Christopher Nolan's "Inception". Time, Dreams, Nonlinear Storytelling, Music and Central Themes

Seminararbeit, 2016
17 Seiten, Note: 1,2


1. From Following to Interstellar ­ Christopher Nolan's Way Up
2. Christopher Nolan's particular Cinema
3. Cinematographic Word Games ­ Understanding Inception
4. Columns of Epic Cinema
4.1 Time Travel ­ Only just a Dream?
4.2 Race against the Clock - Inception
4.3 Transition between Reality and Dream
4.4 Hans Zimmer's Remarkable Composition
4.5 The Relationship between Sound and Dream
6. Bibliography
6.1 Primary Sources
6.2 Secondary Sources
7. Appendix

1. From Following to Interstellar ­ Christopher Nolan's Way Up
Christopher Nolan was born in London in 1970. He began making films as a young boy
with his father's camera. Nolan was interested in filmmaking while he studied for his
degree at the University College in London.
With Following
, he conducted his first
feature in the year 1998 and only two years later on, Nolan directed Memento
in 2000
which can be seen as Christopher Nolan's breakthrough as a film director.
Since then
his films became evermore popular, and Nolan directed his perhaps most successful
movie Inception
in 2010. Inception had its debut in London on July 8, 2010 and
grossed over 800 million US-dollars worldwide. The film won four Oscars in 2011 for
the best cinematography, the best sound editing and mixing and the best visual effects.
On Rotten Tomatoes the film reached a score of 86%, and Richard Roeper posted out
that it is "[One] of the most intoxicating, challenging and beautiful movies of the 21st
century, deserving of multiple Oscar nominations."
Because Christopher Nolan is one
of renowned contemporary directors, his key to success is going to be revealed. The
following work will have a focus on dreams and reality in the aforementioned film
Inception, Christopher Nolan's most lasting themes and particularities in his
filmmaking. It will also explain different functions of the film's music, composed by
Hans Zimmer, and point out similarities or relations to his other movies. Christopher
Nolan supports his narrative through the use of dreams, nonlinear storytelling, music
and time.
2. Christopher Nolan's particular Cinema
Jacqueline Furby points out that "Nolan's cinema is a cinema of time. His films play
with narrative time, shifting time segments from one place to another to enhance the
audience's understanding[...]".
Nolan uses different types of temporality and linear
chronology in this way he dissociates himself from the traditional chronological
The cinematic time in Christopher Nolan films is often changed into new
shapes which differs it from time in the real world. The real time is equal to the clock
1 Joy: 2015, 16.
2 Nolan: 1998.
3 Nolan: 2001.
4 Fisher: 2011, 37.
5 Nolan: 2010.
6 Roeper: 2010.
7 Furby: 2015, 264.
8 ibid., 247.

time and processes in a steady manner which means one second per second in only
one direction. Cinematic time is more alterable than real time, thoughts can easily
move from a present moment into a memory in the past or an expected point in the
future which can be considered as time travel of narrative.
is Christopher
Nolan's first feature which includes not only time travel of narrative but also time travel
in narrative. Which means that the stories of "films such as Interstellar [...] involve
temporal manipulation [... and ...] deal explicitly with issues of time and fantasies of
time travel, the implications that these issues have for the protagonist(s) [...] and of
being able to move around in time."
Furby explains, that loss is one of the central
themes in Nolan films
, and according to Fisher, Inception is a comparison to
filmmaking itself.
Felix Engel and Janina Wildfeuer mention, film music is often
understood as a medium to support the narrative and the expression of specific
scenes. The music assists the audience to orientate in the narrative as a guiding path.
3. Cinematographic Word Games ­ Understanding Inception
This paragraph is used to clarify essential terms and methods in order to enhance the
understanding of the following examination. One of the most mentioned term in the
work is narrative. A narrative is a story, experiences or an account of events, no matter
whether it is true or imaginary. The narrative is not the story itself but rather the
relating of the story. Time travel of narrative means that the narrative can move from a
memory in the past to a moment in the future. As an example, time travel of narrative
is recognizable as reshuffling, stretching or shrinking of time. Time travel in narrative
means that the narrative or the plot includes the idea of time travel and not the
presented way of the narrative.
Chronological storytelling describes that the story is told in the right historical
order. Which means that in a non-chronological narrative, the story is told out of
chronological order or it contains different plot lines.
Diegetic sound defines every sound with a known or visible source in the film, for
9 ibid., 249.
10 Nolan: 2014.
11 ibid.
12 Furby: 2015, 253.
13 Fisher: 2011, 40.
14 Engel: 2015, 233.

