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The Architect of Dreams

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By Jeff Goldsmith


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PLENTY OF WRITERS HAVE A half-completed tome sitting in a drawer that they hope to dust off and finish one day, yet few of them ever do. That’s why it’s such a triumph to see writer-director Christopher Nolan’s long-hidden scribbles become not only a summer blockbuster but also one of the most original screenplays of the year. “I started trying to construct this a long time ago when I was about 16,” Nolan says. “At the time, I wanted to do it as a horror movie. It’s taken various forms over the years and, about 10 years ago, I finally figured out how I wanted to do it, and Inception was born.”


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举报|2楼2010-09-11 22:06
    Day Dreaming

    In the years since this idea inspired Nolan he’s become an Oscar- and WGA-nominated screenwriter (Memento, The Dark Knight), and if there’s one constant in his body of work, it’s his original voice. Although Nolan projects the persona of a film-school grad, his educational roots have a literary basis. He heeded his father’s advice to earn an academic degree before doing something more vocational (such as filmmaking)so he studied literature at University College in London, knowing that grounding himself in the mechanics of characters and narrative would free him up to study the technical and thematic aspects of filmmaking later. Shortly after joining the school’s film society, Nolan began making 16mmfilms, which merged his literary and filmic pursuits as his shorts began playing at small film festivals.


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    举报|3楼2010-09-11 22:06
      During his studies, Nolan read Graham Swift’s 1992 book, “Waterland,” which quickly became a favorite that still inspires his writing today. “It opened my eyes to something I found absolutely shocking at the time,” Nolan says. “It’s structured with a series of parallel timelines and effortlessly tells a story using history — a contemporary story and various timelines that were close together in time (recent past and less recent past), and it actually cross cuts these timelines with such of Dreams Christopher Nolan ease that, by the end, he’s literally sort of leaving sentences unfinished and you’re filling in the gaps.” Nolan also took note of the films of Nicolas Roeg and analyzed Alan Parker’s Pink Floyd The Wall. “It’s an extraordinary example of cross cutting symbols and imagery to create a narrative effect,” he says. “I always felt that I’ve tried to stand on the shoulders of giants, in terms of these experiments in both literature and film, and to try and take those techniques and actually give a more mainstream experience to an audience while using those kinds of freedoms. It’s incredibly liberating to be able to tell a story without feeling that you’re bound by the convention of telling it chronologically, which is a convention that really only exists in movies.”


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      举报|4楼2010-09-11 22:07
        As time passed and the idea for Inception continued forming in Nolan’s mind, a series of films hit theaters in the 1990s that examined the nature of reality and reinvigorated his interest in fleshing out the story. The Matrix, Dark City, The Thirteenth Floor and, he notes, “to a certain extent even Fight Club,” moved the project away from the horror genre it had initially been percolating in. Even his own film Memento, released right after these other films, mindbendingly examined a character’s own skewed view of both himself and the chronology of events in the world around him. This was about the time the project moved into the dream realm. “Cinema for me is a very dream-like experience,” Nolan says. “I’ve always been fascinated by dreams and wanted to make a film about dreams because I felt like it was something that’s very underexplored in cinema, given the relationship I feel between the way imagination works in a dream and the stories you construct for yourself and what it’s like to watch a movie and lose yourself in a film.”


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        举报|5楼2010-09-11 22:07
          Dreams have also visually influenced Nolan’s writing over the years. “It’s usually the odd image or small element that might come to me in a dream that I might write-down as soon as I wake up,” he says. Although he admits that his dreams rarely inspire story elements, he’s quick to point out that he believes the human mind can solve problems while we’re asleep. “I get a lot out of thinking about things as I’m going to sleep,” he says. “In that state of consciousness, before you actually get to sleep, that’s often where I’ll gain insight. If you’ve been beating your head against the wall about how to fix something in a script, when you go to bed and tell yourself, ‘OK, stop thinking about it now because you have to go to sleep,’ and you’re actually trying not to think about it — quite often that frees a different part of your brain and you’ll actually come up with a solution.”


