Every director has their particular set of themes, quirks and assorted uniquenesses. Spielberg always has a shot of the protagonist looking slack-jawed at something impressive, sometimes while removing their spectacles to paradoxically get a better look. Disney has a thing for absence and/or deceased parents, particularly mothers. Hitchcock likes to make a cameo. It's what makes those directors special, apart from others. Christopher Nolan has many trademarks that he keeps reusing – deceased spouses, the subconscious, obsession, puzzles, tweaked occasionally non-linear narratives and, of course, appearances from Michael Caine. From these trademarks he reached his pinnacle of mind exploration with Inception, after which he started to grow outwards with the epic scale of The Dark Knight Rises (pretty much full-out city-wide warfare) and Interstellar (intergalactic exploration).
Is Emma Thomas, producer of every Nolan film since Doodlebug and his wife since 19997, worried at all about her husband's film spousal death count? Admittedly all Nolan's films are written by his brother Jonathan Nolan, but in Memento, The Dark Knight and Inception the protagonist's love-interests all die horrible deaths, but Inception may take the prize for most dysfunctional central relationship. Not only does Marion Cotillard's Mal die previous to the film's events, her death triggered by Cobb's (Leonardo DiCaprio) dream-based meddling and so she haunts his subconscious as a malicious projection (Mal. Malicious. Impressive descriptive character name.) She is dual love-interest and antagonist, and due to Cobb's mounting regret becomes an increasing threat. Not many mega-budget films would make the same character decisions, but that's what sets it apart from the Michael Bays of the world and their brain-less blockbusting.
Nolan fills Inception with repeating motifs: the “waiting for a train” monologue, Mal's hair in the wind, and a wine glass breaking all tease out the secrets of Cobb. All pieces to a puzzle that we as audience members can assemble both while watching the film and in the hours afterwards, entrapped by the film's mysteries. Within the first minute we know Cobb's motivations - on the beach is the first time the image of his faceless children is shown, an image that is only brought to full resolution in the film's final seconds. As Cobb says himself, “We all yearn for reconciliation, for catharsis.” But also in that first few minutes of the film we get the “old man filled with regret” recurring monologue, which becomes the key to unlocking Saito's memories in limbo. Because of the constant repetition of certain images and dialogue we have a deja vu effect, much like the phenomenon when reality feels like something you have perhaps dreamt – subconscious precognition.
There is a theory, albeit a not very well thought out theory, that all of Nolan's films since Batman Begins are set in the same universe. The key to this theory is Michael Caine's presence , always representing a mentor-type role within each film, but his most important role is in Inception. If Caine's Miles is the one that taught Cobb how to traverse dreamscapes what is to say that he had not invented fantastical dream-narratives where he was a Victorian magician or a superhero's butler? Another theory is that the characters in Inception's names spell out the word “DREAMS”: Dom, Robert, Eames, Arthur, Mal, Saito. Its quite impressive until you realise that, even if you only count the people inside the dream, that method leaves out Ariadne (who is generally paired with Arthur) and more importantly Yusuf. As well as the fact that Dom is nearly always referred to as Cobb. In reality it would spell “CREAAMYS”.
See Also: Memento (2000), Interstellar (2014)
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