The filmmakers and studio behind Inception have conspired to make it the most anticipated movie of the year. First, when director Christopher Nolan announced his next film, Inception, movie fans were already clamoring for a follow-up to The Dark Knight. Nolan’s second Batman film was the highest grossing superhero movie and the biggest film of the decade, until Avatar came along just at the end of 2009.
One year ago, nobody but Nolan knew what Inception was about. All Warner Bros. released was a statement that it was an espionage thriller with sci-fi undertones. The first trailer didn’t even say what it was about. It only showed men defying gravity in a spinning room. Even the current trailers only reveal that it’s about dreams, with images of cities folding in on themselves and people floating in mid-air.
“It’s certainly difficult to balance marketing a film and putting it out there, with everybody wanting to keep it fresh for the audience,” Nolan told Dish in LA recently. “My most enjoyable movie-going experiences have always been going to a movie theater, sitting there and the lights go down and a film comes on the screen that you don’t know everything about. You don’t know every plot turn and every character movement that’s going to happen. Obviously, we also have to sell the film. It’s a balance that I think Warner’s is striking very well. We invite the audience to come and see it based on some of the imagery and some of the plot ideas and the premise, but we don’t want to give everything away. I think too much is given away too often in movie marketing today.”
The film’s stars are in on the secret and enjoy keeping it. We’ll tell you that Ellen Page plays a character vital to the creation of dreams, but she wouldn’t want us saying any more. “Just please, don’t ask questions and don’t look at anything and just please go see it,” Page said. “This is definitely a film that I’m just so thrilled about, and I’m more thrilled about the fact that everybody seems so excited. I just feel so grateful to be in a Christopher Nolan film, let alone this film. So typically, yes, I’m of the mind that I love how Chris does the ‘secrecy,’ but I’m so young that I’ve always been in a time when everything is on the internet. Sometimes I see a trailer and I’m thrilled to say that I’ve just seen the whole movie without paying for it. So I actually go the route of just ‘don’t ask and don’t sniff around’. Just have an absolute blast and an exciting, cerebral time when you see it.”
Leonardo DiCaprio stars in Inception. He plays Cobb, the ringleader in this team of dream experts. He’s been one of Hollywood’s most acclaimed actors since What’s Eating Gilbert Grape and The Basketball Diaries, and combined with that, box office success like Titanic and The Departed. Inception was bold new territory for him.
“This was my first science fiction film,” DiCaprio said. “The earliest conversations I had with Chris is how both of us have a hard time with science fiction. We have a little bit of an aversion to it because it’s hard for us to emotionally invest in worlds that are too far detached from what we know. That’s what’s interesting about Chris Nolan’s science fiction worlds. They’re deeply rooted in things that we’ve seen before. There are cultural references and it feels like a world that is tactile, that we understand that we could jump into, and it’s not too much of a leap of faith to make.”
There are several levels of dream in Inception. Nolan crafted each layer by modeling it after a different genre of film. “I think for me when you look at the idea of being able to create a limitless world and use it almost as a playground for action and adventure and so forth, I naturally gravitate towards cinematic worlds, whether it’s the Bond films and things like that,” Nolan said. “So without being too self-conscious about it, or without too much intention, as I was writing it I certainly allowed my mind to wander where it would naturally. I think a lot of the tropes from different genres of movies, heist films, spy films, that kind of thing, they therefore sort of naturally sit in that world.”
In Inception, locations as different as city streets and snowy mountains, exist in a single mind. In real life, the filmmakers and actors traveled the world to create them. “Obviously, this story structure was extremely ambitious in the fact that simultaneously, you had four different states of the human subconscious that represented different dream-states. And each one affected the other,” DiCaprio continued.
“What Chris talked about very early on with us was being able to go to these six different locations around the world [and what] was startling to me in how complicated the screenplay was, was seeing it in a visual format. That’s the magic of moviemaking. You clearly identify one scenario with the other, and it’s a completely different experience. The snow-capped mountains of Canada, or whether you’re in a van or a L.A. elevator shaft or Paris or London, you experience it and you have a visual reference. It was a lot easier to understand than I ever thought it would be and that’s a testament to how engaging movies are, and the visual medium is.”
When it comes to dreams, this is not a scientific study. Ultimately, Nolan created the dream world he wanted to. “I don’t actually tend to do a lot of research when I’m writing,” Nolan said. “I took the approach in writing Inception that I did when I was writing Memento, about memory and memory loss. I tend to just examine my own process of, in this case dreaming, in Memento’s case memory. I think a lot of what I find you want to do with research is just confirming things you want to do. If the research contradicts what you want to do, you tend to go ahead and do it anyway. So at a certain point I realized that if you’re trying to reach an audience, being as subjective as possible and really trying to write from something genuine is the way to go. Really it’s mostly from my own process, my own experience.”
In Nolan’s case, dreams are a little more literal. So they lend themselves to a Hollywood movie. “As far as the dreams go, I would only point to - there are times in my life where I experienced lucid dreaming, which is a big feature of Inception – the idea of realizing you’re in a dream and therefore trying to change or manipulate it in some way,” Nolan said. “That’s a very striking experience for people who have it. It’s clearly in the film and a big part of it. I’ve been fascinated by dreams my whole life, since I was a kid, and I think the relationship between movies and dreams is something that’s always interested me. I liked the idea of trying to portray dreams on film. I think really for me, the primary interest in dreams and in making this film is this notion that while you’re asleep you can create an entire world that you’re also experiencing without realizing that you’re doing that. I think that says a lot about the potential of the human mind, especially the creative potential. It’s something I find fascinating.”
In DiCaprio’s case, it was all acting. Dreams are not a major part of his personal life. “It was interesting being part of this film, because I’m not a big dreamer, never have been,” he said. “I remember fragments of my dreams. I tried to take a traditional approach to researching this project and doing preparation for it, like read books on dream analysis, Freud’s book on the analysis of dreams and tried to research it in that sort of form.
“The only thing I’ve sort of obviously extracted from the research of dreams is that I don’t think there’s a specific science you can put on dream psychology .I think that it’s up to the, obviously, the individual. Obviously we suppress things, emotions, things during the day, thoughts that we obviously haven’t thought through enough, and in that state of sleep when our subconscious, or mind just sort of randomly fires off different surreal story structures, and when we wake up we should pay attention to these things. But I realized that this is Chris Nolan’s dream world. It has its own structure and its own set of rules. It was basically being able to sit down with Chris for two months every other day and talk about the structure of this dream world, and how the rules apply in it.”
Perhaps working on Inception made DiCaprio a little more cognizant of his own dreams. He acknowledged that portraying Cobb’s journey through the subconscious was a way of dealing with one’s problems, even in a fictional story.
“At the end of the day, these different layers of the dream do represent a psychoanalysis, him getting deeper and deeper and closer to the truth of what he needs to understand about himself,” DiCaprio said. “That in its own right is immediately intriguing and Chris and I got to work and talk a lot about the different concepts of that and what Cobb has been through in the dream world, what his past is. So as we were talking more and more about the character, it all became more and more exciting. I think all of us here mutually felt like this was a journey that we had to be a part of. It was extremely exciting.”
Inception opens Friday, July 16. Don’t miss it!