Édith Piaf’s rendition of “Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien”,
recorded in 1960, was a significant song in the movie and this scene. The tempo
was dramatically slowed down which transformed the trumpets into something very
dark and imposing an effect similar to that of a menacing low brass ensemble
choir of tubas and trombones. The rhythm’s slow version was used by Hans
Zimmer, the composer of the film’s score, as his motif and he then incorporated
it into his score for the entire movie. The repetition of these notes can
direct the viewer to pay the more subtle and artful aspects of the score and
enables them to process it within a slightly different context. By keeping the
theme simple and uncomplicated, it’s effective and easy to remember. Zimmer
stated that he wanted to “score something that subconsciously would be deeply
emotional and nostalgic” for ‘Inception’. Through his repetitive use 2, 3 or 4
tones, where their pitch is altered, he creates a great emotional theme with
build ups that indirectly resonates with the viewer or listener and quickly
becomes familiar and often sentimental to them.

According to Zimmer “all the music in the score is
subdivisions and multiplications of the tempo of the Édith Piaf track. So I
could slip into half-time; I could slip into a third of a time. Anything could
go anywhere. At any moment I could drop into a different level of time.” Depending
on what layer of the dream the film places us in, the music will slow down. The
deeper we are, the slower the music’s tempo. This helps to enhance the
emotional impact of the scene and assists in making the viewer anticipate the
quickening of and the climax of the music and the scene. It also helps the
viewer to discern which layer of the dream the film is showing. This is a
regular occurrence throughout the film and is often used to support the
narrative of the film.

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When the film transitions from one level of a dream to
another pitch shifting occasionally occurs the pitch of the surrounding sounds
is altered. When in a deeper level of the dream the pitch will go down and when
transitioned to an upper level of the dream it will go up. The surrounding
sounds’ speed is also changed through the pitch shifting. When transitioning
into the dream’s deeper levels, the surrounding sounds are slowed down. The
time-flow in the dream’s different levels directly correlates with this. Like
many of the other techniques in the film this focusses on ensuring that the
viewer is aware of what is happening in the film and helps them to navigate
through the something confusing and complicated plot.

In the previous scenes that are set in the reality reverb is
left 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 the
sense that something is wrong with this world decay times that sound unnatural are
implemented. This is very effective tool in indirectly encouraging the viewer
to question what they are seeing and to determine for themselves which layer of
the dream or reality the film is presenting them with. Here the reverb is used
in a way that communicates and interacts with the viewer/listener exclusively without
needing to rely heavily on visuals. This again shows the importance of the
sound used in this scene and how it highlights and prioritises certain elements
of the plot that may have otherwise been overlooked.

In addition to this, pitch shifting can also perform as a
sound bridge simultaneously in this scene. Each time the scene cuts between
dream levels the swift video editing happens in conjunction with a sound bridge.
 For instance, the tires screeching not
only overlaps but develops into the metal groaning/screeching when we
transition from the first to the second layer of the dream. Or the sound of car
crashing changing to the character crashing into a wall in another layer of the
dream. All of this succeeds in blurring the lines between reality and the
different layers of the dreams whilst still providing subtle clues to the
viewer/listener to signal the transition into or out of a dream. The supervising
sound editor and sound designer of this film, Richard King, explained that “You
don’t always want to point out the fact that they’re in a dream while still
being true to the story that’s unfolding and the visuals we’re seeing. A slight
shifting 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 the
complex storyline following these cues. It also helps to tether the dream works
together and to provide some coherency.

A lot of the sound effects for the dream sequences were
layered with literal sound effects, the cause of the sound and then organic
sounds like whale noises that would be pitched differently and altered. According
to Richard King they “either ignored the change or used sounds which had
nothing to do with what was going on”. This helps to create a more threatening
and ominous sound that would unsettle the viewer and providing them with the
impression that something is not quite right, or real. It also produces a bigger
or busier sound that indicates the elaboration or importance of the events
taking place. 

