Inception, written, produced, and directed by Christopher Nolan, follows Cobb, a professional thief played Leonardo DiCaprio who commits corporate espionage by infiltrating the subconscious of his targets. According to Nolan, 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 (and) structured somewhat as a heist movie. It’s an action adventure that spans the globe”. In short, he creates his own new genre, the multilevel dream film.
The film’s outstanding ensemble cast includes Ellen Page, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Marion Cotillard, Ken Watanabe, Tom Hardy, Dileep Rao, Cillian Murphy, Tom Berenger, Lukas Haas, and Michael Caine.
Nolan works on the script for about ten years. When he first starts thinking about the film, he is 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 be real."
Nolan feels that he needs more directing experience on large-scale films, and decides to helm Batman Begins (2005), The Prestige (2006), and The Dark Knight (2008), before he continues to work on the script for Inception. After the huge success of Nolan’s Batman films, Warner Bros. purchases his script and greenlights the project.
Leonardo DiCaprio is the first actor to be cast in the film as Nolan has been trying to work with the actor for years but could not convince him to appear in any of his films. DiCaprio and Nolan spend months talking about the screenplay, with Nolan re-writing the script in order ”to make sure that the emotional journey of his character was the driving force of the movie.“
Inception is filmed in six countries and four continents, beginning in Tokyo on June 19, 2009, and finishing in Canada on November 22, 2009. Interiors are shot in a converted airship hangar in Cardington, Bedfordshire, north of London. Sets include the famous hotel corridor. Production designer Guy Hendrix Dyas, special effects supervisor Chris Corbould, and Director of Photography Wally Pfister are involved in the creation of the sequence in which the corridor set is rotated a full 360 degrees to create the illusion of second-level dreaming – inspired by a technique used in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968).
Nolan uses little CGI effects, preferring practical effects whenever possible. "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.“
The film is shot primarily in the anamorphic format on 35 mm film, with key sequences filmed on 65 mm, and aerial sequences in VistaVision. Nolan chooses not to shoot any of the film in 3D (though Warner executives would have liked him to do so) as he prefers shooting on film using prime lenses, which is not possible with 3D cameras.
Wally Pfister gives 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 snow-based third-level dream is inspired by Nolan’s favourite James Bond film On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969).
The score for Inception is composed by Hans Zimmer who describes his work as "a very electronic, dense score”, filled with “nostalgia and sadness” to match Cobb’s feelings throughout the film. The music is 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 song “Non, je ne regrette rien” pointedly appears throughout the film (and after the end titles) to denote the dreams. Incidentally, Marion Cotillard won the Academy Award for Best Actress portraying Piaf in La Vie en Rose (2007).
Inception premieres in London on July 8, 2010 to great acclaim from critics, who praise its story, score, and ensemble cast. Empire magazine writes: “It feels like Stanley Kubrick adapting the work of the great sci-fi author William Gibson (…) Nolan delivers another true original: welcome to an undiscovered country.” Roger Ebert says: “(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.“ The Telegraph dubs Christopher Nolan "the new Steven Spielberg“.
The film grosses over $825 million worldwide (against a budget of $160 million). It wins four Academy Awards for Best Cinematography, Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing, and Best Visual Effects, and is nominated for four more: Best Picture, Best Original Score, Best Art Direction, and Best Original Screenplay. As of 2015, this is the last movie shot on film (not digitally) to win an Academy Award for Best Cinematography.