Theatrical release poster
July 16, 2010
Inception is a 2010 science fiction/action heist film written, co-produced, and directed by Christopher Nolan. The film stars a large ensemble cast that includes Leonardo DiCaprio, Ken Watanabe, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Marion Cotillard, Ellen Page, Tom Hardy, Dileep Rao, Cillian Murphy, Tom Berenger, and Michael Caine. DiCaprio plays Dom Cobb, a thief who commits corporate espionage by infiltrating the subconscious of his targets. He is offered a chance to regain his old life as payment for a task considered to be impossible: "inception", the implantation of another person's idea into a target's subconscious.
Former dream architect Dominick "Dom" Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) and business partner Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) perform corporate espionage by using an experimental military-developed machine to infiltrate the subconscious of their targets and extract information while dreaming, their latest target being powerful Japanese businessman Saito (Ken Watanabe). Tiered dream within a dream strategies are used and dreamers awaken by a sudden "kick" (generally by falling) or by dying in the dream. However, if the dreamer is the one who dies, the dream "collapses". Each extractor carries a totem, a personalized small object the behavior of which is only predictable to its owner, that serves the purpose of identifying dream-state or reality. Cobb's totem is a spinning top that perpetually spins in the dream state. The extraction fails due to Mallorie "Mal" Cobb (Marion Cotillard), Cobb's deceased wife, whose memory projection sabotages the mission. Saito later reveals, after Cobb's and Arthur's associate (Lukas Haas) sells them out, that he was in fact auditioning the team to perform the difficult act of inception: implanting an idea or thought into a person's subconscious while they are asleep.
Saito wishes to break up the energy conglomerate of his ailing competitor Maurice Fischer, by planting the idea in his son and heir Robert Fischer (Cillian Murphy) to disintegrate his father's company. Should Cobb succeed, Saito would use his influence to clear a murder charge against Cobb, so he can return to the U.S. and his children. Cobb accepts the offer and assembles his team: Eames, a conman and identity forger; Yusuf, a chemist who concocts the powerful sedative for a stable dream within a dream strategy; Ariadne, a young architecture student tasked with designing the labyrinth of the dream landscapes; and Arthur. Saito accompanies so that he knows whether or not Cobb and his team succeeded in their mission.
When the elder Fischer dies in Sydney and his body is flown back to Los Angeles, the team share the flight with Robert Fischer and Cobb sedates him, bringing him into the shared dream. At each stage, the member of the team generating the dream stays behind to initiate the "kick", while the other members sleep within the dream to travel a level deeper. In the first level, Yusuf's rainy downtown dream, the team abducts Fischer. However Fischer's antibody-like trained subconscious projections attack and severely wound Saito. Eames temporarily takes the appearance of Fischer's godfather, Peter Browning, to suggest Fischer reconsider his father's will. Yusuf drives the team in a van as they are sedated into Arthur's dream, a hotel, where the team recruit Fischer, convincing him his kidnapping was orchestrated by Browning. In the third dream level, a snowy mountain fortress dreamed by Eames, Fischer is told they are in Browning's subconscious, but they are, in fact, really going deeper into Fischer's. Yusuf, under assault by trained projections, initiates his kick too soon by driving off a bridge, sending Arthur's dream world into zero-gravity and causing an avalanche in Eames' dream. Arthur is forced to improvise a new kick using an elevator that will be synchronized with the van hitting the water, while the team in Eames' dream races to finish the job before the new round of kicks.
Unbeknownst to the rest of the team, due to the effects of heavy sedation and multi-layered dreaming, death during this mission will result in entering Limbo, dream space of unknown content where the dreamer could be trapped indefinitely. Elapsed time in each dream level is, on average, roughly twenty times greater than in the level above it; in Limbo, the deepest level of all, 24 hours of outer-world time would be experienced as about half a century there. Cobb reveals to Ariadne that he spent "50 years" with Mal in Limbo constructing a world out of their shared memories whilst seemingly growing old together. After waking back into our outermost world, however, Mal remained convinced she was still dreaming and committed suicide, trying to persuade Cobb to do so by retroactively incriminating him in her death. He subsequently fled the U.S. and left his children behind, ostensibly in the care of his father-in-law.
Saito finally succumbs to his wounds, and Cobb's projection of Mal sabotages the plan by killing Fischer, sending them both into limbo. Cobb and Ariadne enter limbo to find Fischer and Saito, while Eames remains on his dream level to set up a kick by rigging the fortress with explosives. Cobb confronts his projection of Mal, who tries to convince him to stay in limbo. Cobb refuses and confesses that he was responsible for Mal's suicide: having convinced her to leave limbo by using inception to plant the idea in her mind that the world they had been living in for 50 years was not real, and hence the need to kill themselves in order to return to the real world, once back in the real world she continued to believe dying would wake her. Mal attacks Cobb but Ariadne shoots her. Through his confession, Cobb attains catharsis and chooses to remain in limbo to search for Saito. Ariadne pushes Fischer off a balcony, bringing him back up to the mountain fortress, where he enters a safe room to discover and accept the planted idea: that his father wishes him to be his "own man" and, accordingly, that splitting up the conglomerate might not be such a radical notion after all.
All of the team members except Cobb and Saito ride the synchronized kicks back to reality: Ariadne jumps off a balcony in Limbo, Eames detonates the explosives in the fortress, Arthur blasts an elevator containing the team's sleeping bodies up an elevator shaft, and the van in Yusuf's dream hits the water. Saito, who is slowly dying on each level from the initial gun-shot wound, enters Limbo. Cobb eventually finds an aged Saito and the two remember their arrangement, presumably killing themselves and awakening to outer-world reality on the airplane. Saito honors the arrangement and Cobb passes through U.S. customs once the plane lands in Los Angeles. Just before reuniting with his children, Cobb tests reality with his spinning top, but he turns away to greet his children before observing the results. As he plays with his children the camera pans to the spinning top for the final shot, at which point the film abruptly ends.
- Leonardo DiCaprio as Dominick "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. According to Hollywood Reporter, both Brad Pitt and Will Smith were offered the role.
- 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 Hardy as Eames, a sharp-tongued associate of Cobb's. He is referred to as a fence but his speciality 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.
- 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". Evan Rachel Wood was Christopher Nolan's first choice to play Ariadne, but she turned it down. Before Ellen Page was offered and accepted the role, Nolan considered casting Emily Blunt, Rachel McAdams, Emma Roberts, Jessy Schram, and Carey Mulligan.
- Marion Cotillard as Mallorie "Mal" Cobb, Dom's deceased wife. She is a manifestation of Dom's guilt about the real 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".
- 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.
- 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 conflicts.
- Dileep Rao as Yusuf, the team's chemist. 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".
- 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 father".
- Pete Postlethwaite as Maurice, the dying founder of a business empire. The film became one of Postlethwaite's final film roles before his death in early 2011.
- Michael Caine as Prof. 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 schoolgirls."
- Miranda Nolan plays a minor role as an air hostess. Miranda is a first cousin to the film's director Christopher Nolan.
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