in the real world, but he ignores its result and instead joins
his children in the garden.
The cast at a premiere for the film in July 2010: From left to right:
Cillian Murphy, Marion Cotillard, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ellen Page,
Ken Watanabe, Michael Caine, and Leonardo DiCaprio
Leonardo DiCaprio as Dom Cobb, a professional thief who specializes in
conning secrets from his victims by infiltrating their dreams.
DiCaprio was the first actor to be cast in the film. Nolan had
been trying to work with the actor for years and met him several
times, but was unable to convince him to appear in any of his films
until Inception. Both
Brad Pitt and
Will Smith were offered the
role, according to The Hollywood Reporter. Cobb's role is compared
to "the haunted widower in a Gothic romance".
Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Arthur, Cobb's partner who manages and
researches the missions. Gordon-Levitt compared Arthur to the producer
of Cobb's art, "the one saying, 'Okay, you have your vision; now I'm
going to figure out how to make all the nuts and bolts work so you can
do your thing'". The actor did all of his stunts but one scene and
said the preparation "was a challenge and it would have to be for it
to look real".
James Franco was in talks with
Christopher Nolan to
play Arthur, but was ultimately unavailable due to scheduling
Ellen Page as Ariadne, a graduate student of architecture who is
recruited to construct the various dreamscapes, which are described as
mazes. The name
Ariadne alludes to a princess of Greek myth, daughter
of King Minos, who aided the hero
Theseus by giving him a sword and a
ball of string to help him navigate the labyrinth which was the prison
of the Minotaur. Nolan said that Page was chosen for being a "perfect
combination of freshness and savvy and maturity beyond her years".
Page said her character acts as a proxy to the audience, as "she's
just learning about these ideas and, in essence, assists the audience
in learning about dream sharing".
Tom Hardy as Eames, a sharp-tongued associate of Cobb. He is referred
to as a fence but his specialty is forgery, more accurately identity
theft. Eames uses his ability to impersonate others inside the dream
world in order to manipulate Fischer. Hardy described his character as
"an old, Graham Greene-type diplomat; sort of faded, shabby, grandeur
– the old
Shakespeare lovey mixed with somebody from Her Majesty's
Special Forces", who wears "campy, old money" costumes.
Ken Watanabe as Mr. Saito, a Japanese businessman who employs Cobb for
the team's mission. Nolan wrote the role with Watanabe in mind, as he
wanted to work with him again after Batman Begins.
Watanabe's first work in a contemporary setting where his primary
language is English. Watanabe tried to emphasize a different
characteristic of Saito in every dream level: "First chapter in my
castle, I pick up some hidden feelings of the cycle. It's magical,
powerful and then the first dream. And back to the second chapter, in
the old hotel, I pick up [being] sharp and more calm and smart and
it's a little bit [of a] different process to make up the character of
Dileep Rao as Yusuf. Rao describes Yusuf as "an avant-garde
pharmacologist, who is a resource for people, like Cobb, who want to
do this work unsupervised, unregistered and unapproved of by anyone".
Co-producer Jordan Goldberg said the role of the chemist was
"particularly tough because you don't want him to seem like some kind
of drug dealer", and that Rao was cast for being "funny, interesting
and obviously smart".
Cillian Murphy as Robert Michael Fischer, the heir to a business
empire and the team's target. Murphy said Fischer was portrayed as
"a petulant child who's in need of a lot of attention from his father,
he has everything he could ever want materially, but he's deeply
lacking emotionally". The actor also researched the sons of Rupert
Murdoch, "to add to that the idea of living in the shadow of someone
so immensely powerful".
Tom Berenger as Peter Browning, Robert Fischer's godfather and fellow
executive at the Fischers' company. Berenger said Browning acts as
a "surrogate father" to Robert, who calls the character "Uncle Peter",
and emphasized that "Browning has been with [Robert] his whole life
and has probably spent more quality time with him than his own
Marion Cotillard as Mal Cobb, Dom's deceased wife. She is a
manifestation of Dom's guilt about the real cause of Mal's suicide. He
is unable to control these projections of her, challenging his
abilities as an extractor. Nolan described Mal as "the essence of
the femme fatale," and DiCaprio praised Cotillard's performance saying
that "she can be strong and vulnerable and hopeful and heartbreaking
all in the same moment, which was perfect for all the contradictions
of her character".
Pete Postlethwaite as Maurice Fischer, Robert Fischer's father and the
dying founder of a business empire.
Michael Caine as Professor Stephen Miles, Cobb's mentor and
father-in-law, and Ariadne's college professor who recommends her
to the team.
Lukas Haas as Nash, an architect in Cobb's employment who betrays the
team and is later replaced by Ariadne.
Talulah Riley as a woman whom Eames disguises himself as in a dream.
