All that is wrong with the world…

September 21, 2010

Thoughts on Inception

Filed under: Entertainment — Tags: , , , , , , — allthatiswrong @ 9:38 pm

So, I got to see inception about a month ago. For free no less – having a friend who works at a movie theater is a beautiful thing. I honestly had not been paying much attention to the hype surrounding this move for various reasons, so came in completely fresh. I was pleasantly surprised…, it is easily my favorite movie of this year, and definitely in the top 5 of the last 5 years. Oh, and spoiler warning.

Despite being late and missing the first few minutes, and being the designated drink refiller for my friends, I still managed to catch everything ( I think) and enjoy it thoroughly. The film is not in anyway revolutionary, but it is amazing. It doesn’t make use of any fancy new CGI, and the story itself is fairly simple – indeed, it could have been written 50 or 100 years ago. There is nothing explicitly modern about it.

The sole thing that stands out about this film is just how well it has been crafted, with meticulous attention to detail. The characters are real and fleshed out, the story is engaging and extremely consistent. Everything is thought off and explained, and there is a good reason for everything. Some people were annoyed at the level of exposition in the film, but I never had a problem with it. It never once felt like talking to the audience, unlike say an episode from the 5th season of Angel. It’s possible that it would be annoying upon multiple viewings, but after an initial viewing I thought it was perfect.

One thing I missed during the film (no doubt while on one of my many drink refill runs) was why Saito was part of the film. I understood that the start of the movie had him hiring Cobb and his team as a test, but what was his motivation for joining the team? The Wikipedia summary simply says he insisted, which may be all it was, but it seemed kind of strange.

Something I didn’t understand upon later reflection was where the train/tram came into things. When they enter the first dream to kidnap Fischer and come under attack from the subconscious projections, I don’t entirely understand how this works. Ariadne likely designed the dream, and Yusuf would not have been attacking the team.., so how was Fischer able to assert such control in someone else’s dream, even subconsciously? A minor point and easily solved by accepting that it is simply possible, but I think it would be interesting to expand on the level of control you can have in someone else’s dreams. Could you subconsciously train an army of projections that could dominate and occupy someone’s untrained subconscious?

I noticed that people have been criticizing Inception for not going further than they could have when playing with dreams and showing them on screen. Well, that isn’t the point of the movie at all. Inception is at heart a heist story with a heart that happens to use the whole dream invading premise as a very cool setting. It’s true that all but a few of the dream sequences we see in Inception are very realistic, and could very well take place in reality, however I don’t think that this takes away from the film at all. Besides, as it is stated in the film, the dreams need to be as ordinary or believable as possible to as not to make the target realize they are in a dream. A very plausible reason for why things don’t get more surreal.

Considering just how realistic the dreams are, I think inception does an amazing job of selling the fact that you are in a dream and not in reality, and that things are different with their own rules and risks. Having said that, it could have been interesting if some of the more common dream clichés were explored that are still in the realms of reality, such as teeth falling out, or falling. The dreams we saw in Inception seemed like those very detailed dreams you sometimes have based in reality, but can’t remember fully. It was somewhat like watching one of those dreams in crystal clear detail, which is interesting.

I’m actually happy that Inception didn’t decide to get all surreal and happy, as I think that would have taken away from the film, and put the focus on the dreams themselves. That may not have been a bad thing, but it would have resulted in a radically different movie. Having said that, considering how amazing the reality based dreams were, I would love to see what Christopher Nolan’s portrayal of actual crazy dream dreams would be like on screen. It would be interesting to see if there are any laws or constraints in a dream, and if they can be broken or not. We didn’t see anything like bullettime, but would that be possible? Can we alter physics and the flow of time as we require? Could we summon up fantastical creatures with just a thought?

