Distorting the City in ‘Inception’

The city folding in Christopher Nolan’s Inception

Throughout Christopher Nolan’s Inception, the urban landscape of Paris is used to explore the film’s central theme of the imagination and the unconscious. Like in a dream, the fabric of the city is continuously twisted, distorted, fragmented and transformed. One of the most dramatic transformations of the cityscape occurs in a scene near the beginning of the film. Standing on the corner of Rue Bouchut and Rue Pérignon looking south towards Place Georges Mulot in the 15th arrondissement, the main protagonist Dom (Leonardo DiCaprio) tries to convince the young architect Ariadne (Ellen Page) about the power of the imagination. Apparently controlled by both Dom’s and Ariadne’s subconsciousness, the city slowly starts to bend in front of their eyes.

Scene from Inception revisited in Google Street View

The creaking caused by streets and buildings bending 180 degrees evokes the eerie sound of a large steel structure slowly collapsing. The transformation concludes as one part of the city is folded on top of the other. The duality caused by the city on the bottom and on top further emphasizes the duality between the conscious and the unconscious explored as leitmotif in the film. The view of the city as it bends over in the imagination also provokes comparisons with a virtual view enabled by new technologies such as Google Earth. The scene thus functions as a social commentary on the advancements of technology as a tool to explore one’s imagination. Just as much Google Street View can be used for a virtual voyage, the protagonists traverse their imagination in a surreal, dreamlike and ever transforming representation of the city.

This scene review was originally published in World Film Locations: Paris edited by Marcelline Block. Other recommendations can be found in our online bookshop.

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