The movie Inception directed by Christopher Nolan, uses music almost throughout the entire film. There is not one scene where background music is not utilized to enhance the atmosphere or tone of the story. Hans Zimmer’s original scores in Inception are consistently adding to the feel of the film, in which without the music outlining the story, the movie would be lacking a powerful reaction from the audience.
Inception does not contain any long periods of absolutely no musical score. In every scene there is some sort of music in the background, whether it be soft and slow, or loud and fast, there is quite often music in the background while the characters are going about their actions and storyline. In the opening scene of the film, there is loud and unsettling music at the very beginning, but then as soon as the scene cuts to the waves on a beach, the music gets much softer, creating a more peaceful affect.
Another scene in which the music is utilized is in one of the beginning scenes, where Cobb and Mal are first shown speaking to one another on the balcony of a ship. As the viewer watches them, they receive no background information of the characters as of yet, or that this woman is Cobb’s deceased wife portrayed as a shadow in a dream. But the background music is present, hinting to the viewers – with a romantic slow and sad melody – that these two characters are past lovers.
Music is quite prevalent throughout the entirety of Inception. It is heard throughout every scene – while characters are talking about certain aspects of the “dream world,” throughout scenes where there is no dialogue, or while characters are doing the most simplest of actions such as walking urgently through a hallway with a gun in their hand (Cobb walking around with a gun seems small, but cue music and the viewer feels a sense of urgency in his strides now). Music is in the background often, which gives an “epic” feel to every small gesture. What may have appeared insignificant is enhanced and highlighted as very significant when the music comes on.
The music in Inception outlines the plot, and uses the mickey-mousing technique quite often. A great example of this in the movie is when Cobb has to escape from the men who are chasing after him with guns trying to kill him. The music is at first extremely fast, sounds very urgent, and the audience can feel the danger that might reach Cobb if he does not run fast enough. And then when Cobb finds a café to hide in, the music gets softer which suggests that Cobb is temporarily safe, but still with that sense of urgency with the fast playing strings suggesting that there is still danger in the men finding him. When the men find him, the music returns to being louder and faster. And then when he gets into the car with Saito and is finally safe from the enemies, the music completely dies down altogether.
Another example of the mickey-mousing technique being utilized is in the scene where Arthur is explaining to Ariadne all the tricks to building a dream, and in particular when he is describing the paradoxical staircase. In this specific moment the music creates a sense of wonderment and leaves the audience with a sense of awe. Then, as Arthur is telling Ariadne that Cobb’s wife is dead, the music slows down almost to a complete stop, which in a way outlines Ariadne’s shock.
Later on in the film, when Ariadne is prying into Cobb’s dream, the music is slow and quiet, and almost romantic as she watches Mal and Cobb talking and caressing each other. As soon as Mall realizes Ariadne is invading the dream, and Mal abruptly turns her head, the music reveals an incredibly sudden, loud and dissonant screech – this gives the audience the exact feelings of being caught that Ariadne experiences in this moment.
Music is also used in the film to create a certain feel or to manipulate a particular emotion within the audience. In the scene near the ending of the film where the dream is collapsing, Cobb and Mal are shown lying on the ground, as Mal was shot and dying, caressing each other. As they speak, the music is extremely soft, slow, and altogether romantic. But this cue insinuates sad less as Cobb repeats, “I have to let you go” over and over. The music also suggests an evolution or change within the character, and encourages a sense of dynamic in Cobb, as if he is finally waking up from his dream.
Another use of music within Inception is for the creation of suspense. You can feel when the characters are fearful or hesitant through the music, just like when Mal threatens to kill Arthur. There are many other instances where the music creates suspense. Take, for instance, when Cobb recognizes the bridge Ariadne conjures up, and the music comes on and it creates an eerie yet urgent feeling, which hints that something is wrong. Or when the antagonist, Robert, realizes he is in a dream, and Cobb realizes he has been caught, the music comes on and it creates an eerie feeling or tone, which invokes a feeling of suspense. The music always gets faster or increases in dynamics which makes it more “epic” sounding as the urgency becomes heightened and the dream starts collapsing on them, leaving the audience in suspense, as they do not know what will happen.
In the final scene, when Cobb finally wakes up from the dream, he is back in the plane and the music starts off slow, as if expressing he has come to the realization that he is finally awake, and survived the dream successfully, having accomplished the work of inception. As he approaches customs at the airport, the music falls almost completely silent, and it is so soft that it creates suspense for the viewers, as they do not know whether or not customs will let Cobb through. When the man working at customs finally says, “Welcome home Mr. Cobb,” the music adds in strings to symbolize success, not only in passing through customs, but for reaching the climax of his journey. This is the climax of the film because Cobb’s entire motive for attempting the impossible tasks of inception was so that Saito would help him get through customs so he could finally go back home to his children. So the music adds a sense of excitement for the audience.
As Cobb walks on, the music increases in dynamics, creating an epic tone to the scene, which adds in even more suspense than ever. When he spins his totem to see if he is dreaming and finally sets his eyes on his kids, the music becomes extremely soft and slow. The music here shows the tenderness of this moment. Then the music gets extremely suspenseful just as the camera is moving in on the totem and cuts off right before we see if the totem has fallen or not. The music here creates a sense of wonderment, as the audience is left pondering about whether or not the whole scene was just a dream.