Inception's director Christopher Nolan is a great filmmaker, but above all else, he is an intricate world builder. He carefully creates the various worlds of his films, and they all feel distinctly his. Nolan is a virtuosic filmmaker, and his fans have taken to picking his movies apart moment by moment. As a result, some have discovered a variety of hidden detail that didn’t initially make itself apparent. Although some Nolan fans may have discovered these details, others could have very easily missed them completely.
These details come from the score, the character names, and even things as basic as the movie’s runtime. Nolan works as hard as possible to make every detail of his films meaningful. That’s what makes every one of them feel like such an event. He’s one of the few filmmakers left today that is allowed to execute his vision on a massive scale.
Inception is perhaps one of the best examples of Nolan’s diligence, and there are details in the film that are incredibly difficult to pick out. His dreams become those of the film, and they’re remarkably vivid dreams. Each re-watch will have you noticing something new.
here are 15 Things You Completely Missed In Inception.
15 The Runtime Is A Reference To The Movie's Theme Song
Edith Piaf’s “Non, je ne regrette rien” is key to the story of Inception. It’s used as a queue in every level of the dream, signaling the simultaneous kicks that are required to wake the dreamers up. Piaf’s music is so important to the film that Nolan actually made the film’s total runtime a reference to the song.
Inception's runtime is a truly gargantuan 2 hours and 28 minutes, but that’s no accident. “Non je ne regrette rien” is 2 minutes and 28 seconds long, which means that Nolan chose to honor that song even in deciding how long his film was going to be. Of course, it could very well have been that the film would have been close to that anyway, but even so, this speaks to Nolan’s precision.
14 Nolan's Cousin Appears In The Film
Nolan’s cousin Miranda has appeared in several of his films, including Inception and then The Dark Knight Rises, although she has minor roles in both films. Nolan keeps a very private life when he isn’t making a film. He does what he can to promote his work, but he’s not hugely interested in speaking about his family and his life outside the movie theater.
In spite of Nolan’s insistence on privacy for himself and his family, Nolan is willing to include relatives on occasion, as he did with his cousin here and in The Dark Knight Rises. In Inception, she plays a stewardess or air hostess on the plane where Cobb and his cohorts invade Fischer’s dreams, which is a rather small part of the tapestry of the film overall.
13 The meaning behind Ariadne
Ellen Page’s Ariadne is our way into this story. She’s the character that has no idea about what Cobb and his team do when the film starts, and eventually becomes integral to the plot of the film. She’s the person Cobb teaches, and she’s the one who designs each level of the dream. Interestingly, Ariadne is named after a character from Greek mythology, and the name proves to be a good fit.
In one myth, Minos actually asks Ariadne to take control of the labyrinth, much as Cobb asks Ariadne to take control of the labyrinths that he is usually charged with designing. In fact, in one scene Ariadne is actually tasked with drawing a maze for Cobb, and that maze closely resembles the drawings of the maze in Greek mythology.
12 The Alternate State
Like most great filmmakers, Nolan is a pretty detail-oriented guy. He builds enormous worlds, but he fills them with precision and careful thought. That can lead to Easter eggs that fans later discover, like the fact that all the license plates in the first level of the dream have a tag that says “The Alternate State.” These tags aren’t critical to the story in any way, but they’re the kind of detail that keeps people coming back to Nolan’s films over and over.
It’s also an effective reference to the worlds and possibilities that are contained in dreams. This is a place where anything could happen, whether it follows the basic laws of physics or not. This isn’t the same as the real world, and those license plates are just a small clue that points toward that truth.
11 Cobb Means Dream In Several Languages
Cobb is a pretty clear stand-in for Nolan; he even dresses much like the director does. In spite of these parallels, Cobb’s name is actually a reference to dreams themselves. Although the spelling is different (khwab), Cobb actually means "dream" in several languages, including Urdu, Sanskrit, Hindu, and Panjabi.
Cobb’s name may be reinforcement to the theory that the entire film, from beginning to end, is actually Cobb’s dream. This is supported by some evidence throughout the film, but the fact that Cobb has a name that literally means dream is the most striking hint. Of course, it could be just another Easter egg. After all, Cobb's job is in dreams, so it’s fitting that he would have a name that matches his profession to a tee.
10 The numbers 528 And 491
Although it’s unclear exactly what these numbers represent, and it’s possible that they mean nothing at all, Nolan was careful to include the numbers 528 and 491 throughout Inception in a variety of places. The hotel rooms in the second level of the dream are 528 and 491, one right above the other. Several characters throughout the film also deliver the number to one another, first from Fischer to Cobb and then from Eames to Fischer.
The combination to the safe at the end of the film is those six numbers in order, and it’s that safe that ultimately gives Fischer the idea to sell his company. These numbers, then, are just one of many ways in which Cobb and his team have attempted, successfully, to put ideas into Fischer’s head that weren’t already there.
9 The Characters Correspond To Roles On A Movie Set
In some way, all of Christopher Nolan’s movies are about what it means to be a filmmaker. The Prestige speaks to the tricks filmmakers play, while Memento plays with the power of editing and sequence. Inception might be the film that most directly relates to filmmaking, though, as the world of dreams is an analog for the world of filmmaking.