Riley liked the role, despite it being minimal: "I get to wear a nice
dress, pick up men in bars, and shove them in elevators. It was good
to do something adultish. Usually I play 15-year-old English
Emma Thomas and
Christopher Nolan answer questions about Inception.
The husband and wife team produced the film through their company
Syncopy Films. Nolan also wrote and directed it.
Initially, Nolan wrote an 80-page treatment about dream-stealers.
Originally, Nolan had envisioned
Inception as a horror film, but
eventually wrote it as a heist film even though he found that
"traditionally [they] are very deliberately superficial in emotional
terms." Upon revisiting his script, he decided that basing it in
that genre did not work because the story "relies so heavily on the
idea of the interior state, the idea of dream and memory. I realized I
needed to raise the emotional stakes." Nolan worked on the script
for nine to ten years. When he first started thinking about making
the film, Nolan was influenced by "that era of movies where you had
The Matrix (1999), you had Dark City (1998), you had The Thirteenth
Floor (1999) and, to a certain extent, you had Memento (2000), too.
They were based in the principles that the world around you might not
Nolan first pitched the film to
Warner Bros. in 2001, but then felt
that he needed more experience making large-scale films, and embarked
Batman Begins and The Dark Knight. He soon realized that a film
Inception needed a large budget because "as soon as you're
talking about dreams, the potential of the human mind is infinite. And
so the scale of the film has to feel infinite. It has to feel like you
could go anywhere by the end of the film. And it has to work on a
massive scale." After making The Dark Knight, Nolan decided to make
Inception and spent six months completing the script. Nolan states
that the key to completing the script was wondering what would happen
if several people shared the same dream. "Once you remove the privacy,
you've created an infinite number of alternative universes in which
people can meaningfully interact, with validity, with weight, with
Leonardo DiCaprio was the first actor to be cast in the film.
Nolan had been trying to work with the actor for years and met him
several times, but was unable to convince him to appear in any of his
films until Inception. DiCaprio finally agreed because he was
"intrigued by this concept—this dream-heist notion and how this
character's going to unlock his dreamworld and ultimately affect his
real life." He read the script and found it to be "very well
written, comprehensive but you really had to have Chris in person, to
try to articulate some of the things that have been swirling around
his head for the last eight years." DiCaprio and Nolan spent months
talking about the screenplay. Nolan took a long time re-writing the
script in order "to make sure that the emotional journey of his
character was the driving force of the movie." On February 11,
2009, it was announced that
Warner Bros. purchased Inception, a spec
script written by Nolan.
Locations and sets
Principal photography began in Tokyo on June 19, 2009, with
the scene where Saito first hires Cobb during a helicopter flight over
The production moved to the United Kingdom and shot in a converted
airship hangar in Cardington, Bedfordshire, north of London.
There, the hotel bar set which tilted 30 degrees was built. A
hotel corridor was also constructed by Guy Hendrix Dyas, the
production designer, Chris Corbould, the special effects supervisor,
and Wally Pfister, the director of photography; it rotated a full
360 degrees to create the effect of alternate directions of
gravity for scenes set during the second level of dreaming, where
dream-sector physics become chaotic. The idea was inspired by a
technique used in Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968).
Nolan said, "I was interested in taking those ideas, techniques, and
philosophies and applying them to an action scenario". The
filmmakers originally planned to make the hallway only 40 ft
(12 m) long, but as the action sequence became more elaborate,
the hallway's length grew to 100 ft (30 m). The corridor was
suspended along eight large concentric rings that were spaced
equidistantly outside its walls and powered by two massive electric
motors. Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who plays Arthur, spent several
weeks learning to fight in a corridor that spun like "a giant hamster
wheel". Nolan said of the device, "It was like some incredible
torture device; we thrashed Joseph for weeks, but in the end we looked
at the footage, and it looks unlike anything any of us has seen
before. The rhythm of it is unique, and when you watch it, even if you
know how it was done, it confuses your perceptions. It's unsettling in
a wonderful way". Gordon-Levitt remembered, "it was six-day weeks
of just, like, coming home at night battered ... The light fixtures on
the ceiling are coming around on the floor, and you have to choose the
right time to cross through them, and if you don't, you're going to
fall." On July 15, 2009, filming took place at
London for the sequences occurring inside a Paris
college of architecture in the story, including the library,
Flaxman Gallery and Gustav Tuck Theatre.
Filming moved to France where they shot Cobb entering the college of
architecture (the place used for the entrance was the Musée Galliera)
and the pivotal scenes between
Ariadne and Cobb, in a bistro (a
fictional one set up at the corner of Rue César Franck and Rue
Bouchut) and then on the Bir-Hakeim bridge. For the explosion that
takes place during the bistro scene, the local authorities would not
allow the actual use of explosives. High-pressure nitrogen was used to
create the effect of a series of explosions. Pfister used six
high-speed cameras to capture the sequence from different angles and
make sure that they got the shot. The visual effects department then
enhanced the sequence, adding more destruction and flying debris. For
the "Paris folding" sequence and when
Ariadne "creates" the bridges,
green screen and CGI were used on location.
