Christopher Nolan

Director Christopher Nolan explores the fascinating world of the dream in the breathtaking “Inception”. Moviehole caught up with the famed director, whose other credits include “The Dark Knight” and “Memento”, to talk about the interest in centering a film around slumber thoughts.

Are dreams something you’re fascinated in? Have you become more fascinated in them, and their meaning, since completing the film?

I’ve been fascinated by dreams my whole life, since I was a kid, and I think the relationship between movies and dreams is something that’s always interested me. I liked the idea of trying to portray dreams on film. And I’d been working on the script for some time, really about 10 years in the form that you’ve seen it in, where this idea of this kind of heist structure. I think really, for me, the primary interest in dreams and in making this film is this notion that your mind 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.

The storyline was kept a secret for so long, is there a danger that a certain point even secrecy becomes a form of hype? How do you balance that with what you want people to know about this film?

Well, it’s certainly difficult to balance marketing a film and putting it out there to everybody with wanting to keep it fresh for the audience. My most enjoyable moviegoing experiences have always been going to a movie theater, sitting there and the lights go down and a film comes on the screen that you don’t know everything about, and you don’t know every plot turn and every character movement that’s going to happen. I want to be surprised and entertained by a movie, so that’s what we’re trying to do for the audience.

Good point, yeah.

Obviously, we also have to sell the film. It’s a balance that I think Warner’s is striking very well. I suppose that at a point, keeping something secret does lend itself to its own degree of hype, but I don’t really think of it as secrecy. You know, we invite the audience to come and see it based on some of the imagery and some of the plot ideas and the premise, but we don’t want to give everything away. I think too much is given away too often in movie marketing today.

Can you talk a little about the Fred Astaire fight sequence?

I’ll leave [Joseph Gordon-Levitt] to tell you the bad stuff, but, really, the thing I just want to point out that people might not be aware of is that we had a stunt guy who looks exactly like Joe made up perfectly – and he stood there three weeks on-set and didn’t do a thing because Joe insisted on doing absolutely everything himself apart from, as I’ve been reminded one shot – one shot where the stunt guy performed. Everything else he did himself, and he just did the most incredible job with these bizarre rigs and these bizarre sort of torture devices.

You listed Pink Floyd’s The Wall as one of your primary influences and the dreams in that are very sexualized, which is something that doesn’t appear very much in this film. Was that something you shied away from?

Well, there are certain areas when you’re talking about dreams, the analysis of dreams and how you might examine them in the film that you do want to avoid, because they would probably be either too disturbing for the sort of action film genre that we’re working in or funny. And so one of the things we talked about, tonally, I talked about with Leo, we talked a lot about in the period when we were looking at the script very closely is never tipping over into comedy, this funny version. I mean, one of the things all these guys have done in their performances, which I think is extraordinary, is that they’ve created very subtle differences in the way the characters appear in the dream levels and in reality. They’ve never made it funny; they’ve never taken it to that comedic place. And certainly I think there’s probably a great comedy version of this movie somewhere, but I don’t want to make it.

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

Well, I think for me when you look a the idea of being able to create a limitless world and use it almost as a playground for action and adventure and so forth, I naturally gravitate towards cinematic worlds, whether it’s the Bond films and things like that. 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, that kind of thing. They therefore sort of naturally sit in that world.

Did you research dreams when developing the pic?

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. I do know, because I think a lot of what I find you want to do with research is just confirming 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. Really it’s mostly from my own process, my own experience.

So how and when did you pitch the project?

When I first pitched the studio the project, it was about 10 years ago and I’d just finished Insomnia. Really, the pitch was very much the movie you see, although I hadn’t figured out the emotional core of the story. That took me a long time to do. I think I sort of grew into the film in a sense. I had the heist theme, I had the relationship between architecture and dreams, the idea that you would use an architect to design a dream for somebody else and all of that. All of those things were in place for several years, but it took me a long time to sort of find this idea of emotionally connecting with the story. Because when I look at heist movies, and I wanted it to feel like a heist movie, they tend to be almost deliberately superficial. They tend not to have high emotional stakes. So what I realized over the years and the thing I got stuck on was that doesn’t work when you’re talking about dreams, because the whole thing about the human mind and dreams is that it has to have emotional consequences and resonances. And so that was really my process over the years, finding my relationship with the love story, the tragedy of it with the emotional side.

Did you bring this baby home on tight… and on budget??

Yeah, we did. We actually had a very, very efficient crew and this very professional bunch of actors. We were able to hammer through it and we finished early and we finished under budget. We really brought the thing off very, very smoothly which was great. We try to be as efficient as possible because I think in my process, I think that actually helps the work. I like having the pressure of time and money and really trying to stick to the parameters we’ve been given. Yeah, it went very smoothly.

Did you ever consider jumping on the bandwagon and filming “Inception” in 3D?

Sure. I mean, we looked at shooting on various different formats before we went to shoot, including 3-D technology but also Showscan, 65 mil, which we eventually fixed on. Then when we edited the film, we looked at the post conversion process and did some very good tests. But when I really looked at the time period we had and where my attention needed to be in finishing the film, I decided that I didn’t have enough time to do it to the standard I would have liked. I think the question of 3-D really is one for audiences in a sense. The tests we looked at, it’s perfectly possible to post-convert a film very well. I like not having glasses when I watch a movie and I like being able to see a very bright, immersive image. So I think at the end of the day, I’m extremely happy to be putting the film out with 35 mil film prints very brightly projected with the highest possible image quality. That’s really what excites me.

“Inception” commences Thursday July 22 across Australia