A thinking man’s movie, stunning cinematography, engaging score, innovative plot, Oscar-nominated actors: Inception has it all. Adding to the film’s prestige is the name Christopher Nolan, the esteemed director of both Memento and The Dark Knight. The aforementioned movies assured film critics and movie goers around the world that Nolan has the capacity to write and direct both thought-provoking indie fodder and high grossing box office gold. In The Dark Knight, Nolan demonstrated his capacity to merge the two by creating a thought-provoking blockbuster. So when Inception opened, it was expected that the box office would erupt, and the box office did just that. The film grossed over $800 million.
Inception‘s success shows that Hollywood is able to market this movie as “‘daring,'” one of Nolan’s “marketable specialt[ies]” (49). Much of the film’s success centers around the notion that the “number of stars, the extravagant use of technology, labor and equipment, and the introduction of the latest psychological formulas” have been used (42). There is no way to watch Inception without recognizing the very large and “blatant cash investment” that was made in the creation of the film (42). Nolan was able to secure this investment because his “particular brand of deviation” from the Hollywood system’s norm in Memento was “noted by the industry,” and once he was noted, he became a part of the system that he had stylistically deviated from (45). When Nolan showed his box office credentials with the Batman franchise, he was able to sell Inception as a film of “novelty and surprise” (46). Or at the very least, this is the narration that Nolan and the film industry perpetuated.
Nolan’s rise from independent cinema into blockbuster success is nothing new; in fact, it is a Hollywood formula. Hollywood’s gatekeepers would not “produce or sanction anything that in any way differs from their own rules [and] their own ideas about consumers” (41). Inception presents itself as a thought-provoking blockbuster. A blockbuster whose literal mind games necessitate the dazzling special effects and explosions–or so the audience is meant to believe. Most of the audience left the theater believing that they have just been enlightened; they have just watched a film that took thought and effort on their part; they leave the movie feeling smarter and self-satisfied because they were able to figure out the ambiguous ending. What the audience fails to grasp, however, is that they are partaking in a cultural myth wherein Nolan and in turn Inception‘s cleverness is being played against blockbusters that are merely action or thriller based. This allows the audience to believe that there are options and “competition” as well as a true “range of choice” (41). The audience is incapable of seeing that investment capital has triumphed as “absolute master” of cinema; investment capital is the “meaningful content of every film, whatever plot the production team may have selected” (42). In the case of Inception, Nolan’s narrative as an auteur enables the masses to deflect their attention from the business of Hollywood, and they are instead able to focus on “the caricature of style” that Nolan’s works appear to embody (44). Inception exemplifies how purported style is used as a marketing strategy to perpetuate the business behind the culture industry while simultaneously serving as a distraction to the capital-centered motives of that industry.