One of the things people have been discussing about Inception is the ending, which some consider ambiguous. Personally, I don’t think the ending was ambiguous at all, nor do I think it was intended to be. The spinning top very clearly topples, indicating that we are back in reality, or in someone else’s dream. That theory requires a set of extra assumptions that we have no reason to even suspect, let alone consider likely. There was certainly nothing shown on screen to indicate that Cobb is in someone else’s dream and not reality. Considering Cobb to have been in a dream is equivalent to saying that Cole in the sixth sense was also dead or Neo in the Matrix was a robot. There is nothing to support any of these theories.

The one interesting point I did see brought up in response to the ending however was that the spinning top was not Cobb’s to begin with but his wife’s. This is interesting because the film makes the point that only the owner of the totem can be allowed to know what it feels like or how it acts, otherwise it defeats the purpose. It is an interesting argument as to why Cobb’s totem may not be an accurate indicator of his being in a dream or not…however I think it is safe to assume the only other person who would be aware of it was his wife, so the top is not compromised in its capacity as a totem.

On the other hand, it is certainly interesting to consider all the different interpretations if you view it is a dream. One of the more interesting analysis’s of the film I have read was over at CHUD, which gives a very interesting interpretation of the film being a metaphor for filmmaking, comparing it in some ways to Fellini’s 8½. Very interesting.

Much like the “don’t think about elephants” example used in the film, if the spinning top had not been in the ending we would not have been questioning the possibility that he was not in reality at the end. Honestly, it seems like a cheap trick, and there was no need for it. Cobb returning to his children and being able to go back home in reality is a happy ending and perfect closure for the film. When I watch the end of the film, I consider it is clear that the top starts to topple. Given that people are arguing about it, it would have made more sense to show this more clearly, rather than resorting to a cheap trick ending.

One of the interesting points raised in argument of the entire movie being a dream is the flashback to Marion’s suicide. When Cobb comes home Marion is standing on the ledge of the opposite building, not their own building which is far more likely. I actually didn’t even think about or notice that during the film at all. It is very surreal, considering she would have had to gain access to the other building, which may have required renting out another room or breaking into an office, and waiting for him to get home. Even so, I find that far more likely than Cobb being a dream, and think it serves the film to show just how terrifying limbo can be and the effect it can have on a person.

I found Inception’s concept of limbo as interesting as I did horrifying, but only wish it was expanded on more. The idea of being by yourself in an entire world for what would seem like a literal lifetime would be agonizing, enough to make a person go mad. Waking up from such a thing, would you really be able to just shrug it off? If I had to say the film had a weak point, this would be it. Everything that is horrible about limbo, everything that is meant to be terrifying ends up being implied. We see Cobb and Marion in Limbo and we see the effect it has on her. We see Saito as an old man in Limbo, implied to have suffered horribly. The problem is, we never actually see anything bad going on in Limbo. While Cobb and Marion are in Limbo, they appear to have built a nice world and be happy enough. We don’t actually see Saito suffering in Limbo, we just see the result of his suffering.

On the other hand, why would Limbo be so bad? If you could make and shape the world as you see fit, couldn’t you make a paradise? Surely you could make a fine way to spend 70 years or so. The presence of Marion in Cobb’s limbo implies it must be possible to have projections with you, and if they were created from memories then they could be realistic enough so that you wouldn’t know the difference. It wouldn’t be ideal, but would it really be the hell the film implies it is? It also seems that Limbo is easy enough to escape, just kill yourself and wake up in reality. Why wouldn’t people just do this? I feel like I have forgotten something, and it is possibly explained in a throwaway line somewhere, but still. If you were all alone in a world that depress, it’s possible you would commit suicide anyway, just to escape.

Something I really liked was the revelation that Cobb was the cause of his Wife’s death. I didn’t expect this, and it suddenly explained all the angst Cobb had bottled up and the horrible guilt he must feel. It was easy to emphasize with him, as many people would probably do the same thing having good intentions, and yet what a horrible tragic price to pay.