Tangier, Morocco, doubled as Mombasa, where Cobb hires Eames and
Yusuf. A foot chase was shot in the streets and alleyways of the
historic medina quarter. To capture this sequence, Pfister
employed a mix of hand-held camera and steadicam work.
also used to film an important riot scene during the initial foray
into Saito's mind.
Filming moved to the Los Angeles area, where some sets were built on a
Warner Bros. sound stage, including the interior rooms of Saito's
Japanese castle (the exterior was done on a small set built in Malibu
beach). The dining room was inspired by the
Nijo Castle built around
1603. These sets were inspired by a mix of
Japanese architecture and
Western influences. The production also staged a multi-vehicle car
chase on the streets of downtown Los Angeles, which involved a freight
train crashing down the middle of a street. To do this, the
filmmakers configured a train engine on the chassis of a tractor
trailer. The replica was made from fiberglass molds taken from
authentic train parts and then matched in terms of color and
design. Also, the car chase was supposed to be set in the midst of
a downpour but the L.A. weather stayed typically sunny. The filmmakers
were forced to set up elaborate effects (e.g., rooftop water cannons)
to give the audience the impression that the weather was overcast and
soggy. L.A. was also the site of the climactic scene where a Ford
Econoline van flies off the Schuyler Heim Bridge in slow motion.
This sequence was filmed on and off for months with the van being shot
out of a cannon, according to actor Dileep Rao. Capturing the actors
suspended within the van in slow motion took a whole day to film. Once
the van landed in the water, the challenge for the actors was not to
panic. "And when they ask you to act, it's a bit of an ask," explained
Cillian Murphy. The actors had to be underwater for four to five
minutes while drawing air from scuba tanks; underwater buddy breathing
is shown in this sequence. Cobb's house was in Pasadena. The hotel
lobby was filmed at the CAA building in Century City. Limbo was made
on location in Los Angeles and Morocco with the beach scene filmed at
Palos Verdes beach with CGI buildings. N Hope St. in Los Angeles was
the primary filming location for Limbo, with green screen and CGI
being used to create the dream landscape.
The final phase of principal photography took place in
Alberta in late
November 2009. The location manager discovered a temporarily
closed ski resort, Fortress Mountain. An elaborate set was
assembled near the top station of the Canadian chairlift, taking three
months to build. The production had to wait for a huge snowstorm,
which eventually arrived. The ski-chase sequence was inspired by
James Bond film, On Her Majesty's Secret Service
(1969): "What I liked about it that we've tried to emulate in this
film is there's a tremendous balance in that movie of action and scale
and romanticism and tragedy and emotion."
The film was shot primarily in the anamorphic format on 35 mm
film, with key sequences filmed on 65 mm, and aerial sequences in
VistaVision. Nolan did not shoot any footage with
IMAX cameras as he
had with The Dark Knight. "We didn't feel that we were going to be
able to shoot in
IMAX because of the size of the cameras because this
film given that it deals with a potentially surreal area, the nature
of dreams and so forth, I wanted it to be as realistic as possible.
Not be bound by the scale of those
IMAX cameras, even though I love
the format dearly". In addition Nolan and Pfister tested using
Showscan and Super Dimension 70 as potential large format high frame
rate camera systems to use for the film, but ultimately decided
against either format. Sequences in slow motion were filmed on a
Photo-Sonics 35mm camera at speeds of up to 1000 frames per second.
Wally Pfister tested shooting some of these sequences using a high
speed digital camera, but found the format to be too unreliable due to
technical glitches. "Out of six times that we shot on the digital
format, we only had one useable piece and it didn't end up in the
film. Out of the six times we shot with the Photo-Sonics camera and
35mm running through it, every single shot was in the movie."
Nolan also chose not to shoot any of the film in 3D as he prefers
shooting on film using prime lenses, which is not possible with 3D
cameras. Nolan has also criticized the dim image that 3D
projection produces, and disputes that traditional film does not allow
realistic depth perception, saying "I think it's a misnomer to call it
3D versus 2D. The whole point of cinematic imagery is it's three
dimensional... You know 95% of our depth cues come from occlusion,
resolution, color and so forth, so the idea of calling a 2D movie a
'2D movie' is a little misleading." Nolan did test converting
Inception into 3D in post-production but decided that, while it was
possible, he lacked the time to complete the conversion to a standard
he was happy with. In February 2011 Jonathan Liebesman
Warner Bros were attempting a 3D conversion for Blu-ray
Wally Pfister gave each location and dream level a distinctive look to
aid the audience's recognition of the narrative's location during the
heavily crosscut portion of the film: the mountain fortress appears
sterile and cool, the hotel hallways have warm hues, and the scenes in
the van are more neutral.
