In an interview conducted in advance of the release of Inception, Christopher Nolan deflected the idea that his new film’s ellipticism was inspired by Alain Resnais’ Last Year at Marienbad. With the poised self-deprecation of a man whose last film made hundreds of millions of dollars, Nolan laughed that he hadn’t seen the film, and that he was merely “ripping off all the films that ripped it off.” Anyway, I certainly didn’t think of Resnais’ game-changer while watching Inception. The title that did spring immediately to mind was one that could not realistically have exerted any influence: Martin Scorsese’s Shutter Island, released to theaters earlier this year after the teaser for Inception had already set pulses racing among the crowd that thought The Dark Knight was a watershed in American cinema (which is to say: a lot of people).
On one level, this comparison is purely circumstantial. Shutter Island and Inception are both conspicuously lush big-studio movies starring Leonardo DiCaprio playing a character navigating the murky depths of his own subconscious. (Now nearly a decade past “fresh-faced,” Leo is now the A-listers’ go-to-guy for “haunted.”) But what really connects the films is the way their directors play to their respective strengths so consciously and insistently that they become weaknesses. Read Adam Nayman’s review of Inception.