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          举报|6楼2010-09-11 22:07
            Heisting the Heist Genre

            Nolan first envisioned the project as a heist film during which ideas are stolen by a team of corporate espionage thieves led by Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio), who helps plan and then invade an unsuspecting person’s mind through his dreams. In itself, this would have been enough for a film, but the auteur strived for more. “What was always interesting to me is the idea that if you’re penetrating layers of somebody’s psyche, there’s only so much interest you can get out of removing something from that,” he says. So Nolan invented a wilder goal in which this group of cybernetic thieves are tasked with planting an idea in someone’s mind, one that this person would be averse to following through on during his conscious life. But with the proper planning and research, this idea would merely serve as the inception to lead that person toward the client’s desired goal. It’s a genius new twist in the narrative dynamics of mind control. “The idea that you would plot something that would have to grow in a particular way and you’d have to predict the chaotic way in which that thing might grow through somebody’s mind — it seemed a much bigger payoff for the premise,” he says.

            He also decided to involve the audience as a partner in the intricate planning that goes into such a heist film — to the point of nearly making them complicit to the crime— as a way to illuminate the highest aspirations of the genre. “One of the fascinating things about the heist movie, and one of the reasons I took this as the model, is that the type of exposition that in most films is problematic, boring, tricky, hard to get through— in a heist movie becomes the meat of it,” Nolan says. “It’s part of the entertainment, simply because the process of a heist movie and that sort of procedure, the way they put things together, becomes the reason you’re watching the story.”


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            举报|7楼2010-09-11 22:08
              A staple of the genre is that, at a certain point, the audience stops receiving information about the final stages of the heist and then only experiences it later as an outsider, newly entertained and in awe of the amount of planning involved. Nolan smartly flipped this conceit on its head and instead of keeping the audience at a distance, he decided to take them along for the entire ride. The subtle reconfiguration allows for the audience and the characters to sweat together whenever any hiccups arise in the well-thought-out plan. With such a fascinating world to explore, Nolan sat down to write what he thought would be a quick script. “I would get to page80 and I would get completely stuck with‘Where does it go?’” he says. “Because it was missing something.” That was a decade ago.


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              举报|8楼2010-09-11 22:09
                Cracking It

                The missing element became clear as Nolan continued to mature as both a filmmaker and a person. “I learned that my idea about what motivates me to make a film has changed over the years,” he says. “I wrote Memento very much as a puzzle box. I was fascinated by the ideas of structure. I was fascinated with my brother’s [Jonathan] short story.” But Nolan credits actor Guy Pearce for bringing a heightened level of emotion to the character and the film. “I had written the emotional passages in Memento and I really tried to think as that character,” he continues,“but that hadn’t been my primary fascination with the material, and I think a lesser actor, who didn’t get the pathos of the situation or the general emotion of the character, would have made it a very sterile movie, and I think people wouldn’t respond to it.” What Nolan realized when watching the finished film is that Pearce’s performance opened the material up with an unexpectedly emotional perspective that drew audiences in even more than he anticipated. “What really connected me with it was not the ideas of it or cleverness of structural tricks; it was just in feeling something for this character,” he says. “Over the films I’ve made, even as they’ve gotten bigger and bigger, I’ve realized that I need a very strong emotional connection with the characters in the film to stay interested and passionate about a project over the years it takes to make it.” Such was also the case with Inception, which he continually returned to after completing his other films. “What I realized when I came back to it was that I was missing that emotional connection with the material because I had changed.”

                Ultimately, one of the problems plaguing Nolan early in his writing was Cobb’s motivation. He was planning the heist both for financial reasons and to be able to return home. It seems the concept of what home meant to Cobb was initially too vague, and, as time marched on while Inception sat in a drawer, Nolan became a husband and a father. “As my life changed, the things that are important to me changed,” he says. Once Nolan realized that change, new emotional stakes were added to Cobb’s plight of trying to reclaim his life and return to his family. As Nolan explains, “Those are the highest emotional stakes I could imagine.”


