ByFranco Gucci, writer at
I'm an avid movie fan whose favorite movie ever is Back to the Future. I'm the type of person that if I like a TV show, I'll binge watch it
Franco Gucci

After two Batman films, Christopher Nolan decided to go back to his Memento roots and craft yet another mind-bender: 2010's Inception, a film that explored a question many of us have been pondering for years: What if you could control your own dreams? The movie delivered on its premise, because pretty much every scene contained an intriguing concept, theory, or design exploring our limitations and desires as humans. One of the most impactful ways in which the film explored those themes was through the Paradoxical Architecture scene.

Ariadne () and Arthur () went into Ariadne's consciousness to teach the young woman about camouflaging herself from another person's mind. For the lesson, they went for a walk through a flight of stairs known as the Penrose Steps, a theoretical staircase, also known as an "impossible object," that could go on forever.

[Credit: Warner Bros.]
[Credit: Warner Bros.]

Seeing the impressive piece of architecture in real life blew audiences' minds thanks to its deceiving simplicity. That little moment continued the film's message that anything that seemed impossible could happen. I don't know about you, but to this day I find myself thinking about how it could have been assembled before reminding myself that it actually wasn't (more on that below).

It's been a few years since the movie was released, but its production company, Legendary Pictures, just found a way to make the Paradoxical Architecture scene even more interesting. They released the scene playing simultaneously with the film's original script, and it's truly fascinating. Take a look:

Constructing The Impossible

With the release of this amazing new video, I thought it appropriate to look back on the infinite stairwell and explore how and his crew achieved creating the structure and what inspired them in the first place.

To give you some backstory, the concept of the Penrose stairs was proposed by the father-son physicist-mathematician duo of Lionel and Roger Penrose as a 2D design in 1959.

The pair were originally inspired by the designs of M.C. Escher, a graphic artist best known for his fascination with impossible objects, mathematical designs and the concept if infinity. One year later, Escher incorporated the Penrose's own concept for the Penrose stairs in his Ascending and Descending lithograph, so each influenced the other. Ironically, because of the popularity of Escher's work, many people refer to the infinite stairs as Escher stairs, not Penrose.

'Ascending and Descending' by M.C. Escher
'Ascending and Descending' by M.C. Escher

Here's the catch to the whole structure though: It doesn't work in 3D. The structure is designed as a 2D illustration, which is why it's called an impossible object. It's an optical illusion, designed to trick our gullible subconscious into believing we're seeing a three-dimensional object.

Taking that into account, the design crew, led by Guy Hendrix, had quite a task on their hands. How would they bring to life the impossible? This behind the scenes featurette gives a pretty good explanation:

In the video, Nolan reveals he was heavily inspired by Escher's structural designs due to his ability to represent infinity –– which is the core concept of the Penrose steps. The director went on to explain:

"I wanted to try and look at concept for the Penrose steps, this infinite staircase, and look at how could you build it in the real world. Is there some real-world equivalent of it? And what we found through a lot of model building is that there are different ways to achieve that illusion. They're all cheats obviously, this isn't something that can exist in the real world."

How did they achieve such a thing? The design crew created the stairs with an elevation, something that then allowed the camera crew to shoot it from an angle that made it seem like a successful recreation of the seemingly impossible design, like this:

We've always known that Christopher Nolan is a visionary director, but getting a glimpse of the effort that goes on behind his movies shows you just how talented and persistent he is. He could have easily filmed Gordon-Levitt and Page in a green screen background and added the stair digitally later on, but instead he decided to physically create it to give audiences the best experience possible.

What do you think about the Penrose Staircase in Inception? What was your favorite mind-bending moment from the film? Let me know in the comments!


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