Nolan has said that the film "deals with levels of reality, and
perceptions of reality which is something I'm very interested in. It's
an action film set in a contemporary world, but with a slight
science-fiction bent to it," while also describing it as "very much an
ensemble film structured somewhat as a heist movie. It's an action
adventure that spans the globe".
For dream sequences in Inception, Nolan used little computer-generated
imagery, preferring practical effects whenever possible. Nolan said,
"It's always very important to me to do as much as possible in-camera,
and then, if necessary, computer graphics are very useful to build on
or enhance what you have achieved physically." To this end, visual
effects supervisor Paul Franklin built a miniature of the mountain
fortress set and then blew it up for the film. For the fight scene
that takes place in zero gravity, he used CG-based effects to "subtly
bend elements like physics, space and time."
The most challenging effect was the "limbo" city level at the end of
the film because it continually developed during production. Franklin
had artists build concepts while Nolan gave his ideal vision:
"Something glacial, with clear modernist architecture, but with chunks
of it breaking off into the sea like icebergs". Franklin and his
team ended up with "something that looked like an iceberg version of
Gotham City with water running through it." They created a basic
model of a glacier and then designers created a program that added
elements like roads, intersections and ravines until they had a
complex, yet organic-looking, cityscape. For the Paris-folding
sequence, Franklin had artists producing concept sketches and then
they created rough computer animations to give them an idea of what
the sequence looked like while in motion. Later during principal
photography, Nolan was able to direct
Leonardo DiCaprio and Ellen Page
based on this rough computer animation Franklin had created. Inception
had close to 500 visual effects shots (in comparison, Batman Begins
had approximately 620) which is considered minor in comparison to
contemporary visual effects epics that can have around 1,500 or 2,000
special effects images.
Main article: Inception: Music from the Motion Picture
The score for
Inception was written by Hans Zimmer, who described
his work as "a very electronic, dense score", filled with
"nostalgia and sadness" to match Cobb's feelings throughout the
film. The music was written simultaneously to filming, and
features a guitar sound reminiscent of Ennio Morricone, played by
Johnny Marr, former guitarist of The Smiths. Édith Piaf's "Non, je ne
regrette rien" ("No, I Do Not Regret Anything") pointedly appears
throughout the film, used to accurately time the dreams, and Zimmer
reworked pieces of the song into cues of the score. A soundtrack
album was released on July 11, 2010 by Reprise Records.
The majority of the score was also included in high resolution 5.1
surround sound on the second disc of the 2 disc
Hans Zimmer's music was nominated for an
Academy Award in the Best
Original Score category in 2011, losing to
Trent Reznor and Atticus
Ross of The Social Network.
Reality and dreams
Penrose stairs are incorporated into the film as an example of the
impossible objects that can be created in lucid dream worlds.
In Inception, Nolan wanted to explore "the idea of people sharing a
dream space...That gives you the ability to access somebody's
unconscious mind. What would that be used and abused for?" The
majority of the film's plot takes place in these interconnected dream
worlds. This structure creates a framework where actions in the real
or dream worlds ripple across others. The dream is always in a state
of production, and shifts across the levels as the characters navigate
it. By contrast, the world of
The Matrix (1999) is an
authoritarian, computer-controlled one, alluding to theories of social
control developed by
Michel Foucault and Jean Baudrillard. Nolan's
world has more in common with the works of
Gilles Deleuze and Félix
David Denby in
The New Yorker
The New Yorker compared Nolan's cinematic treatment of
dreams to Luis Buñuel's in Belle de Jour (1967) and The Discreet
Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972). He criticized Nolan's
"literal-minded" action level sequencing compared to Buñuel, who
"silently pushed us into reveries and left us alone to enjoy our
wonderment, but Nolan is working on so many levels of representation
at once that he has to lay in pages of dialogue just to explain what's
going on." The latter captures "the peculiar malign intensity of
Deirdre Barrett, a dream researcher at Harvard University, said that
Nolan did not get every detail accurate regarding dreams, but their
illogical, rambling, disjointed plots would not make for a great
thriller anyway. However, "he did get many aspects right," she said,
citing the scene in which a sleeping Cobb is shoved into a full bath,
and in the dream world water gushes into the windows of the building,
waking him up. "That's very much how real stimuli get incorporated,
and you very often wake up right after that intrusion".
Nolan himself said, "I tried to work that idea of manipulation and
management of a conscious dream being a skill that these people have.
Really the script is based on those common, very basic experiences and
concepts, and where can those take you? And the only outlandish idea
that the film presents, really, is the existence of a technology that
allows you to enter and share the same dream as someone else."