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                举报|9楼2010-09-11 22:09
                  Embracing Emotional Writing

                  One of the greatest difficulties screenwriters face when it comes to emotional writing is that it requires enough balance so that the boundaries between drama and melodrama stay well defined. While plot points can be outlined and carded, emotional writing needs to come from another place. “There are certain passages in my films where I’ve had to sit down and write almost stream of consciousness— just blurt [things] out in a very emotional way and then spend a long time editing them and making them practical,” Nolan says. “I have to feel it as I write it in that initial burst. Then you have to get cold and analytical and start splitting it up and structuring it for a movie. What it’s about to me is sincerity. The only guide I have is that if I really feel it myself — if you can really get that feeling in your gut of responding to something emotional as you write it — then you know that for you at least it’s true.” As Nolan explains, he doesn’t feel that all filmmakers approach this terrain as purely. “What I react against in other people’s work, as a filmgoer, is when I see something in a movie that I feel is supposed to make me feel emotional, but I don’t believe the filmmaker shares that emotion,” he says. “They just think that the audience will. And I think you can feel that separation. So any time I find myself writing something that I don’t really respond to, but I’m telling myself, ‘Oh yes, but the audience is going to like this,’ then I know I’m on the wrong track and I just throw it out.”


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                  举报|10楼2010-09-11 22:09
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                    Although the planting of the “inception” in the mind of the unsuspecting businessman involves breathtaking technology, the job ultimately came down to an examination of the businessman’s emotional makeup and the way it could push him toward acting against his own interests, a fascinating concept that only occurred to Nolan once he examined his material from an emotional perspective. “I think it just crept up on me, in terms of exploring the world of dreams and the meaning of dreams because it’s such an intimate experience,” he says. “It also felt like more of a narrative experience. The idea of a team of people having to construct a narrative, much the way filmmakers get together and construct a story — maybe just because it’s been a process that I’ve engaged in myself, I can relate to it more.” Rather than relying only on the technology to plan the crime, the caper became more of personal invasion.“It would have to be a human experience rather than a classic technical MacGuffin that has something to do with corporate espionage,” he says. “I grew into the script and was able to finish it because I now knew what I cared about in the story and how I wanted to connect with the story emotionally.”


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                    举报|11楼2010-09-11 22:10
                      Active vs. PASIV Writing

                      Exposition has long remained a tricky obstacle for writers, as important plot points or character information needs to be explained, hopefully in an entertaining fashion. Nolan admits battling this as well and believes the key to making expository sequences interesting lies in keeping the writing active rather than passive. Amusingly, in the film — either on purpose or subconsciously — the device used to invade people’s dreams is known as the Portable Automated Somnacin Intra Venous, or PASIV device. “Exposition is such a massive demand,” he admits. “It’s something you have to just try and imbue in the relationships of the characters. You never want to find yourself in a scene where characters are passively receiving information in some way, because you don’t want the audience passively receiving information. You want them engaged with that dramatization.”

                      Helpful to Nolan’s process was his collaboration with Leonardo DiCaprio, who combed through the script, scene by scene, in order to examine his character’s emotional truths and motivations. “One of the things it really forced me to do was to truly dramatize every beat of exposition so that the sum character reason for getting information is that the information means something,” Nolan says. “There’s certainly a beat in the film where there’s an important idea about being trapped inside the dream and about not being able to wake up from it. I had always put it in there as fairly neutral exposition [where] the characters were being fairly passive, and then after thrashing it over with Leo, I was pushed to the conclusion of dramatizing it through conflict. It made it work in a way it was not working before. It made the expositional scene into something that was important to the characters.”

                      A heightened importance of inanimate objects as personal icons or totems reappears throughout Nolan’s writing. “It’s not something I’ve been that conscious of,” he says.“Following is probably the first I’ve ever really dealt with it — right from the get-go with the idea of a person having a box and having these objects that signify them.” In this, Nolan’s debut feature, a thief (also named Cobb) relishes in showing a voyeur the relics of strangers, which are generally useless objects that would have no significance to anyone else in the world except their owner; objects that Cobb steals for his own amusement.“I’m interested in the idea that you can have an inanimate object that’s imbued with all kinds of emotional resonance and nostalgia,” Nolan says.

