One of the best ways to learn how to do something well is by studying the works of masters. As a filmmaker, that means I study great directors and writers.
Christopher Nolan is one of the directors I’ve been studying. Every movie I’ve seen of his is good. A few of them have achieved greatness.
Last week I watched INCEPTION. INCEPTION is about a man who has a technology allowing him to enter other people’s minds through their dreams. In fact, much of the movie takes place in these dream worlds. And, I think it’s here that Nolan’s genius shines.
Rather than thinking of INCEPTION as a movie, an isolated story to be viewed as a universe unto itself, think of it, instead as a dream within Nolan’s mind shared by all who watch it.
I believe this is Nolan’s intent. In fact, I think it answers the question posed in the final scene. In the final scene Cobb (DiCaprio’s character) finally returns home to the United States, to his home, to his children. The kids are just outside the door, playing in the backyard. Cobb spins the top on the table. (We’ve been told that Cobb spins the top to know if he’s in a dream or not. If he’s in a dream, the top will spin forever. If he’s in the real world, the top eventually topples.) As he walks out to see his kids for the first time in years, Nolan points the camera at the spinning top and we’re left with the question, “Is Cobb trapped in a dream?”
Instead, look at it this way: We are sharing Nolan’s dream. Nolan is embodied in the character of Cobb, which we know because DiCaprio is attired, even to his haircut and goatee. I’d be willing to bet that their mannerisms are slightly similar as well, but never having met Nolan, I can’t say for sure.
Again, in one of the early scenes of the movie, Cobb stands at a window looking out into the ocean, planning his next move. But, the window pane is shaped like a slightly stylized Legendary (one of the companies that produced the movie) logo.
Back to the final scene. The top spinning at the end can be telling us that Cobb is still trapped in a dream. It can also tell us that we’re in Christopher Nolan’s dream. As we stair at the spinning top, we realize that and awake, and then the credits roll.
This blending of reality and fantasy is typical, at least in the way Nolan’s films have been marketed. The fact that he embedded such a nuanced idea in the movie makes him a master of the art form, in my mind.
Of course, it’s art and art is defined by the one who experiences. Please, let me know what you think about this.