Fri, Jul 16, 2010 - Page 16 News List

FILM: Beyond his wildest dreams

After his Batman outings, Christopher Nolan returns to head trip territory with ‘Inception’

By Dave Itzkoff  /  NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE , LOS ANGELES

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Nearly everything in Christopher Nolan’s world is more than it appears to be. In his hands his 2000 feature Memento became not only a taut thriller with a catchy psychological gimmick but also a calling card to a career of cinematic independence.

His most recent film, The Dark Knight, was not just a big-budget summer movie about a vigilante in a bat costume, but also a meditation on heroism and terrorism. Even the deceptively quaint home he keeps on an unassuming block in Hollywood has a dual identity: It doubles as his residence and the bunker where he has been finishing his first film since The Dark Knight, which in 2008 earned the all-time highest US domestic gross for a motion picture not made by James Cameron.

Yet for all the fanfare that will accompany Nolan’s new film, Inception, when Warner Brothers releases it today, most of its intended viewers will know almost nothing about it. At Nolan’s preference, trailers for Inception have shown little more than snippets of its star, Leonardo DiCaprio, and a nattily attired supporting cast in slow-motion action sequences. Intensifying the fantastical quality of these disconnected moments and their vaguely modern settings is the revelation that they are taking place inside a dream.

With these few bread crumbs Nolan and his studio are confident that their opaque and costly film will lure large crowds. They are betting that moviegoers have come to regard Nolan as a director who combines intimate emotions with outsize imagination and seemingly limitless resources — a blockbuster auteur who has made bigness his medium.

“When somebody’s spent years making a film and spent massive amounts of money — crazy amounts of money, really, that get spent on these huge films — then you want to see something extremely ambitious in every sense,” Nolan, 39, said a few weeks ago, sitting outside the garage that is now his editing suite.

“Of course,” he added with a dry chuckle, “there are all kinds of extremely ambitious failures

as well.”

In Inception DiCaprio plays Cobb, the leader of a group of “extractors”: people who are able to participate in and shape the dreams of others. With these skills, extractors can teach clients how to safeguard secrets locked away in their subconscious, or how to steal them from unfortified minds. Presented with the inverse challenge of implanting an idea in someone’s head, Cobb assembles his team (including Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Ellen Page) and designs an intricate mind heist that leads them through layers of dreams within dreams, and to a mysterious woman (Marion Cotillard) from Cobb’s past.

Creating the film’s multiple valences of reality took seven months of principal photography in six cities — Tokyo; Carlington, England; Paris; Tangier, Morocco; Los Angeles; and Calgary,

Alberta, at an estimated cost of US$160 million.

For Nolan, those statistics are humbling but necessary. “What I found is, it’s not possible to execute this concept in a small fashion,” he said.

“As soon as you’re talking about dreams,” he added, “the potential of the human mind is infinite. It has to feel like you could go absolutely anywhere by the end of the film. And it has to work on a massive scale.”

With Memento, his independent film noir about a man (Guy Pearce) seeking an assailant who has robbed him of his short-term memory, Nolan capably demonstrated he could make compelling movies at smaller scales.

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