                      In Memento, Leonard (Pearce) uses a collection of his wife’s belongings, placed near him as he falls asleep, in hopes of reliving what happened on the night of her murder. When he fails to glean anything from the re-creation, Leonard purges the objects by burning them in a fire. Such a scene allowed Nolan to convey character exposition through action and visual signifiers rather than explanation, as Leonard’s disintegrating disconnect with both his memory of that night and the memories he believed the objects may hold are subtly reinforced. “It’s something that is fundamentally cinematic because a visual icon is probably the most resonant example of how you imbue experience, memory and emotion into an object,” he says.

                      In Inception, Nolan takes the use of personal icons a step further. Tasked with keeping their heads straight while experiencing multiple versions of reality, the heist team carries objects, the true physical nature of which only they know, as a way of identifying whether the “reality” they inhabit is real or fabricated.


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                      举报|12楼2010-09-11 22:11
                        Dreaming With Your Eyes Open

                        After the massive success of The Dark Knight, rather than going on a prolonged vacation, Nolan pulled his script out of the drawer and set a goal of completing it by January2009. “I didn’t want the success of that movie to spin my head and make me afraid to make another film,” he says. Part of his process involves going to a hotel to write, only to return home with a chunk completed so he can delve into it further. “I find I can go back and I can edit it,” he says. “I’m a big believer in rewriting as you write the first draft. If I’m stuck on new material, I’ll just go back to the beginning of the script and try to refine what I’ve done. I usually find just in sitting down and changing a few words, even if it’s superficial stuff like pulling out fancy adjectives, you sort of crack into the story a little bit.” Nolan also enjoys listening to music while he writes. “What I’ve found is if the music is inspiring, then when I come back the next day or two days later and if I’m listening to that music, it’ll be quicker for my brain to slip back into the mindset I was in, “he says.

                        The scribe generally works six to eight hours a day and tries to finish 10 pages a day— a page count that applies to his first iteration, which is purposely a longer draft. As for Nolan’s roadmap, it’s generally an informal diagram. “I only outline if I’m working with another writer — when I’m working with my brother or when I worked with David Goyer,” he says. “What I tend to do for myself is writing in a linear fashion from the beginning. It’s literally the first thing I want to see on screen as an audience member. I’m a visual thinker, so I’ll put up a big sheet of paper on the wall and I’ll start drawing Venn diagrams.” These diagrams became important in managing Inception’s complicated climax. “You have all the timelines colliding and they’re all running indifferent time scales as well,” he says. “So I had to do a lot of timelines in terms of pyramid shapes and things like that. But I don’t tend to outline too much.”

                        As Nolan got his hands increasingly dirty mapping out the climax, he got lost in it. “I filled the walls with crazy diagrams of timelines and was trying to plot the cross cutting of the film out and, for many weeks, I felt like I was just banging my head against the wall and getting absolutely nowhere,” he admits.“Then I turned around and realized that I’ve actually solved some of the problems. I made some progress on things that seemed important six months ago. As you see new problems, you tend to take for granted the progress you’re actually making and eventually you get to a point where you realize, ‘OK, this thing is not perfect and there are all kinds of things I would want to do to it — but it actually hangs together. I could have somebody read it now.’”

                        Nolan continued reshaping this climax through various rewrites and knew that it was going to have to grow organically as the project entered production. “A lot of different characters in different states of jeopardy are involved at the same time, and you’ve got to sit down and have a substantial conversation between two characters,” he explains. “That was very tough. I think there’s a certain point where, as a solitary individual writing a screenplay, you can only take it so far. Then you’ve got to get other people to weigh in. I’ve always found a lot of value [in] either working with my brother or another writer or very often the actors.” As it turned out, the scenes continued evolving during rehearsals through actor input and were refined through editing until Nolan accomplished the balance he sought.



