Posted by mike in Film,Writing at 11:32 pm on September 9, 2010

I’ve got a couple of catch-up reviews to get to, but before doing so I wanted to revisit a couple of the thoughts I’d previously posted on Christopher Nolan’s Inception, in light of some insights I’ve gained from reading the shooting script.

  • I’d mentioned, in my confusion of how the dreams work, that Arthur tells Saito it’s his second-level dream they’re in. Arthur is shot, and yet the dream continues. This seems to have been a case of me incorrectly recalling the specifics of what was going on; in the script, it’s actually Nash who tells Saito they’re in his dream. This makes more sense, of course, as it is Nash who screwed up the detail of the carpet, and subsequently gets punished for it.
  • I was also unclear as to how the roles of dreamer and architect work and interact with each other. In fact, during the planning stages of the mission, Nolan mentions on two separate occasions that Ariadne is showing the details of her design to the dreamers in the background, while Cobb is explaining the mission in the foreground. The first instance is in New York (Yusuf’s dream):
    The team are in the middle of a DESERTED intersection.
    Ariadne is showing Yusuf aspects of the geography.
    	We could split the idea into emotional triggers,
    	and use one on each level.

    And the second is in the hotel (Arthur’s dream):

    The team sit on the steps of the large marble lobby,
    debating. Ariadne is showing Arthur the lobby.

    This was either lost in editing, or it was so subtle in the finished film that I completely missed it, but it does explain a bit, and fills in a gap that was annoying me. (Now the only thing that annoys me about the above is how Nolan, a Brit, uses collective nouns: “The team are…”)

  • I agreed with an opinion piece I’d referenced that the bizarre narrow alleyway in Mombasa may have been the clearest sign that the entire movie occurs within Cobb’s dream. While Nolan doesn’t spell it out explicitly in his screenplay, he does describe the way the crowds look at Cobb as he runs through the streets of Mombasa in the same manner he describes the “projections” looking at Ariadne during her dream-tutorial. On the folded streets of Paris:
    As they walk, Ariadne notices more and more of the
    projections STARING at her.

    Then on the bridge:

    People crossing the bridge STARE at Ariadne.  Several of
    them BUMP her shoulder as they pass.

    And finally:

    Cobb says nothing.  He stands there, staring at Ariadne.
    PEOPLE around her stop and look at her, hostile.
    	Look, this isn't about me—
    Cobb reaches for Ariadne's arm, turns her to him–
    	Is that why you need me to build your dreams?
    A passerby GRABS Ariadne's shoulder–
    	Leave her alone—
    More of the crowd join in, PULLING at Ariadne, holding her
    arms open– Cobb PULLS people off– the crowd PUSHES him

    By comparison, when Cobb escapes from the cafe in Mombasa:

    Cobb stands up, PUSHES into the crowd– faces PEER at him–
    he moves, trying to blend– a SECOND BUSINESSMAN is there.

    And finally, when Cobb finds the alleyway:

    Cobb LOOKS left, right... CUTS LEFT into a narrow, CROWDED
    alley– the alley NARROWS TO A DEAD END.  Faces in the
    CROWD start to watch Cobb– PEOPLE start to SURROUND him–
    Cobb looks back the way he came– the two Businessmen are
    there, GUNS DRAWN–

    Maybe I’m looking too hard at this, but to me both sequences have the same tone of writing. Particularly in Mombasa, it seems Nolan is going to great lengths to draw attention in his script to the behavior of the crowds, which is the same as the behavior of projections that “feel the foreign nature of the dreamer” and attack “like white blood cells fighting an infection.”

  • The line I couldn’t catch that Arthur mumbles after losing a guard on the Penrose stairs is, “Paradox.”
  • Perhaps the most telling thing I learned from reading the Inception shooting script comes from the introduction, which consists of an interview of Christopher Nolan by his brother (and sometimes collaborator) Jonathan. Nolan says:

    I was definitely looking for a reason to impose rules in the story during the writing process. When I saw the first Matrix film, I thought it was really terrific, but I wasn’t sure I quite understood the limits on the powers of the characters who had become self-aware.

    I find it odd that Nolan contrasts his film with The Matrix and thinks that he has provided a more clear explanation of how his world works than the Wachowski brothers did. The only conclusion I can come to from this is that Nolan must actually have all of the specifics of how the world of Inception works straight in his mind, but he just wasn’t able to adequately convey that clarity on the page or in the completed film. It’s interesting to me that he chooses the same influence myself and others have compared his movie to, but arrives at the completely opposite conclusion. Obviously he’s biased, and like I said, it probably all makes sense to him, but what’s weird is that he thinks The Matrix—which I consider to contain one of the best expository introductions to a fantasy world ever put to film—actually doesn’t do a good job of explaining itself.

So I don’t know that this will be the last I have to say about Inception, but I’m glad to have been able to clear up some of my own confusion, and also to solidify some of the conclusions I’d drawn from my own analysis of the film. I’ve always been a big fan of using screenplays to help gain additional understanding of a movie, especially when the movie in question was written by the director. Check out Inception: The Shooting Script if you have the same interest.

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