Inception is in no way groundbreaking or revolutionary such as The Matrix(which for some reason I kept comparing it to) or Terminator 2 were and as I thought it may be. It didn’t set any new territory and didn’t revolutionize anything as those films did. What it did do was make amazing use of our current technology…not even the latest and greatest, just the everyday stuff. It used nothing more than standard filmmaking and excellent writing to make a superb film that captivates the audience for the entire length of the film. I honestly can’t remember the last film that had me hooked and enjoying it so much…possibly The Departed, but even that wasn’t to the same extent. It is so very refreshing to see such an amazing movie made that relies purely on ideas and writing.

Another thing I was thinking about in the film, is just how detailed some of the dreamworlds are. For example, how can there be completely function complex computer systems in the dream of someone who has no idea about computers at all? Is this where the architect comes in? If something that complicated and complex was invading someone’s subconscious, would that not have an effect on the person? How is that dealt with? For that matter how does the architect place their designs in the minds of the subjects? It would have been interesting to see these sorts of questions explored. That’s right….more exposition.

I don’t think Inception needs a sequel at all. It is a perfect movie on its own, especially if you consider the top toppled at the end of the film. Even so, a sequel would be welcome. Inception was very much about Cobb and his last mission, and with getting back to the US his story finished with a happy ending. I’m not sure where he would fit into a sequel as such, but it would be interesting to see a sequel purely to explore the world. To explore what the rules and such of dreams are, to explore how the technology has affected society in reality and how it is regulated. Even to expand on the fact that there are apparently corporations on the level of governments, and how that came to be.

I have to point out that I do not understand Harry Knowle’s review over on AICN at all. Is this guy just going against the grain as he often does? He makes some absurd claims in his very short review. First he states that he has no sense of Cobb and Marion as a couple. They shared a lifetime together in a world they created, and after she has passed away he literally can’t let go of her. That must give some sense of a relationship…it isn’t too many couples who get to have such an experience. In any event, Inception was a story about Cobb facing his demons and achieving a goal, not a love story.

He then seemed to criticize the need for an architect, despite it being explained very clearly in the movie. Dreams have a shifting architecture, and so the architect must create something stable and realistic suited to extracting information. The whole point is to make the dreams seem real so the inception will take place. Criticizing the architect for not creating surreal dreamscapes is completely missing the point of the movie.

His main complaint seems to be with the ski sequence, which I do not get. It’s true that the ski sequence may not have been incredible and out of this world, but it didn’t have to be. This one the dream of one guy, presumably designed by the architect for a specific purpose. The ski shootout is just a distraction, and at that point there is so much going on at once that it is just all part of the puzzle. If you were mostly paying attention to the ski shootout, then you were probably missing most of what was going on. I was going to say having an extraordinary ski sequence would blow the cover as someone would realize it wasn’t a dream, but at the stage everyone was aware they were in a dream. Well, at least one.

He then complains there is nothing at stake. Really? If you get attached to Cobb, you care if he succeeds on a personal note, because if he doesn’t he will never get to see his kids again. If he doesn’t succeed then one company will have a monopoly on the global energy market, which can only be a bad thing. Then of course there is the whole threat of Limbo, being doomed to spend a lifetime alone slowly going mad. How you can watch the movie and say there is nothing at stake is beyond me. Harry, watch the film again, and watch it properly.


All in all, an absolutely amazing film. Captivating and entertaining the entire length of almost three hours, and provides plenty of material for discussion. It’s been a while since there was such a movie as well written and crafted as Inception, and it’s on a Hollywood budget no less. Those 10 years writing the screenplay seemed to have paid off. Kudos Mr. Nolan.

Update 2 – December 16th 2010

All the nonsense talk of the ambiguous ending is really annoying me. The ending of Inception, over whether the top topples or not is no more ambiguous than if the chess piece moved at the end of X-men 3. I was actually going to grab the DVD rip and take some frame captures to show exactly this, but I came across this post. That one picture at the top of that post is sufficient in my opinion, and the post is good reading in itself.

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