Inception - Leonardo DiCaprio, Christopher Nolan
Inception - Leonardo DiCaprio and director Christopher Nolan © Warner Bros. Entertainment, Inc.

Following his astonishing success with The Dark Knight, writer/director Christopher Nolan has come up with an original Sci-Fi concept that delves into the infinite and intimate world of dreams.

In Inception, Leonardo DiCaprio portrays Dom Cobb, a skilled thief who leads a team in stealing secrets deep within the subconscious during the dream state.

How did this movie come about?

Inception - Christopher Nolan © Warner Bros. Entertainment, Inc.
Director Christopher Nolan on set © Warner Bros. Entertainment, Inc.

About 10 years ago, I became fascinated with the subject of dreams, about the relationship of our waking life to our dreaming life. I’ve always found it to be an interesting paradox that everything within a dream – whether frightening, or happy, or fantastic, is being produced by your own mind as it happens. What that says about the potential of the imagination is quite extraordinary. I started thinking how that could be applied to a grand-scale action movie with a very human dimension.

At the heart of the movie is the notion that an idea is indeed the most resilient and powerful parasite. A trace of it will always be there in your mind… somewhere. The thought that someone could master the ability to invade your dream space, in a very physicals sense, and steal an idea, no matter how private, is compelling.

What fascinates you about dreams?

I think the relationship between movies and dreams is something that’s always interested me, and I liked the idea of trying to portray dreams on film. I’d been working on the script for some time, really about 10 years in the form that you’ve seen it in, this idea of a heist structure.

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.

Did you want to touch on the concept of cinema as a layer of our dreaming?

Inception - Christopher Nolan, Leonardo DiCaprio © Warner Bros. Entertainment, Inc.
Director Christopher Nolan with Leonardo DiCaprio on set © Warner Bros. Entertainment, Inc.

Well, 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, I naturally gravitate towards cinematic worlds. 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, and I think a lot of the tropes from different genres of movies, heist films, spy films, they naturally sit in that world.

What was your research into dreams and science?

I don’t actually tend to do a lot of research when I’m writing. I took the approach in writing Inception that I did when I was writing Memento about memory and memory loss, which is I tend to just examine my own process of, in this case dreaming. In Memento’s case, memory, and try and analyze how that works and how that might be changed and manipulated. How a rule set might emerge from my own process.

What I find you want to do with research is just confirm 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.

Can you talk a little about the character of Ariadne, who Ellen Page portrays?

Inception - Ellen Page, Michael Caine, Leonardo DiCaprio, Wally Pfister, Christopher Nolan © Warner Bros. Entertainment, Inc.
Ellen Page, Michael Caine, Leonardo DiCaprio, director of photography Wally Pfister and director Christopher Nolan on set © Warner Bros. Entertainment, Inc.

In writing the script for Inception, it was very important to me that there be a conduit for the audience, a character who is being shown this world for the first time and is eager to explore it. There’s how the character of Ariadne was born.

It was also very important for the audience to see Cobb through Ariadne’s eyes and get to the core of that character. And when I met Ellen, she had the perfect combination of freshness and savvy and maturity beyond her years. She’s an extraordinary performer with incredible creativity and an innate curiosity of her own, and therefore, naturally infused Ariadne with those qualities.

You have a wonderful cast, did they have an immediate rapport?

It was fascinating to watch the actors evolve as a group, very much the way the characters do in the story. It really brought a richness to their scenes together. As a writer, you hope for that kind of chemistry, but it’s not until you get on the set that you see the cast bring out their characters’ idiosyncrasies and interesting inter-relationships. That’s a vital part of any movie, especially a heist movie, and I think these actors really delivered that.

Do any of your own dreams stand out that you don’t mind sharing with us?

As far as the dreams go, 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. That’s a very striking experience for people who have it. It’s clearly in the film and a big part of it.

Judy Sloane

Judy is Film Review Online's regular Los Angeles based reporter.