Dreams and cinema
Others have argued that the film is itself a metaphor for filmmaking,
and that the filmgoing experience itself, images flashing before one's
eyes in a darkened room, is akin to a dream. Writing in Wired, Jonah
Lehrer supported this interpretation and presented neurological
evidence that brain activity is strikingly similar during
film-watching and sleeping. In both, the visual cortex is highly
active and the prefrontal cortex, which deals with logic, deliberate
analysis, and self-awareness, is quiet. Paul argued that the
experience of going to a picturehouse is itself an exercise in shared
dreaming, particularly when viewing Inception: the film's sharp
cutting between scenes forces the viewer to create larger narrative
arcs to stitch the pieces together. This demand of production parallel
to consumption of the images, on the part of the audience is analogous
to dreaming itself. As in the film's story, in a cinema one enters
into the space of another's dream, in this case Nolan's, as with any
work of art, one's reading of it is ultimately influenced by one's own
subjective desires and subconscious. At Bir-Hakeim bridge in
Ariadne creates an illusion of infinity by adding facing
mirrors underneath its struts, Stephanie Dreyfus in la Croix asked "Is
this not a strong, beautiful metaphor for the cinema and its power of
Nolan combined elements from several different film genres into the
film, notably science fiction, heist film, and film noir. Marion
Cotillard plays "Mal" Cobb, Dom Cobb's projection of his guilt over
his deceased wife's suicide. As the film's main antagonist, she is a
frequent, malevolent presence in his dreams. Dom is unable to control
these projections of her, challenging his abilities as an
extractor. Nolan described Mal as "the essence of the femme
fatale", the key noir reference in the film. As a "classic femme
fatale" her relationship with Cobb is in his mind, a manifestation of
Cobb's own neurosis and fear of how little he knows about the woman he
loves. DiCaprio praised Cotillard's performance saying that "she
can be strong and vulnerable and hopeful and heartbreaking all in the
same moment, which was perfect for all the contradictions of her
Nolan began with the structure of a heist movie, since exposition is
an essential element of that genre, though adapted it to have a
greater emotional narrative suited to the world of dreams and
subconscious. Or, as Denby surmised, "the outer shell of the story
is an elaborate caper".
Kristin Thompson argued that exposition
was a major formal device in the film. While a traditional heist movie
has a heavy dose of exposition at the beginning as the team assembles
and the leader explains the plan, in
Inception this becomes nearly
continuous as the group progresses through the various levels of
dreaming. Three-quarters of the film, until the van begins to fall
from the bridge, are devoted to explaining its plot. In this way,
exposition takes precedence over characterisation. Their relationships
are created by their respective skills and roles. Ariadne, like her
ancient namesake, creates the maze and guides the others through it,
but also helps Cobb navigate his own subconscious, and as the sole
student of dream sharing, helps the audience understand the concept of
Nolan drew inspiration from the works of Jorge Luis Borges and
Blade Runner (1982) by Ridley Scott.
The film cuts to the closing credits from a shot of the top apparently
starting to show an ever so faint wobble, inviting speculation about
whether the final sequence was reality or another dream. Nolan
confirmed that the ambiguity was deliberate, saying, "I've been
asked the question more times than I've ever been asked any other
question about any other film I've made... What's funny to me is that
people really do expect me to answer it." The film's script
concludes with "Behind him, on the table, the spinning top is STILL
SPINNING. And we – FADE OUT". Nolan said, "I put that cut there
at the end, imposing an ambiguity from outside the film. That always
felt the right ending to me — it always felt like the appropriate
'kick' to me... The real point of the scene — and this is what I
tell people — is that Cobb isn't looking at the top. He's looking at
his kids. He's left it behind. That's the emotional significance of
the thing." Also,
Michael Caine explained his interpretation of
the ending, saying, "If I'm there it's real, because I'm never in the
dream. I'm the guy who invented the dream."
Some pundits have argued that the top was not in fact Cobb's totem,
rendering the discussion irrelevant. They say that the top was Mal's
totem; Cobb's was his wedding ring, as he can be seen wearing it
whenever he is in a dream and without it whenever he isn't. As he
hands his passport to the immigration officer, his hand is shown with
no ring; thus he was conclusively in reality when seeing his children.
Furthermore, the children were portrayed by different actors,
indicating they had aged.
Mark Fisher argued that "a century of cultural theory" cautions
against accepting the author's interpretation as anything more than a
supplementary text, and this all the more so given the theme of the
instability of any one master position in Nolan's films. Therein the
manipulator is often the one who ends up manipulated and Cobb's "not
caring" about whether or not his world is real may be the price of
happiness and release.