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                        举报|13楼2010-09-11 22:11
                          The Unreliable Narrator

                          Inception, like much of Nolan’s other work, has a distinct film noir influence. “I’ve always enjoyed film noir more than any other genre,” he says. “One of the reasons I’ve always loved it is because so much of it is about the misapprehensions on the part of the protagonists. Often in film noir, the protagonist is his own worst enemy. Not necessarily in specific terms like in Memento, where it’s literally kind of self-sabotage, but simply in terms of paranoia, misunderstanding what’s going on, projecting their values or their ethics or perception onto other characters, like the femme fatale. These characters literally become projections of one’s own self.”

                          Inspired by the concept of the unreliable narrator from film noir, Nolan has Cobb assemble his team for a risky mission and, after all the prep work he assigns them, he forgets to mention that he may be the mission’s greatest liability. “Well, he doesn’t forget,” Nolan says. “That was very much the direction Leo wanted to push it, in terms of him actually actively hiding it in a sense.” The director and actor talked about using Hitchcock’s Vertigo as a reference, in which the audience inherently trusts the film’s protagonist based on the likeable actor playing the role and the character’s expertise — even though they shouldn’t. “You trust them,” Nolan continues, “because they’re confident and knowledgeable and an expert and all the rest and then, in Vertigo, there’s just that point where you realize, ‘Wow, this guy’s really, really cracked. This guy’s not who I thought he was.’ That’s a really fascinating journey to take the audience on. Lawrence of Arabia is another classic example. He’s such a winning, heroic figure for so much of the film that you always forget the second half of the film and how dark that character becomes. It’s pretty fascinating because it defies the conventional wisdom about sympathetic protagonists. It’s a tough thing to pull off and you need an actor who’s really up for it. Hopefully, we’ve achieved it in this film. There are certainly moments where I see what Cobb is doing and think, ‘Wow, he’s really being extraordinarily manipulative and extraordinarily anti-heroic,’ but somehow Leo keeps me on his side.”


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                          举报|14楼2010-09-11 22:11
                            The End?

                            A signature of Nolan’s writing lies in his ability to craft memorable endings. In Memento, he presented an “ignorance is bliss”-styled ending for Leonard that didn’t have any bearing on whether he actually accomplished his goal, because he’s happy with the results either way — results that he may even eventually repeat. “Memento is much more explicitly ambiguous and is about somebody lying to themselves and creating their own reality,” Nolan says. “When I was at the end of Memento, he’s just saying, ‘I think I know what’s going on,’ but you’ve just seen him lie to himself.”

                            With Inception, Nolan again delivers a distinctly unique ending that’s entirely organic to the story. “Endings are important to me, and I always want something in the ending to surprise me,” he says, “not necessarily in a big twist sort of way. I’m always looking for a fine balance of an emotional inevitability but with some slight shift in things that I haven’t seen coming. That, for me, is what constitutes the most satisfying ending as something that both fulfills your expectations and surprises you at the same time.”



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                            举报|15楼2010-09-11 22:12
                              这是唯一一篇诺兰亲自探讨《盗梦空间》剧本写作技巧的文章


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                              举报|16楼2010-09-11 22:12
                                = =


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                                举报|17楼2010-09-11 23:02
                                  反正我没看懂

                                  btw,我也没有看翻译


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                                  举报|18楼2010-09-11 23:11
                                    那 阿丽阿德妮 知道是谁么~


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                                    举报|19楼2010-09-11 23:17
                                      美女


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                                      举报|20楼2010-09-11 23:24
                                        - - 盗梦空间中的那个女的。


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                                        举报|21楼2010-09-11 23:38
                                          好爱帝!


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                                          举报|22楼2010-09-11 23:58
                                            他专门干抢注ID的活,


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                                            举报|23楼2010-09-12 00:03
                                              羞涩!早不是了!


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                                              举报|24楼2010-09-12 00:08
                                                阿   哈哈哈哈哈,路易不是美女,不用羞涩~


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                                                举报|25楼2010-09-12 07:21