A lot of the weapons and car sounds were recorded with lots
of different microphone positions. This would pick up different frequencies
depending on the proximity to the sound. Manually all the sounds were lined up
in software later on and would create a sound that no one could hear in one
spot further reinforcing the feeling that what you’re seeing in this sequence
is part of a dream. Again, these subtle clues assist in guiding the viewer to
discern and determine the differences in the various layers of the dreams,
answering questions that may have been overlooked or missed visually or through
lack of exposition.

 

This scene contains minimal dialogue and relies heavily on the
visuals, the score and the sound effects to construct a narrative.  The lack of dialogue allows the viewer to
focus singularly on the events taking place, without being preoccupied
interpreting the dialogue, and lets them get swept away by the amalgamation of
the score and visuals, creating suspense and tension. Another dimension of the
narrative of the film is added through the score and by listening to it
separately from the film, we can hear that it portrays an immense build towards
the climax of the film and the events taking place. According to Zimmer “A good
score should have a point of view all of its own. It should transcend all that
has gone before, stand on its own two feet and still serve the movie. A great
soundtrack is all about communicating with the audience, but we all try to
bring something extra to the movie that is not entirely evident on screen.” His
desire to do this is shown in this soundtrack which constantly hinted at subtle
clues 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 suspense
to the scene, hinting towards the turmoil of the scene.  Throughout this scene the soundtrack crescendos
towards the end, again building tension as it tells the audience that something
significant is about to happen in the scene. It then ends rather abruptly when
a main character fires his gun in the final shot of this sequence, this helps
to refocus attention on events and give the viewer a moment to reflect on what
they just saw and heard. It reflects the character gaining control over the
situation when prior to this the music had been slightly unsettled and
turbulent and the quietness gives him a short respite from his earlier
struggles. It also brings out a reaction from the viewer whom whilst the music escalates
in combination with the visuals leading up to the climax of the scene will have
been anticipating the conclusion to the discord and will evoke a feeling of
triumph or happiness in them when the character defeats his opponent and the
music reaches its ending.

The soundtrack’s mix of orchestral and synthetic tones is
another strength of this scene. Throughout this movie the synthetic sounds feel
united or connected to the orchestra and never feels alienated. A great tension
is created through the use of orchestral and synthetic instrumentation together
that helps to convey an emotion that without this combination wouldn’t have
been able to have been captured. The use of this enhanced the emotional impact
the scene has on viewers, creating a wider palette of sound that emphasises the
drama and the importance of the conflict taking place in this scene. Zimmer
stated that the film’s score was filled with “nostalgia and sadness” to
match the main character’s, Cobb, feelings throughout the film. Here, it finds
the balance between providing the story momentum and pushing the emotion whilst
still reflecting the characters and their personal development throughout the film
and this scene.  It also succeeds in
creating a very relentless and intense quality that reflected both the story and
its characters well.

Even though this scene is only 3 minutes long, the
importance of the sound to the sequences and this scene are apparent as it
clearly sets the tone, atmosphere and mood for the whole movie. Without this
then the scene would be rather underwhelming and without as large of an
emotional impact and resonance on the viewer. 
It also mediates the coherency and instability of the different dream
layers in the world of ‘Inception’, especially through the subtle cues established
through the regular use of the sound bridges. Through the intricacies of the
story and its character’s personal growth the audio in this film and in this
scene, supports them and enhances and intensifies their story to encourage the
viewers to emphasise with them in their impossible or difficult situations. Most
importantly, the sound works as a guide for the viewer helping to determine which
layer of the dream we are in. The score and sound effects integrate themselves
perfectly into the film without being too distracting or obtrusive and yet are
still impossible to overlook or ignore. Through this scene it is clear that the
audio in this movie worked well to support and enhance the film without taking
it over and diverting the viewer’s attention from the story and its characters
which were the core of the film. 

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