Warner Bros. spent $100 million marketing the film. Although
Inception was not part of an existing franchise, Sue Kroll, president
of Warner's worldwide marketing, said the company believed it could
gain awareness due to the strength of "
Christopher Nolan as a brand".
Kroll declared that "We don't have the brand equity that usually
drives a big summer opening, but we have a great cast and a fresh idea
from a filmmaker with a track record of making incredible movies. If
you can't make those elements work, it's a sad day." The studio
also tried to maintain a campaign of secrecy—as reported by the
Senior VP of Interactive Marketing, Michael Tritter, "You have this
movie which is going to have a pretty big built in fanbase... but you
also have a movie that you are trying to keep very secret. Chris
[Nolan] really likes people to see his movies in a theater and not see
it all beforehand so everything that you do to market that—at least
early on—is with an eye to feeding the interest to fans."
A viral marketing campaign was employed for the film. After the
revelation of the first teaser trailer, in August 2009, the
film's official website featured only an animation of Cobb's spinning
top. In December, the top toppled over and the website opened the
online game Mind Crime, which upon completion revealed Inception's
poster. The rest of the campaign unrolled after
April 2010, where Warner gave away promotional T-shirts featuring
the PASIV briefcase used to create the dream space, and had a QR code
linking to an online manual of the device. Mind Crime also
received a stage 2 with more resources, including a hidden
trailer for the movie. More pieces of viral marketing began to
surface before Inception's release, such as a manual filled with
bizarre images and text sent to Wired magazine, and the online
publication of posters, ads, phone applications, and strange websites
all related to the film. Warner also released an online
prequel comic, Inception: The Cobol Job.
The official trailer released on May 10, 2010 through Mind
Game was extremely well received. It featured an original piece of
music, "Mind Heist", by recording artist Zack Hemsey, rather than
music from the score. The trailer quickly went viral with numerous
mashups copying its style, both by amateurs on sites like YouTube
and by professionals on sites such as CollegeHumor. On
June 7, 2010, a behind-the-scenes featurette on the film was
released in HD on Yahoo! Movies.
Inception was released on DVD and
December 3, 2010, in France, and the week after in the
UK and USA (December 7, 2010).
Warner Bros. also
made available in the United States a limited
Blu-ray edition packaged
in a metal replica of the PASIV briefcase, which included extras such
as a metal replica of the spinning top totem. With a production run of
less than 2000, it sold out in one weekend.
released on 4K UHD along with every
Christopher Nolan film on December
Putative video game
In a November 2010 interview, Nolan expressed his intention to
develop a video game set in the
Inception world, working with a team
of collaborators. He described it as "a longer-term proposition",
referring to the medium of video games as "something I've wanted to
Box office revenue
Box office ranking
All-time United States
Inception was released in both conventional and
IMAX theaters on
July 16, 2010. The film had its world premiere at
Leicester Square in London, United Kingdom on
July 8, 2010. In the United States and Canada,
Inception was released theatrically in 3,792 conventional theaters and
IMAX theaters. The film grossed $21.8 million during its
opening day on July 16, 2010, with midnight screenings in
1,500 locations. Overall the film made $62.7 million and
debuted at No.1 on its opening weekend. Inception's opening
weekend gross made it the second-highest-grossing debut for a
science-fiction film that was not a sequel, remake or adaptation,
behind Avatar's $77 million opening weekend gross in 2009.
The film held the top spot of the box office rankings in its second
and third weekends, with drops of just 32% ($42.7 million) and
36% ($27.5 million) respectively, before dropping to
second place in its fourth week, behind The Other Guys.
Inception grossed US$292 million in the United States and Canada,
US$56 million in the United Kingdom, Ireland and
US$475 million in other countries for a total of
$823 million worldwide. Its five highest-grossing markets
after the USA and Canada (US$292) were China (US$68million), the
United Kingdom, Ireland and
Malta (US$56 million), France and the
Maghreb region (US$43 million), Japan (US$40 million) and
South Korea (US$38 million). It was the
sixth-highest-grossing film of 2010 in North America, and the
fourth-highest internationally, behind Toy Story 3, Alice in
Wonderland and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 1. The
film currently stands as the 44th-highest-grossing of all time.
Inception is the third most lucrative production in Christopher
Nolan's career—behind The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight
Rises— and the second most for Leonardo DiCaprio—behind
On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 86% based on
336 reviews, with an average rating of 8.1/10. The site's critical
consensus reads, "Smart, innovative, and thrilling,
Inception is that
rare summer blockbuster that succeeds viscerally as well as
intellectually." Metacritic, another review aggregator, assigned
the film a weighted average score of 74 out of 100, based on 42
critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews". In polls
CinemaScore during the opening weekend audience members
gave the film an average grade of "B+" on an A+ to F scale.
Rolling Stone magazine's
Peter Travers called
Inception a "wildly
ingenious chess game," and concluded "the result is a knockout."
