Infinite potential of human mind

There are three universes to explore in the Blu-ray edition of Christopher Nolan's Inception. One is the film itself, a mind-bending tale in which Leonardo DiCaprio leads a team of dreamers into the mind of Cillian Murphy to implant an idea into his subconscious.

Secondly, there's a wealth of information about the movie's special effects, many of them refreshingly old school. In an age when we assume cinema magic takes place in a computer, Nolan explains the practical tricks he used to keep it real.

For instance, when a Paris street explodes into fractal popcorn around DiCaprio and co-star Ellen Page, Nolan used air cannons that could precisely shower the area with debris --so precisely that the actors could sit undisturbed at their cafe table while the set splintered around them.

For a fight scene in a rotating hotel corridor -- in which walls become floors and then ceilings -- Nolan took a page from Stanley Kubrick's 2001. He built a tube-shaped set, 10 metres wide and at least four times as long, that could be turned like a giant hamster wheel while the actors clambered around inside.

A tilting barroom required a set built on a huge see-saw, and extras who could inhabit it without getting sick.

Finally, the disc includes a 45-minute documentary, Dreams: Cinema of the Subconscious, that examines "the three-pound universe" that is our sleeping brain.

Backed by surreal imagery, this eye-opening feature discusses the concept of "lucid dreaming," in which the dreamer is aware that she or he is dreaming. Actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt notes that an average life includes more than 20 years of sleep, and at least five years in dreams: "That's a lot of time that I could be alive."

Full disclosure: As a teenager I experimented with lucid dreaming. I still recall one in which I examined a gone-to-seed dandelion and marveled that my brain was able to create such fine detail.

Nolan has a similar story, told in a recent issue of Cinefex magazine: "I remember, very clearly, dreaming about being on a beach and picking up a handful of sand, and realizing that my brain was putting all the grains of sand into that handful. It was obviously far beyond my conscious ability to create or conceive. It suggested the infinite potential of the human mind."

Scientists in the documentary point out that, since everything we feel occurs in the brain, the only difference between waking and dreaming is that the first is a mental construct of the universe constrained by sensory input, while the second is free of it. In other words, life is just a dream where the top eventually topples.

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