Welcome to FrockTalk, the web’s only costume-based movie review site. The goal of Frocktalk is to shed light on the magnificent artistry of costume design in motion pictures. Reviews on this site are written by working costume designers in the entertainment industry – people who know, better than anyone, what it takes to make it all happen. The focus of FrockTalk is not to comment on the big flashy costume dramas, but to call attention to the seemingly ordinary costume design work in film that silently and persuasively moves the audience toward understanding the characters. Costume design for motion pictures is an art form that deserves more recognition than it usually gets. Fancy, pretty costumes do not always equal effective, appropriate costumes. The art of the costume is in letting the audience know who the character is, before the actor even has a chance to open his mouth. Read on, and enjoy. ** CAUTION: ALL REVIEWS CONTAIN SPOILERS! **

Inception

Review Date: 7-18-10

Release Date: 7-16-10

Runtime: 148 mins.

Period: Contemporary-ish

Costume Designer: Jeffrey Kurland

Okay, so I had a moment to see a movie recently, and I chose Inception. I haven’t seen a movie this good or this thought provoking in a long time. I was trying to take notes as I usually do, but I became lost in the story. I can’t recommend it highly enough – it is a magnificent piece of filmmaking, and you need to see it right away. That’s my endorsement. Spoilers follow. DO NOT READ this if you want to experience the movie from a fresh and uninformed perspective. STOP READING NOW. I am not kidding.

So the movie is about dreams. Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) is, for all intents and purposes, an information thief. He accesses people’s minds and steals their thoughts, their secrets. He does this by infiltrating their dreams.

There is never a moment in the film where the notion of dream infiltration is questioned. From the get-go, dream infiltration is a fact of life. People study it, learn how to counteract it, etc. This should be a tip-off.

Cobb is hired by Saito (Ken Watanabe) who wants him to get into the head of a young energy scion (Robert Fischer, played by Cillian Murphy). Fischer’s father (owner of the corporation) has just passed on and left him the company and its fortune. Seems Saito’s business interests are in the same sector and he doesn’t want to see a monopoly take over the industry. Saito wants Cobb to plant a seed in young Fischer’s mind to dismantle the company. This is the opposite of what Cobb normally does – usually he takes information from the person. Saito wants him to implant information (plant an idea in the person’s head) in this case.

Desperate to go home to see his family (he can’t go back to the US due to extradition policies between France and the US – Cobb is accused of causing his wife’s death), Cobb accepts the job. Saito has promised full legal exoneration for Cobb in exchange for doing this job. Saito will make one phone call, and all of Cobb’s legal problems will go away. Tip-off number two.

Cobb assembles a team of dream infiltrators, including a very clever “forger” (shape-shifter, impersonator) named Eames (Tom Hardy), and a newbie dream architect Ariadne (Ellen Page). With the help of trusted axe man Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), they get into Fischer’s head.

Meanwhile, in the B-storyline, Cobb is having problems reconciling the death of his wife Mal (Marion Cotillard). Together they delved so deeply into the layers of their dream landscape that they landed in “limbo”, a layer so deep as to be forsaken. They stayed there for years (in dream time – meaning only hours or days in “real” time), and the line between dream world and reality became blurred. Mal later committed suicide by jumping from a building. She did this to prove to Cobb that she was dreaming. A “kick” (meaning, a powerful form of gravity-shifting incident – like a feeling of falling) will wake a person out of a layer of dreaming.

Since Mal’s death, she has been a fixture in his subconscious, and she appears in his dream-layers. This makes Cobb a bit of a loose cannon and a liability in the dream-infiltration world. The guilt that he feels over Mal killing herself effectively summons her to him when he is at work in the dreamscape. And since she, in that incarnation, is a projection of his subconscious, she presents some real conflict and distraction for Cobb.

I am not going to delve too deeply into what happens in the plot from here on out – we see many layers of dreams, and the danger level is ratcheted up significantly – but in the end, we are left with a bit of a hanging chad. Is the movie we’ve just seen REAL, or is it all part of Cobb’s limbo dream? It’s a question that begs an answer, and I may have a clue for you.

The answer has to do with costumes.

Many movies use costumes to subtly tell the essence and the secrets of the story. When I first saw The Sixth Sense, I knew immediately what had happened because there were clues left by the COSTUMES. I won’t spoil that movie for you now – see the movie and I will report on it at a different time. Inception makes use of the same device.

** MAJOR SPOILER ALERT – DO NOT READ PAST HERE IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN THE FILM **

The question that everyone has, in the end, is: Did Cobb end up back in reality, or is he in limbo?

The answer, as described by the costumes is: he never left limbo.

WHY?

The rules of Inception, laid out from the start, are thus: you enter the dream state in whatever clothing you are wearing when you enter it in real life. As you go into deeper layers of the dream state, there is the opportunity to change costume. We see this when Ariadne enters the Fischer dream state. She enters the first level in the same street clothes she was wearing from the outset; she enters the second level in businesswoman attire. She enters the third level in white arctic camouflage. She enters the limbo level in street clothes.

In contrast, Cobb enters the first level of Fischer’s dreamscape in DIFFERENT clothes than what he’s wearing when he falls asleep. When he falls asleep to join Fischer in his dream, he is wearing a suit and tie. When he appears in the dream, he wears a leather jacket. Ditto for Arthur, a projection of his dreamscape. As Cobb descends through the layers, his costumes continuously change. He reaches limbo in street clothes, heretofore incongruous with anything we’ve seen him in.

Cobb before he enters Fischer's dreamstate.

What this means is that, because Cobb changed clothes/costumes in the entry to Fischer’s dream, he must necessarily have already been inside of a dream to begin with. This is in accordance with the laws of Inception’s dream world.

Cobb - and Arthur - once they've entered Fischer's dreamstate.

Cobb - and Arthur - once they enter Fischer's dreamstate.

The real kicker, however (and pardon the “kicker” pun) are Cobb’s children. This was the crème de la crème of tip-offs. Those children did not change clothing once in the film. They appeared in several different layers of the dreamscape, and they were always wearing the same articles of clothing. The kids were a projection of Cobb’s imagination, and therefore never changed. As projections of his imagination, we understand that they only exist for him in the limbo layer. Therefore, Cobb’s entire existence is in the limbo layer. This renders everything about the film a projection of Cobb’s imagination.

Costumes unlock the mysteries of many films, and this one is no Inception, er, exception. I am going to get in touch with Jeffrey Kurland to see if I am way off base or not. Stand by for more info about that.

I must say that the film had a beautiful, stylized, expensive look to it. Everything about the costumes was thoroughly thought out and well executed. The color palette was brilliant. Every dreamscape layer had its own unique palette. All the textures and colors melded together to make it a visual masterpiece. I mean, I can’t say enough good things about this film. Jeffrey Kurland’s work has never been better. This is subtle, filmmaking art at its peak. Kurland and his crew succeeded in keeping the secrets about the film and yet sneakily revealing them for those who pay attention. I am in love with this movie.

Stand by for more information as it becomes available. But please, please, please, see the film!

PS: “Mal” in French means Bad or EVIL.  Tip-off number three.

– KMB

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