instance, the voice of a character. However, the sound whose origin is unknown or not
introduced yet, such as music to underline the emotional state of a character, is called
non-diegetic sound.
4. Columns of Epic Cinema
I've always been fascinated by time, by the subjectivity of time, and
is the first film where I've been able to explore that as a
literal part of the story. I think that kind of idea is fascinating. [...] If
there is an antagonist in Interstellar, it is time itself.
As Nolan declares himself as fascinated by time, the following paragraph will have a
focus on the role, time plays in his movies, and how he utilizes it in the narrative of his
4.1 Time Travel ­ Only just a Dream?
Christopher Nolan's film Interstellar
is set in the near future and focuses on a crew of
astronauts who are forced to seek a new home in space because the conditions on
their planet do not longer ensure human life. Previously the film's protagonist Cooper
(Matthew McConaughey), who is a trained pilot and engineer, lives as a farmer with his
father-in-law, Donald (John Lithgow), his son, Tom (Timothée Chalamet) and his
daughter, Murph (Mackenzie Foy). After Murph complains to his father that her
bedroom is haunted by a ghost who sends messages to her. Based on these messages,
Murph and her father are able to locate a secret NASA station, and Cooper is recruited
to pilot a spaceship with three other astronauts. Their task is to travel through a
wormhole in order to reach three potential new home planets which are named after
the pioneers, Miller, Mann and Edmunds. As a result of time dilation, Cooper's timeline
got thrown out of conformity with Murph's during his journey into space. In other
words, while Cooper was on planet Miller for each hour there, seven years passed on
Earth. After two attempts to Miller and Mann, Cooper and a robot assistant travel into
a black hole in which Cooper enters a tesseract
to send vital messages back in time
and space to his daughter. That enables Murph to launch humankind into a new age in
space. When Cooper returns, he finds out that his daughter is now over a hundred
15 Nolan: 2014.
16 Furby: 2015, 247.
17 Nolan: 2014.
18 cf. Screenshot 1: Cooper in the tesseract, 17.

years old, but he has only aged a few years. The last scene of the film shows Cooper
and Murph in an emotional scene on her dying bed.
"[...] Interstellar combines both types of film time, the manipulation of narrative
time and the freedom within story time, and this results in a total time experience that
reveals that Nolan is fully conscious of film's temporal potential."
Furby also points
out that Christopher Nolan compares the easy idea of time travel and temporal
freedom in contrast to the complications of time travel within real science.
In time travel films there is usually a character with control over time and to
which place they move at which time. Not like in time on the earth, the physical laws of
the universe do not hinder us from having freedom of motion. In other words, time in
space allows moving through time at will. This capability often leads to a character,
traveling into the past to change an event for personal purpose or to perform a heroic
act. There is an irony with time in Interstellar because instead of freely traveling
around in time and space, Cooper is trapped in time, just like everyone else in the
world. According to a real-world physicist, Nolan intentionally set the rules for how the
science in Interstellar should work so that physical objects are not able to travel
backwards in time. Which means that Cooper is not able to travel to his own past. Time
is an antagonist in Interstellar because Cooper has to fight against relativistic time. He
has to deal with the consequences of time dilation which exposes as the race-against-
time element of the film. While he visited planet Miller, where time flows sixty-
thousand times more slowly than on Earth, he realized that his co-astronaut Romilly
(David Gyasi) aged around 23 years. At that point in the film, his daughter is in his
thirties which makes it even more difficult for Cooper to keep his word and return to
As a result of Nolan remaining scientific accurate and dealing with elaborate
theories of space-time, gravity, time dilation and time travel, the film has a less
problematic relation with the past than other Nolan films. The past of Nolan's
protagonists often involves a tragic loss, whereas the past of Cooper is not finished yet
because he can still return to his daughter and move on with his life.
19 Furby: 2015, 250.
20 Furby: 2015, 249.
21 ibid., 251.
22 ibid., 252.
23 ibid., 253.
Ende der Leseprobe aus 17 Seiten


Christopher Nolan's "Inception". Time, Dreams, Nonlinear Storytelling, Music and Central Themes
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Time, Dreams, Nonlinear Storytelling, Music, Inception, Christopher, Nolan, Hans, zimmer, Leonardo
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Dirk Emtmann (Autor), 2016, Christopher Nolan's "Inception". Time, Dreams, Nonlinear Storytelling, Music and Central Themes, München, GRIN Verlag,


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