It’s been 22 years since Christopher Nolan’s low-budget feature directorial debut “The Following” premiered. It’s been 15 since his realistic and gritty “Batman Begins” reimagined the superhero genre and paved the way for a new generation of comic book films. It’s been one day since his latest work, “Tenet,” released in American theaters. But it was 10 years ago that Christopher Nolan released his magnum opus — the perfect blend of big-budget action thriller and cerebral drama known as “Inception.”
“Inception” was immensely successful when it was released, cementing Nolan as a master director and audience favorite. This film earned him the creative freedom and studio backing that allowed him to work on whatever project he wanted with a nearly unlimited budget for the last decade.
The 2010 film was successful for a variety of reasons, the most important of which was its concept. The idea of shared dreams, where physics don’t apply, time ticks more slowly and characters can die without really dying, is about as rich a concept as one could possibly hope for when writing an action thriller. Nolan milks the concept for everything it’s worth. From the magnificent gravity-bending hotel hallway fight scene (which was achieved through practical effects), to impossible landscapes and architecture, to perfect disguises and downtown gunfights, Nolan eliminates all obstacles with the sheer brilliance of his setting.
Beyond the physical aspects of Nolan’s dreamland, the concept also provides the opportunity for some breathtaking character development. By taking the story literally inside his characters’ heads, Nolan transforms physical objects into representations of the characters’ thoughts and emotions. From Leonardo DiCaprio’s character Cobb’s subconscious bursting at the seams with guilt and regret, to Cillian Murphy’s Fischer’s desperate need for his dead father’s love and approval, “Inception” is jam-packed with emotion and catharsis. Symbols like Cobb’s train, his faceless children, his spinning top and Fischer’s childhood photo and pinwheel each hit like gut-punches when their meanings are slowly revealed. No film gives you goosebumps quite like “Inception.”
Another reason for the film’s admiration is its story. Intricate and weaving, Nolan tells a complicated tale of love, deception and guilt. More important than its complexity, however, is the story’s incredible consistency. The film doesn’t contradict itself. It creates rules for this remarkable world, sticks to them and uses them to its advantage. The world Nolan builds feels richer as a result. Not only is shared dreaming completely believable within the world he creates, but the world inside the dream feels true to itself as well. The audience understands how everything works. The stakes within the story are well defined and the objective is clear. The story sets up the perfect maze for the characters to run through, revealing more and more about themselves with every twist and turn. By the end, the audience doesn’t feel cheated or deceived. Instead, they feel they’ve just witnessed something profound.
Lastly, the film’s huge success is largely due to its incredible action sequences. Aside from all its thought-provoking elements, “Inception” is full of innovative, fast-paced action. Gunfights, car chases, ski-battles and altered-gravity acrobatics abound. The sets are magnificent. The special effects are awe-inspiring and gorgeous. Ultimately, there’s nothing for the general audience not to love. The film is an intense blockbuster even without the profound emotional baggage.
It’s easy to see why “Inception” is still loved a decade after its release. It’s a stunning achievement for an excellent director. Be it 10, 20 or 50 years after audiences were first blown away by Nolan’s masterpiece, “Inception” will always be considered a true classic.