As a result, each member of Cobb’s team corresponds to a role on a film set. Cobb is the director, Arthur is the producer, Eames is an actor, Ariadne is the production designer, Saito is the studio, and Fischer is the audience. Every character has a part to play, and each one of them does so wonderfully. Nolan wrote about a world he already knew, which is part of why Inception works so well.
8 The Never-Ending Stairs Effect
Never-ending stairs aren’t possible. Despite M.C. Escher’s wonderful drawings of a staircase that loops back onto itself, it’s impossible to replicate that drawing in real life, although Nolan almost certainly tried. After all, he prefers practical effects whenever they’re possible. In this case, though, Nolan was required to enhance the stairs with visual effects, although those effects turned out to be fairly convincing.
The never-ending stairs are one of the many hints the film offers to suggest that the world Ariadne and Cobb are inhabiting is in many ways different from their own. Of course, there are more obvious hints like cities folding in on themselves, but the subtler ones work well too. This is a world of unreality, and every detail counts.
7 The Snow Fortress Is (Sort of) Real
The intricate design of the snow fortress has some predecessors in the real world. Namely, the library at the University of California in San Diego. This may seem like a somewhat random choice, but the Geisel Library on the university’s campus was designed by architect William L. Pereira, and it fits in perfectly with the aesthetic of Inception’s dream landscape.
The way it builds up from its base is suggestive of the extended realities of the dream levels. The first is the closest to real time, and each dream becomes more extended than the last. The snow fortress follows that same visual logic, and gives its viewer an idea that the building is opening up toward the sky. The fortress is another example of Nolan’s attention to detail.
6 Dream explosions are real
Christopher Nolan often insists on having things a particular way when he’s making a film. In spite of the fantastical nature of Inception - which is kind of the point, Nolan insisted that the explosions in the film be as realistic as possible.
Of course, the majority of these explosions happen in the snowy mountain fortress. These explosions are designed to provide the kick in the third layer of the dream, and even though they take place inside of a dream, their feeling of reality is important. The same truth applies in Inception - the dreams are supposed to feel real, even if the situation itself doesn’t make any sense. These explosions make the dream feel real, and that’s because the explosions themselves were real.
5 Several Characters Were Named After Famous Thinkers
Nolan is known to include Easter eggs in the names of his characters, and the characters in Inception are no exception. Here, Nolan took names from a variety of sources. As an example, Robert Fischer is named after Bobby Fischer, the famous champion chess player. Fischer's father, played by Pete Poselthwaite, was named Maurice in honor of M.C. Escher, whose art inspired the look of the film, with its folded cities and complex architecture.
Both of these men, although they come from wildly different fields, were great thinkers, which is interesting because the Fischers are businessmen. Still, Nolan’s tribute is effective in part because it gives him the chance to honor the thinking that inspired his film, whether it’s methodical chess or entirely strange sketches.
4 The Mountain Set Was Real
Nolan doesn’t cut corners. It’s really that simple. When he decided that the climax of his film had to be set at a remote mountain lodge, he took the time and the money required to build out that set. Of course, Nolan can’t be given sole credit for the production design of the film, but his commitment to its look can’t be discounted either.
The mountain fortress that serves as the setting for the film’s climax could have been made with CGI, with only the internal sets actually existing. Instead, Nolan had his fortress built into the side of an actual mountain. Because Nolan is committed to making his sets look as real as possible, he built a fortress on a mountainside.
3 The Rotating Hotel Was A Practical Effect
Perhaps the film’s most iconic set piece in the film is one which sees Arthur battling projections of Fischer’s subconscious in the hallway of a hotel in zero gravity. Because the van Arthur is in in the first level of the dream is in free fall, the hotel in his second level is in zero gravity, which means that it rotates and spins.
While it may seem like this was done entirely with CGI, Nolan actually went to great lengths to ensure that a great deal of that set piece was composed of practical effects, including the spinning hallway itself. That meant that Joseph Gordon Levitt had to be sure that he timed his moves right, or he would end up covered in bruises. Even when he did it right, there was no guarantee that he would always be safe.
2 Hans Zimmer's Unique Score
One of the most iconic recurring elements of Inception comes from the film’s use of Edith Piaf’s “Non je ne regrette rien.” It’s a beautiful song in its own right, but it also serves as the basis for Han Zimmer’s truly wonderful score. Part of what makes the partnership between Nolan and Zimmer so perfect is the way Nolan is willing to let Zimmer play with what a movie score even is.
Inception’s score is a great example of that partnership, as it gives Zimmer a chance to build an entire score out of Piaf’s song. Because time is meant to be extended inside of each level of the dream. Zimmer slowed the song down to an absurd degree, and build a score out of those sounds.
1 Mal Was Across The Street
Cobb spends the entire movie haunted by his wife, who he believes killed herself after becoming convinced that she was still dreaming. Cobb blames himself for his wife’s death because of the inception he performed to wake her up initially, but there’s some evidence that Mal’s death is actually part of Cobb’s dream, which lasts the length of the film.
When we actually see Mal kill herself in the hotel room, Cobb goes to the window and finds that Mal is actually across the street, outside a room that is not theirs. In spite of this, Cobb pleads with her as if she’s at his window, and when she falls, she falls from a window across the street. All of this suggests that Cobb is actually dreaming, as Mal didn’t drop from their window.
What else do people miss in Inception? Let us know in the comments!