Édith Piaf’s rendition of “Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien”,recorded in 1960, was a significant song in the movie and this scene. The tempowas dramatically slowed down which transformed the trumpets into something verydark and imposing an effect similar to that of a menacing low brass ensemblechoir of tubas and trombones. The rhythm’s slow version was used by HansZimmer, the composer of the film’s score, as his motif and he then incorporatedit into his score for the entire movie. The repetition of these notes candirect the viewer to pay the more subtle and artful aspects of the score andenables them to process it within a slightly different context. By keeping thetheme simple and uncomplicated, it’s effective and easy to remember. Zimmerstated that he wanted to “score something that subconsciously would be deeplyemotional and nostalgic” for ‘Inception’.
Through his repetitive use 2, 3 or 4tones, where their pitch is altered, he creates a great emotional theme withbuild ups that indirectly resonates with the viewer or listener and quicklybecomes familiar and often sentimental to them. According to Zimmer “all the music in the score issubdivisions and multiplications of the tempo of the Édith Piaf track. So Icould slip into half-time; I could slip into a third of a time.
Anything couldgo anywhere. At any moment I could drop into a different level of time.” Dependingon what layer of the dream the film places us in, the music will slow down. Thedeeper we are, the slower the music’s tempo.
This helps to enhance theemotional impact of the scene and assists in making the viewer anticipate thequickening of and the climax of the music and the scene. It also helps theviewer to discern which layer of the dream the film is showing. This is aregular occurrence throughout the film and is often used to support thenarrative of the film. When the film transitions from one level of a dream toanother pitch shifting occasionally occurs the pitch of the surrounding soundsis altered.
When in a deeper level of the dream the pitch will go down and whentransitioned to an upper level of the dream it will go up. The surroundingsounds’ speed is also changed through the pitch shifting. When transitioninginto the dream’s deeper levels, the surrounding sounds are slowed down. Thetime-flow in the dream’s different levels directly correlates with this.
Likemany of the other techniques in the film this focusses on ensuring that theviewer is aware of what is happening in the film and helps them to navigatethrough the something confusing and complicated plot. In the previous scenes that are set in the reality reverb isleft natural but as the characters travel further down into the levels of the dream,the foley is utilised in an interesting manner. To provide the viewers with thesense that something is wrong with this world decay times that sound unnatural areimplemented. This is very effective tool in indirectly encouraging the viewerto question what they are seeing and to determine for themselves which layer ofthe dream or reality the film is presenting them with. Here the reverb is usedin a way that communicates and interacts with the viewer/listener exclusively withoutneeding to rely heavily on visuals.
This again shows the importance of thesound used in this scene and how it highlights and prioritises certain elementsof the plot that may have otherwise been overlooked.In addition to this, pitch shifting can also perform as asound bridge simultaneously in this scene. Each time the scene cuts betweendream levels the swift video editing happens in conjunction with a sound bridge.
For instance, the tires screeching notonly overlaps but develops into the metal groaning/screeching when wetransition from the first to the second layer of the dream. Or the sound of carcrashing changing to the character crashing into a wall in another layer of thedream. All of this succeeds in blurring the lines between reality and thedifferent layers of the dreams whilst still providing subtle clues to theviewer/listener to signal the transition into or out of a dream. The supervisingsound editor and sound designer of this film, Richard King, explained that “Youdon’t always want to point out the fact that they’re in a dream while stillbeing true to the story that’s unfolding and the visuals we’re seeing. A slightshifting of reality is appropriate, but we didn’t want to make it too obvious.”This subtlety is very effective and helps to navigate the viewer around thecomplex storyline following these cues. It also helps to tether the dream workstogether and to provide some coherency.A lot of the sound effects for the dream sequences werelayered with literal sound effects, the cause of the sound and then organicsounds like whale noises that would be pitched differently and altered.