In Variety, Justin Chang praised the film as "a conceptual tour de
force" and wrote, "applying a vivid sense of procedural detail to a
fiendishly intricate yarn set in the labyrinth of the unconscious
mind, the writer-director has devised a heist thriller for
surrealists, a Jungian's Rififi, that challenges viewers to sift
through multiple layers of (un)reality." Jim Vejvoda of
the film as perfect, deeming it "a singular accomplishment from a
filmmaker who has only gotten better with each film." Relevant's
David Roark called it Nolan's greatest accomplishment, saying,
"Visually, intellectually and emotionally,
Inception is a
Empire magazine rated it five stars in the August 2010 issue and
wrote, "it feels like
Stanley Kubrick adapting the work of the great
William Gibson ... Nolan delivers another true original:
welcome to an undiscovered country."
Entertainment Weekly gave
the film a B+ rating and Lisa Schwarzbaum wrote, "It's a rolling
explosion of images as hypnotizing and sharply angled as any in a
M. C. Escher
M. C. Escher or a state-of-the-biz video game; the
backwards splicing of Nolan's own Memento looks rudimentary by
New York Post
New York Post gave the film a four-star rating
Lou Lumenick wrote, "DiCaprio, who has never been better as the
tortured hero, draws you in with a love story that will appeal even to
Roger Ebert of the
Chicago Sun-Times awarded
the film a full four stars and said that
Inception "is all about
process, about fighting our way through enveloping sheets of reality
and dream, reality within dreams, dreams without reality. It's a
breathtaking juggling act." Richard Roeper, also of the
Inception a perfect score of "A+" and called it "one
of the best movies of the [21st] century."
BBC Radio 5 Live's
Mark Kermode named
Inception as the best film of
2010, stating, "
Inception is proof that people are not stupid, that
cinema is not trash, and that it is possible for blockbusters and art
to be the same thing."
In his review for the Chicago Tribune, Michael Phillips gave the film
3 stars out of 4 and wrote, "I found myself wishing
weirder, further out ... the film is Nolan's labyrinth all the way,
and it's gratifying to experience a summer movie with large visual
ambitions and with nothing more or less on its mind than (as
Shakespeare said) a dream that hath no bottom." TIME magazine's
Richard Corliss wrote the film's "noble intent is to implant one man's
vision in the mind of a vast audience ... The idea of moviegoing as
communal dreaming is a century old. With Inception, viewers have a
chance to see that notion get a state-of-the-art update." Los
Kenneth Turan felt that Nolan was able to blend "the
best of traditional and modern filmmaking. If you're searching for
smart and nervy popular entertainment, this is what it looks
USA Today rated the film three-and-a-half stars out of
four and Claudia Puig felt that Nolan "regards his viewers as possibly
smarter than they are—or at least as capable of rising to his
inventive level. That's a tall order. But it's refreshing to find a
director who makes us stretch, even occasionally struggle, to keep
Not all reviewers gave the film positive reviews. New York magazine's
David Edelstein claimed in his review to "have no idea what so many
people are raving about. It's as if someone went into their heads
while they were sleeping and planted the idea that
Inception is a
visionary masterpiece and—hold on ... Whoa! I think I get it. The
movie is a metaphor for the power of delusional hype—a metaphor for
Rex Reed of
The New York Observer
The New York Observer explained the film's
development as "pretty much what we've come to expect from summer
movies in general and
Christopher Nolan movies in particular ... [it]
doesn't seem like much of an accomplishment to me." A. O. Scott
The New York Times
The New York Times commented "there is a lot to see in Inception,
there is nothing that counts as genuine vision. Mr. Nolan's idea of
the mind is too literal, too logical, and too rule-bound to allow the
full measure of madness." David Denby, writing in The New Yorker,
considered the film not nearly as much fun as Nolan imagined it to be,
Inception is a stunning-looking film that gets lost in
fabulous intricacies, a movie devoted to its own workings and to
While some critics have tended to view the film as perfectly
straightforward, and even criticize its overarching themes as "the
stuff of torpid platitudes," online discussion has been much more
positive. Heated debate has centered on the ambiguity of the
ending, with many critics like Devin Faraci making the case that the
film is self-referential and tongue-in-cheek, both a film about
film-making and a dream about dreams. Other critics read
Inception as Christian allegory and focus on the film's use of
religious and water symbolism. Yet other critics, such as Kristin
Thompson, see less value in the ambiguous ending of the film and more
in its structure and novel method of storytelling, highlighting
Inception as a new form of narrative that revels in "continuous
Several sources have noted many plot similarities between the film and
the 2002 Uncle Scrooge comic
The Dream of a Lifetime by Don
In April 2014,
The Daily Telegraph
The Daily Telegraph placed the title on its top ten
list of the most overrated films. Telegraph's Tim Robey stated, "It's
a criminal failing of the movie that it purports to be about
people’s dreams being invaded, but demonstrates no instinct at all
for what a dream has ever felt like, and no flair for making us feel
like we're in one, at any point." The film won an informal poll
Los Angeles Times
Los Angeles Times as the most overrated movie of 2010.
