- Leonardo DiCaprio
- Joseph Gordon-Levitt
- Michael Caine
- Tom Hardy
- Ellen Page
- Marion Cotillard
- Ken Watanabe
- Dileep Rao
- Cillian Murphy
- Pete Postlethwaite
- Tom Berenger
- Lukas Haas
visit the film locations
Los Angeles: Flights: Los Angeles International Airport (LAX)
Paris flights: Paris Charles de Gaulle International Airport
In Paris, the double-deck Pont Bir-Hakeim has been featured on screen before in New Wave movies Zazie Dans Le Metro and l’Ascenseur Pour l’Echafaud, but most famously in Last Tango In Paris (the famous apartment building stands at the foot of the bridge).
Inception location: the ‘Café Debussy’, where Cobb reveals to Ariadne that they are within a dream: Da Stuzzi Patisserie, 6 rue Cesar Franck, 7th arrondissement, Paris
A multi-layered thriller shifting between levels of consciousness – exactly the thing cinema does best – and Christopher Nolan, on a roll after successfully reinventing the Batman mythos with Batman Begins, delivers the goods with an epic sweep.
As you might expect, the film flits seamlessly between widely varied locations.
It opens with nothing in the way of explanation, as Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) is washed up on the shore beneath a ‘Japanese’ castle. In fact, the castle was added digitally and the shoreline is Abalone Cove Shoreline Park, at Palos Verdes Drive South, Rancho Palos Verdes, on the Pacific coast south of Los Angeles.
The castle interior was created on a soundstage at Warner Bros, its painted gilt design based on Nijo Castle in Kyoto, built in 1603 for the first shogun of the Edo Period. If you want to visit the original, Nijo Castle is a short walk from Kyoto’s Nijojo-mae Station along the Tozai Subway Line.
It appears that Cobb is an ‘extractor’, with the ability to enter people’s dreams and extract content. As he’s explaining the concept of ‘extraction’ to the elderly Japanese gentleman, Cobb wakes up in ‘Mombasa, Kenya’ – a sequence filmed in the Old Souk of Tangier, on the northern coast of Morocco. The Souk is the city’s bustling marketplace, which you can see as itself in The Bourne Ultimatum.
There’s going to be a lot of ‘wakes up in…’, and the next awakening is on a Japanese bullet train, really filmed in Japan, though not in ‘Kyoto’ but in Tokyo, as Saito (Ken Watanabe) posits to Cobb the idea of moving from ‘extraction’ to the more dubious and risky ‘inception’.
Inception location: Saito’s helicopter touches down: Farnborough Airport, Hampshire
Photograph: Geograph / Tony Wood
Continuing by flight, the sleekly modern airport at which they land is the new (as in 2006) £10 million operational centre of Farnborough Airport, about 25 miles southwest of London, in Hampshire. It’s the site of the world famous Farnborough International Airshow, a seven-day trade fair for the aerospace industry which has been held here every alternate year since 1948.
Against the better judgement of others, Cobb begins to consider the risky proposition of planting an idea in the mind of Fischer (Cillian Murphy), the heir to a multibillion-dollar oil company.
Inception location: Cobb meets architecture student Ariadne: Flaxman Gallery, University College of London, Gower Street, London
photograph: wikimedia / LordHarris
In order to recruit an architect to help build a convincing ‘dream world’, Cobb heads off to Paris. In fact, the lecture theatre where he reveals to former tutor Miles (Michael Caine) that he needs to get mysterious ‘charges’ fixed before he can return home, is the Gustave Tuck Lecture Theatre of University College London, in the Wilkins Building, Gower Street, London. Built from the proceeds of a donation in the 1920s by the then President of the Jewish Historical Society, Gustave Tuck, the theatre has appeared in many film and TV productions, including 2006 rom-com Starter For 10, with James McAvoy.
Still not in ‘Paris’, Miles introduces Cobb to Ariadne (Ellen Page) in UCL’s Flaxman Gallery, situated in the library underneath the dome of the 19th Century building that overlooks the Gower Street quadrangle. The Flaxman Gallery is open to the public on weekdays from 1 to 5pm, accessed via the Strang Print Room.
Inception location: Ariadne experiments with physics within a dream: rue Valentin Hauy, 7th arrondissement, Paris
When Cobb and Ariadne suddenly find themselves sitting outside the ‘Café Debussy’, where Cobb reveals that they are in fact within a dream, it finally is the real French capital.
The ‘Debussy’ is Da Stuzzi Patisserie, 6 rue Cesar Franck at the corner of rue Bouchut in the 7th arrondissement. The authorities in Paris don’t allow the use of real explosives, so so the production used high-pressure blasts of nitrogen to blow apart the contents of the surrounding shops and finally the bakery itself.
After the dream café explodes, Cobb and Ariadne return to the area, walking along rue Bouchut toward the café. In one of the movie’s most celebrated visual coups, Ariadne tests the possibilities of the new dream geometry by spectacularly folding up the rue Cesar Franck.
Inception location: Ariadne creates the footbridge: Avenue du President Kennedy, Paris
She goes on to ‘create’ the footbridge over Avenue du President Kennedy near Passy station, and they ascend to the double-decker Pont Bir Hakeim, where Ariadne is given a serious warning about the dangers of creating real places from memory.
The bridge has been featured on screen before in New Wave movies Zazie Dans Le Metro and the recently re-released l’Ascenseur Pour l’Echafaud, but most famously in Last Tango In Paris (the film’s apartment building stands at the foot of the bridge).
