Review: Inception | Clothes on Film

© 2010, Warner Bros.

Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ellen Page
Directed By: Christopher Nolan

Not everyone is going to like Inception. Not everyone likes, say, Fight Club, or Inglourious Basterds. Mainly because they went in expecting one thing and came out with something entirely different. And this is Inception in a nutshell. Slick, engaging, tense, yet maybe nothing at all like you expected.

The screenplay by director Christopher Nolan, apparently decades in the making and originally a horror story, is constructed as his own personal maze in which to lose viewers. The meat of the film, the heist or ‘Inception’, incorporates several plots working concurrently towards a single narrative. Shooting at exotic locales such as Tokyo, Morocco and Fortress Mountain in Canada, and along with near constant action, Nolan has likened his film to a James Bond movie. While this is true, it is also akin to a sci-fi version of Heat, or on a more rudimentary level, Total Recall.


Some way into its spiralling web of story is Inception’s virtuoso sequence, featuring rising star Joseph Gordon-Levitt as point man Arthur. At least as impressive as emotive headliner Leonardo DiCaprio, though as his antithesis; an internal, controlled character whose actions speak louder than words. DiCaprio, now mature enough to be a convincing adult lead, his facial features and hairstyle resembling a cross between Errol Flynn and director Nolan himself, plays flaky corporate dream thief Cobb with a subtle intensity. Visible, yet restrained enough to respect the ensemble.

As Cobb’s most athletic team member undertaking the most physical action, Arthur clambers around a zero gravity dream world killing assailants with upside down martial arts while simultaneously figuring out a solution to the impending ‘limbo death’ ready to befall his colleagues, Cobb included, in precisely three minutes.

The juxtaposition between Gordon-Levitt’s formal costume of fitted three piece (minus jacket) and his character’s energetic on-screen ballet recalls Sean Connery’s OO7 dispatching henchmen in a Conduit Cut suit without pulling so much as a shoulder seam. Arthur drifting along a hotel corridor, towing his dormant friends behind wrapped in electrical cord stands out as the kind of cool movie moment Nolan is fast becoming the master of (see also the Batpod up the wall in The Dark Knight). It is both awe-inspiring and ridiculous.


Carefully selected attire is an essential part of the world of Inception. Costume designer Jeffery Kurland (for he designed all the suits in the film) has utilised fabrics of varying weight and colour, plus a blending of classic and modernistic styles to establish setting and differentiate protagonists in slight but distinguishable ways.

Note Michael Caine’s outfit of tweed jacket and Nehru collar shirt with popper buttons. As Miles, a university professor who may be vital, may be exposition, Caine’s costume subtly informs proceedings with a merging of old and new (likewise echoing his and Cobb’s relationship). It is not implicitly stated that Inception is set in the future, however Miles’ clothing is not quite ‘now’, although, paradoxically, it could be. In other words there is a suggestion that the story could take place in the near future, or even that Miles’ appearance is actually part of Cobb’s amalgamated dream state. Or more radically Miles could just be an older gentlemen who dresses a little kookily. Point being, there are no absolutes in Inception. And with this in mind don’t neglect to register what Cobb’s children are wearing either…

Even with a multi-layered narrative juggling several conscious (or unconscious, or subconscious, as the case may be) states and timeframes, the characters are easy to follow. Their clothing immediately discriminates in such a way that an individual’s primary personality trait is intoned without them having to say or do anything.


For example, the immensely watchable Tom Hardy as relaxed chameleon Eames in lounge lizard open-neck shirt with splayed collars or Cillian Murphy as businessman mark Robert Fischer Jr, always in a cutaway collar. Marion Cotillard’s Mal is introduced in an angular silhouette as the wicked witch haunting Cobb’s mind. Although, interestingly, there are no real villains in this film – not literal ones anyway.

It should come as no surprise with a story fluctuating through volatile degrees of consciousness that Nolan drops hints to remind his audience it is okay to be disorientated; that this the point. Guy Dyas’ production design confirms the dream state with geometric shapes incorporated into bedspreads, wallpaper and sofas (not to mention neckties). Even the barrage of score from Hans Zimmer is set to disorientate as much as stimulate.

Nolan has used his craft, moreover his craftspeople, to play his audience. Not in a clever-clever way, but in a Hitchcock way, i.e. that ‘play’ is the optimum word. Inception is very silly movie that deliberately takes itself very seriously. Just roll with the journey and trust that it will take you where you want to go.

Inception is released worldwide on 16h July.

© 2010 – 2011, Chris Laverty.

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