In its first introduction to the world, Inception was advertised as a film “set within the Architecture of the mind.” The film spends its time dealing with (and manipulating) Architecture; notably, the city folding onto itself, the meticulous designing and constructing of different spaces, and so on.
The film even features an “Architect” character. Ariadne (Ellen Page) is a graduate student recruited by Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) who is responsible for designing complex spaces. In a literal sense, Christopher Nolan puts the power of the film in the Architect’s hand; like a screenwriter, an Architect is responsible for the initial blueprint and structure.
Christopher Nolan has stated that he was inspired by the works of Dutch graphic artist M. C. Escher, who designed “impossible objects” and optical illusions. In a sequence that features the Penrose Steps, he explores the concept of Paradoxical Architecture. The Penrose Steps, also known as the impossible staircase, was originally conceived by Lionel Penrose and his son Roger Penrose in 1958. The Penrose Steps are a two-dimensional depiction of a staircase which form a continuous loop. It’s an Architectural concept that can exist in 2D, but not 3D. In the film, Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) introduces Ariadne to the concept of the Penrose Steps, and explains that she must create "tricks" within the Architecture that she designs for the dream world.
The filmmakers were faced with the task of creating something that can’t exist in the real world, and using a medium like film to execute the idea. The production team constructed models and used traditional methods to create the steps, opting for an authentic approach rather than one that could have been created digitally. Paul Franklin, Visual Effects Supervisor, notes that the “steps have to be built in such a way that when you view them from the topmost level of the staircase lines up with the bottommost level of the staircase. We were able to make computer models of all of this and work out exactly the dimensions of the steps that have to be built and where the camera has to be in three-dimensional space to be able to film it.”
This meant having a particular lens on the camera at a particular height and distance so that it’d effectively hide the cheats and trickery. Christopher Nolan uses Filmmaking to show the steps from a certain angle – an optical illusion – and brings an impossible concept into reality.
© 2017 Interiors (Mehruss Jon Ahi and Armen Karaoghlanian)