Accordingto Richard King they “either ignored the change or used sounds which hadnothing to do with what was going on”. This helps to create a more threateningand ominous sound that would unsettle the viewer and providing them with theimpression that something is not quite right, or real. It also produces a biggeror busier sound that indicates the elaboration or importance of the eventstaking place. A lot of the weapons and car sounds were recorded with lotsof different microphone positions. This would pick up different frequenciesdepending on the proximity to the sound. Manually all the sounds were lined upin software later on and would create a sound that no one could hear in onespot further reinforcing the feeling that what you’re seeing in this sequenceis part of a dream. Again, these subtle clues assist in guiding the viewer todiscern and determine the differences in the various layers of the dreams,answering questions that may have been overlooked or missed visually or throughlack of exposition. This scene contains minimal dialogue and relies heavily on thevisuals, the score and the sound effects to construct a narrative.
The lack of dialogue allows the viewer tofocus singularly on the events taking place, without being preoccupiedinterpreting the dialogue, and lets them get swept away by the amalgamation ofthe score and visuals, creating suspense and tension. Another dimension of thenarrative of the film is added through the score and by listening to itseparately from the film, we can hear that it portrays an immense build towardsthe climax of the film and the events taking place. According to Zimmer “A goodscore should have a point of view all of its own.
It should transcend all thathas gone before, stand on its own two feet and still serve the movie. A greatsoundtrack is all about communicating with the audience, but we all try tobring something extra to the movie that is not entirely evident on screen.” Hisdesire to do this is shown in this soundtrack which constantly hinted at subtleclues that weren’t always apparent visually. The piece played in this scene is called ‘Destabilisation’and it really reflects the fragility of the dreams, adding tension and suspenseto the scene, hinting towards the turmoil of the scene. Throughout this scene the soundtrack crescendostowards the end, again building tension as it tells the audience that somethingsignificant is about to happen in the scene. It then ends rather abruptly whena main character fires his gun in the final shot of this sequence, this helpsto refocus attention on events and give the viewer a moment to reflect on whatthey just saw and heard. It reflects the character gaining control over thesituation when prior to this the music had been slightly unsettled andturbulent and the quietness gives him a short respite from his earlierstruggles.
It also brings out a reaction from the viewer whom whilst the music escalatesin combination with the visuals leading up to the climax of the scene will havebeen anticipating the conclusion to the discord and will evoke a feeling oftriumph or happiness in them when the character defeats his opponent and themusic reaches its ending. The soundtrack’s mix of orchestral and synthetic tones isanother strength of this scene. Throughout this movie the synthetic sounds feelunited or connected to the orchestra and never feels alienated. A great tensionis created through the use of orchestral and synthetic instrumentation togetherthat helps to convey an emotion that without this combination wouldn’t havebeen able to have been captured. The use of this enhanced the emotional impactthe scene has on viewers, creating a wider palette of sound that emphasises thedrama and the importance of the conflict taking place in this scene.
Zimmerstated that the film’s score was filled with “nostalgia and sadness” tomatch the main character’s, Cobb, feelings throughout the film. Here, it findsthe balance between providing the story momentum and pushing the emotion whilststill reflecting the characters and their personal development throughout the filmand this scene. It also succeeds increating a very relentless and intense quality that reflected both the story andits characters well. Even though this scene is only 3 minutes long, theimportance of the sound to the sequences and this scene are apparent as itclearly sets the tone, atmosphere and mood for the whole movie. Without thisthen the scene would be rather underwhelming and without as large of anemotional impact and resonance on the viewer.
It also mediates the coherency and instability of the different dreamlayers in the world of ‘Inception’, especially through the subtle cues establishedthrough the regular use of the sound bridges. Through the intricacies of thestory and its character’s personal growth the audio in this film and in thisscene, supports them and enhances and intensifies their story to encourage theviewers to emphasise with them in their impossible or difficult situations. Mostimportantly, the sound works as a guide for the viewer helping to determine whichlayer of the dream we are in. The score and sound effects integrate themselvesperfectly into the film without being too distracting or obtrusive and yet arestill impossible to overlook or ignore. Through this scene it is clear that theaudio in this movie worked well to support and enhance the film without takingit over and diverting the viewer’s attention from the story and its characterswhich were the core of the film.