The Business of Designing Dreams: Christopher Nolan’s Inception

Inception, Christopher Nolan’s new film, could be considered a film about architecture. Leonardo DiCaprio, who plays an agent skilled at invading and manipulating the dreams of others, finds it easy to recruit a star architecture student (Ellen Page) to design the space in which the film’s climactic dream takes place. If architectural ideas have intrinsic value, then why not design dreams, especially if someone’s willing to pay? For Page’s character, as for Koolhaas, the invitation to produce ideas without buildings is an invitation to unburden. When she runs from DiCaprio’s initial offer, he knows she will come back. For an architect with ideas the opportunity to design a dream is itself a dream, or at least an opportunity to shoot a kind of mega-Imax movie without time, physics, or money between those ideas and their realization (DiCaprio does provide a design brief for the dream, a constraint essential to architectural creativity). Among other things, Inception is a rare film which takes architecture seriously, as process rather than just backdrop, and anyone with an interest in the subject will find themselves with some fascinating questions to ponder. For example, just what does it say about someone if Robert Moses-style tower slabs constitute the deepest level of their architectural dreaming?

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