In March 2011, the film was voted by
BBC Radio 1
BBC Radio 1 and
BBC Radio 1Xtra
listeners as their ninth favorite film of all time.
voted as the third best sci-fi film of all time in the 2011 list Best
in Film: The Greatest Movies of Our Time, based on a poll conducted by
ABC and People. In 2012,
Inception was ranked the 35th Best Edited
Film of All Time by the Motion Picture Editors Guild. In the same
Total Film named it the most rewatchable movie of all time.
In 2014, Empire ranked
Inception the tenth greatest film ever made on
their list of "The 301 Greatest Movies Of All Time" as voted by the
magazine's readers, while
Rolling Stone magazine named it the
second best science fiction film since the turn of the century.
Inception was ranked 84th on Hollywood's 100 Favorite Films, a list
The Hollywood Reporter
The Hollywood Reporter in 2014, surveying "Studio chiefs,
Oscar winners and TV royalty". In 2016,
Inception was voted the
51st best film of the 21st Century by BBC, as picked by 177 film
critics from around the world. The film was included in the
Visual Effects Society's list of "The Most Influential Visual Effects
Films of All Time".
Top ten lists
Inception was listed on many critics' top ten lists.
1st – Richard Roeper, Chicago Sun-Times
1st – Kenneth Turan,
Los Angeles Times
Los Angeles Times (tied with The Social
Network and Toy Story 3)
1st – Tasha Robinson, The A.V. Club
1st – Empire
1st – Kirk Honeycutt, The Hollywood Reporter
2nd – Peter Travers, Rolling Stone
2nd - Christy Lemire, Associated Press
2nd – James Berardinelli, Reelviews
2nd – Gregory Ellwood, HitFix
2nd – Lisa Kennedy, Denver Post
2nd – Bill Goodykoontz, Arizona Republic
3rd – Stephen Holden, The New York Times
3rd – Phillip French, The Observer
3rd – FX Feeney, The Village Voice
4th – Keith Phipps, The A.V. Club
5th – Nathan Rabin, The A.V. Club
5th – Lou Lumenick, New York Post
6th – Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times
6th – Elizabeth Weitzman, New York Daily News
6th – Ann Hornaday, Washington Post
6th – Caryn James, Indiewire
6th – Claudia Puig, USA Today
6th - David Germain, Associated Press
6th - Rene Rodriguez, Miami Herald
7th – Noel Murray, The A.V. Club
8th – Mike Scott, The Times-Picayune
9th – Drew McWeeny, HitFix
10th – J. Hoberman, The Village Voice
10th – Peter Hartlaub, San Francisco Chronicle
Main article: List of accolades received by Inception
Inception appeared on over 273 critics' lists of the top ten films of
2010, being picked as No.1 on 55 of those lists. It was the second
most mentioned film in both the top ten and No.1 lists only behind The
Social Network and was one of the most critically acclaimed films of
2010, alongside the former, Toy Story 3, The King's Speech, and Black
The film won many awards in technical categories, such as Academy
Awards for Best Cinematography, Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing,
and Best Visual Effects, and the
British Academy Film Awards
British Academy Film Awards for
Best Production Design, Best
Special Visual Effects and Best
Sound. In most of its artistic nominations, such as Film,
Director, and Screenplay at the Oscars, BAFTAs and Golden Globes, the
film was defeated by
The Social Network
The Social Network and The King's
Speech. However, the film did win the two highest honors
for a science fiction or fantasy film: the 2011
Bradbury Award for
best dramatic production and the 2011
Hugo Award for best
dramatic presentation, long form.
In popular culture
Numerous pop and hip hop songs reference the film, including Common's
"Blue Sky", N.E.R.D's "Hypnotize U", XV's "The Kick", The Black Eyed
Peas' "Just Can’t Get Enough", Lil Wayne's "6 Foot 7 Foot", J. Lo',
"On the Floor", and B.o.B's "Strange Clouds", while
Inception-based artwork on two of his mixtapes. An instrumental track
Joe Budden is titled "Inception." The animated series South
Park parodies the film in the show's tenth episode of its fourteenth
season, titled "Insheeption".
The film inspired the suffix -ception, which can be appended to a noun
to indicate a layering, nesting, or recursion of the thing in
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Return of the Jedi
Return of the Jedi (1983)
The Terminator (1984)
Back to the Future
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Alien Nation (1988)
Total Recall (1989/1990)
Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)
Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1992)
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