The ‘Struggle to make’ series reveals how a film or TV show was brought to the screen — what were the difficulties in the production, how the casting was done, and tidbits.
Christopher Nolan’s Inception, released in 2010, remains one of his most-loved movies. The film reinforced the director’s reputation as that rare auteur who employs layered, high-concept scripts in a summer blockbuster and finds success. It was also an example in how to create awe-inspiring visuals with minimal use of CGI (computer-generated imagery).
The film boasted of a top-notch cast led by Leonardo DiCaprio. Ken Watanabe, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Marion Cotillard, Ellen Page, Tom Hardy, Dileep Rao, Cillian Murphy, Tom Berenger and Michael Caine completed the ensemble.
The story follows DiCaprio’s Dominick “Dom” Cobb, an “extractor” who steals thoughts or ideas from the minds of people through a shared dream world. He and his partner Arthur (Gordon-Levitt) are hired by a Japanese businessman called Saito to do an apparently impossible job: to plant an idea instead of stealing it — also called “inception”.
Christopher Nolan had begun working on the idea of the film as far back as 2001, when he showed his wife and producer Emma Thomas an early treatment of the film. Emma told The Hollywood Reporter in 2010, “It read enormous. There was clearly a visual-effects component and lots of action. I read those 80 pages and thought, ‘My God, how would we ever do this?’ We asked ourselves, ‘Could we make it smaller?’ We realised that we couldn’t do that with a film about dreams because dreams are infinite.”
Nolan had worked with Warner Bros on Insomnia and his idea was received enthusiastically at the studio according to THR. But then, he also got the chance to reboot the Batman franchise and became busy on Batman Begins.
However, that proved to be a boon for the filmmaker as he learned a lot more about big action sequences and special effects with the Batman movies, in particular, The Dark Knight. This proved to be crucial on Inception, a lot of which (the whole thing, according to some) was set in dreams, with their unreliable physics.
Inception features some of the most striking visuals in popular cinema, much of which Nolan accomplished through practical effects. As a rule, Nolan avoids CGI whenever possible. A scene involving Leonardo DiCaprio and Ellen Page sitting around a table outside a cafe and it begins to explode into pieces in slow motion. Actual air cannons were used to launch debris and with the help of CGI later, the scene was constructed.
Similarly, there was a scene requiring a fight in zero gravity with Gordon-Levitt. To mimic zero gravity, Christopher Nolan actually got a rotating hotel corridor built. There was a scene in which Robert Fischer (Cillian Murphy) meets Cobb for the first time in a bar and explains the concept of lucid dreaming and dream sharing. That scene had an actual bar built on a platform so it could tilt.
Inception, with its complex plot, visual effects and a mind-bending, ambiguous ending, was loved by critics and audiences alike. It scored an 87 per cent rating at Rotten Tomatoes, with the consensus being, “Smart, innovative, and thrilling, Inception is that rare summer blockbuster that succeeds viscerally as well as intellectually.” It also grossed 828.32 million dollars worldwide on a budget of 160 million dollars.