Inception hinges on the premise that it is possible to share dreams and that they have been designed to look and feel completely real while you’re in them. In such a subconscious state, a person’s deepest and most valuable secrets are there for the taking.
Director Christopher Nolan (Dark Knight, Batman Begins, Memento, The Prestige) said: “At the heart of the movie is the notion that an idea is indeed the most resilient and powerful parasite. A trace of it will always be there in your mind…somewhere. The thought that someone could master the ability to invade your dream space, in a very physical sense, and steal an idea-no matter how private-is compelling.”
Inception Photo Slideshow courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures
Inception Movie Review: An Exceptionally “Inceptional” Masterpiece
Inception Movie Locations
The earliest filming for Inception was done in Tokyo, Japan. This location showcased the scene where Saito (Ken Watanabe) made his unusual business proposition to Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt). Opening on a skyscraper heliport, the scene transitioned to aerial shots from Saito’s helicopter. It was considerably a complicated scene to shoot due to Tokyo’s very strict rules on where and how high helicopters can go.
After Tokyo, the production moved to one of Nolan’s favorite bases of operation: Cardington, a converted airship hangar, north of London. Its mammoth stage could accommodate the sizeable yet intricate sets that were intended to test people’s perception of up, down, and sideways.
One complicated set built in this location was a long hotel corridor able to rotate a full 360 degrees to create the effect of zero gravity. The designing and building of the set was a collaboration among director Christopher Nolan, production designer Guy Hendrix Dyas, special effects supervisor Chris Corbould, and cinematographer Wally Pfister.
Other than Cardington, the production also used several locations in and around London, including: the Flaxman Gallery at the University College London, where Miles introduced Cobb to Ariadne (Ellen Page); the Victorian-era Farmiloe Building, where they created Yusuf’s (Dileep Rao) pharmacy; and the modern steel and glass lobby of a former gaming company, where Arthur demonstrated the paradox of the Penrose steps to Ariadne.
The film’s next stop was shooting in France where a scene at a Paris bistro involved an explosion literally blowing the area apart. As filming the explosion couldn’t use actual explosives as per local authorities in Paris, the production used high-pressure nitrogen to create the effect of a series of blasts blowing up the area, while the characters were actually on site unaffected by the explosions surrounding them. Six cameras were used to capture the sequence from different angles. All shots were filmed at the highest possible frame rates to get the most extreme slow motion effect possible. Visual effects were also integral in completing the scenes.
The most exotic milieu for the Inception cast and crew was Tangiers in Morocco. The location included a pulse-pounding foot chase shot in narrow streets and alleys of Tangier’s historic Grand Souk. The architecture and environment became a fantastic canvas to play with for the production. Capturing the pursuit in one of the key character’s scene, they used guerilla-style filmmaking where spontaneity mattered a lot to get the organic feel of the scene.
The filming crew and cast crossed the Atlantic to return back to the United States. Sets were constructed on a filming Warner Bros. soundstage in Los Angeles. One of which was the interior rooms of Saito’s Japanese-style castle. This included a dramatic two-level room with a beamed ceiling, large picture windows, and solid wood staircases.
The art department also crafted a train replica of an actual freight train. Parts of it were manufactured from fiberglass molds taken from real train parts so that everything had the correct look and texture.
Calgary, Canada was the final leg of principal photography for Inception. The location was mainly set on a mountain near Banff. It was an old ski resort called Fortress Mountain, which had already been closed down. This rendered it completely accessible to the production team. Several months before the filming on Fortress Mountain, the crew began erecting an austere multi-level structure. with an imposing appearance of an actual fortress.
“Inception Official Press Kit and Bios,” Warner Bros. Pictures, 2010.