Inception location: Ariadne is warned about basing creations on real places: Pont de Bir-Hakeim, Paris
It’s back to ‘Mombasa’/Tangier to recruit Eames (Tom Hardy), where the foot chase once again utilises the maze of narrow streets and alleyways of Tangier’s historic Souk.
The huge glass-fronted atrium in which Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) demonstrates the paradox of the ‘Penrose steps’ (based on the drawings of artist MC Escher) is the lobby of the office at 2000 Hillswood Drive, Chertsey in Surrey. The illusion was achieved by adding false steps to the building’s existing staircase.
Inception location: Yusuf’s ‘Mombasa’ pharmacy: The Farmiloe Building, 28-36 St John Street, Clerkenwell, London EC1
The ‘Mombasa’ pharmacy of Yusuf (Dileep Rao), where the powerful sedative that will allow three levels of dreaming is obtained, is a Christopher Nolan favourite. It’s the Farmiloe Building, St John Street, in Smithfield, London, which formerly became ‘Gotham’ police station in Batman Begins, The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises.
Inception location: the suite of dying businessman Fischer: Victoria House, Bloomsbury Square, London
Also in London is the old-world suite of dying businessman Fischer (Pete Postlethwaite), which is the Conference Room of Victoria House in Bloomsbury Square. This impressive Grade II listed building, occupying a prominent site bounded by Bloomsbury Square to the west and Southampton Row to the east, was built in the 1920s for the Liverpool Victoria Friendly Society. The house was used as the bank in Jonathan Glazer’s surreal 2000 caper Sexy Beast, and more recently became the ‘Hotel Grushinski’ in Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit.
But once the team gathers to discuss how to ‘plant’ an idea into the head of Fischer Jr, the locale has changed to Los Angeles, and the corner of Wilshire Boulevard and South Hope Street, downtown.
The hotel lobby, where they realize they need a minimum of ten hours sleeping time and Saito reveals he’s bought the airline, is the entrance to the Creative Artists Agency Building, 2000 Avenue of the Stars in Century City. You might recognize it again as the office of The Daily Sentinel in Michel Gondry’s 2011 version of The Green Hornet, with Seth Rogen.
Inception location: Cobb’s home: South Grand Avenue, Pasadena
Via the strange elevator, Ariadne gets to visit Cobb’s elegant home, which turns out to be a 1908 Greene & Greene craftsman-style house in Pasadena, complete with wood features and stained glass, at 215 South Grand Avenue. The property, which was put on the market in 2001 for $2.5 million, is a private home, and there’s not a great deal to be seen from the street.
As Fischer and the team begin their epic snooze aboard the airliner, in a dream state they commandeer a taxi in downtown LA, back at Wilshire Boulevard and Hope Street. Though they seem to have driven away from the spot, it’s at the steps directly opposite, on the same road junction, that they pick up Fischer Jr.
Cobb’s unconscious mind conjures up a train, hurtling north along South Spring Street and crashing through traffic on 7th Street (just a block south of the ‘New York’ electronics store in Cloverfield). Once again, Christopher Nolan keeps a convincing physicality by constructing the railway engine as a shell on the chassis of a tractor trailer, and not falling back on CGI.
The mission gets more complicated as Fischer’s well-trained mind fights back with a gunfight on 7th Street, just east of the junction with Broadway.
The dream world is disrupted by Cobb’s dead wife, as she walks with Cobb in their own self-created universe. The columned walkway is on the west side of the Music Center, on North Hope Street south of West Temple Street, downtown LA.
Inception location: Cobb’s wife leaps from the window: the Chester Williams Building, Frank Court at Fifth Street, downtown Los Angeles
With Cobb getting dangerously deeper into his dream, his wife sits on a windowledge above Frank Court at West 5th Street, asking him to take a leap of faith with her. The apartment is the Chester Williams Building, 215 West 5th Street , which you might remember as the apartment block of N’Bushe Wright in the original Blade, and the entrance of which became a subway station for Phone Booth. It’s also directly opposite John Doe’s apartment building from Se7en.
It’s back to the CAA Building in Century City, which now provides the hotel bar and lobby where Cobb attempts to convince Fischer that he’s entered his dream.
The hotel corridors and bedroom were created in built in one of the two huge airship hangars at Cardington, three miles south of Bedford in Bedfordshire. The largest structures of their kind in Europe, the Cardington Hangars obviously suit Christopher Nolan’s style of epic film-making, as sets for Batman Begins, The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises were also built here.
On yet another dream level, the sleeping team is being driven in a van across a transporter bridge, from which it careers with excruciating slowness. This is the Commodore Schuyler F Helms Draw Bridge, spanning the Los Angeles River, on connecting Terminal Island to Long Beach and Wilmington, south of LA. The same bridge mysteriously turns up in ‘Washington DC’ during the freeway chase in Transformers: Dark Of The Moon.
The snowy fortress assaulted in the lowest dream level was constructed at at the Fortress Mountain ski resort, at Kananaskis (about 50 miles west of Calgary), in Alberta, Canada. Best hold off that visit for a while – the resort is currently closed.
Finally, it’s back to the UK to find ‘LAX’, Los Angeles International Airport, where Cobb meets Miles and finally returns to the US with a clear record. With admirable economy, it’s once again Farnborough Airport in Hampshire.
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