This is a follow-up post to my review of Inception and a reply to Xen’s comments. Xen has an excellent write-up of the movie on the Xenlogic site. For a moment I almost thought I would have to change my mind and watch the film again. Almost.
To Xen: I’m not sure what your point was in reference to my predisposed attitude to movies. I freely state that I am biased towards expecting a good storyline (plot), well written dialogue and brilliant use of narrative and film-making techniques to make me suspend disbelief. I expect these elements from most movies I watch and I hasten to add that I get them from every Pixar movie so far. I paid money to see Inception because I thought it looked amazing.
The “teenage boys” comment wasn’t entirely cynical but pointed to the fact that the highest scoring audience members (according to IMDB) were males, under 18 years of age, at 9.6 out of 10. The largest number (84,109) of people that rated Inception on IMDB were 18-29 year old males. That was 86% of all 18-29 year olds that voted and 63% of all voters.
I like your attempts at profound lines but I just can’t agree. I studied dreams in my philosophy course at university and did some lucid dreaming practise at one point as well. The idea that we find ourselves in the middle of situations in dreams and that they are circular, is not a profound one, it is merely reality (pun intended). Nolan doesn’t linger on the fact that fiction is much the same. The scene at the cafe where Cobb asks Ariadne ‘how they got there’ is largely redundant for us because we also don’t know how they got there. We accept that in movies, fiction, theatre etc, there need to be stage breaks and we need to jump into other scenes with the same believability. Nolan’s storytelling is weak and his devices are weaker. A teenage girl offering profound insight and saving the day (her name was a cheap shot) is a device found in comic books in teenage male worlds (correct me if I’m wrong but it screams of Manga more than Charles Dickens). There was one clever line which I saw referenced in a Positive Psychology newsletter and that was : “It is positive emotion that makes a dream real.” I liked that one although in the context of the movie it becomes a cheap didactic shot at the idea that we try to escape reality to find happiness or at least Cobb is doing so.
Once you read up and practise lucid dreaming you realise that there are some ways of telling the difference between dreaming and reality. Writing isn’t static in dreams and getting yourself to check the time (on a digital watch) or to read something for a few seconds will tell you whether you are dreaming or not. In a dream the letters shift and the time changes. So dream / reality distinctions aren’t that hard once you start along this path although it was a nod towards the same argument that Descartes uses in his Meditations. I didn’t believe it then because I know you can tell the difference. However, in movies like the Matrix, the storytelling doesn’t have to worry about ignorant fears such as ‘oh no, what if I’m stuck in a dream’, it realises that there are bigger issues such as the reality in which we are dreaming. What if that is fake?
Some thoughts on profound lines (which may or may not be…):
- What is real? How do you define real? If you’re talking about what you can hear, what you can smell, taste and feel, then real is simply electrical signals interpreted by your brain. Matrix
- I see it in your eyes. You have the look of a man who accepts what he sees because he is expecting to wake up. Ironically, that’s not far from the truth.Matrix
- “Until the become conscious they will never rebel, and until after they have rebelled they cannot become conscious.”- George Orwell, 1984, Book 1, Chapter 7
- “Sanity is not statistical.” – George Orwell, 1984, Book 1, Chapter 9
- Agent Smith: You hear that Mr. Anderson?… That is the sound of inevitability.Matrix
- Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow creeps in this petty pace from day to day. Macbeth
to note but a few examples from works that questions reality.
The one part of the movie that I did like was the idea that she killed herself because she was convinced that it wasn’t their reality. There’s always that question of ‘was she right?’ and I liked the link between grief and schizophrenia. I can see how that could drive someone crazy but when we see them together in his dreams she whispers to him ‘you know what you have to do’ and this becomes tedious. It’s a short movie and I didn’t need the constant tiring repetition to remind me that he is tortured by thoughts of leaving reality in order to find his own happiness. Nolan seems to ignore the storytelling rule of “show don’t tell”.
The fact that the children are always wearing the same clothes and acting in the same way is obvious. Nolan doesn’t seem to do subtle. The notion that all the characters are two-dimensional because it is his dream and therefore this is a ploy is a bit of a get out clause. He wrote weak dialogue and weak characters on purpose?
Excellent point that the totem at the start of the movie doesn’t fall down but then we know that it’s a dream because the children are there. He also goes back into the dream later on. Maybe you are right however and the story was meant to subtly point out that ‘this is a dream from the very beginning’. Not sure that his subtle foreshadowing works well alongside the obvious one of ‘who would want to be stuck in a dream for 10 years’.
A big problem I have with the story is that once we know that he is trying to escape reality (he is the only one who doesn’t want to distinguish between reality and dreams, everyone else has a totem) there is nowhere else for the story to go. The whole thing had to be a dream. He had to escape into a dream and the story had to follow this particular arc because there was no other storyline. The ‘inception’ heist was quite shallow and cartoony so a meaningful resolution could not be part of that. Being left to question whether he did escape into the dream was at least something that intrigued but as your post points out, that isn’t an option since we know that it’s a dream from the start. I like the idea that it might have been reality but you don’t leave much room for it in your analysis.
What I hadn’t realised until I read your post was that his wife was there to wake him up and stop him going through with it. Why call her Mal though which means evil or bad?
I have to disagree that the second part was clever but distracting – I didn’t think it was ‘very well written’ at all. However it was quite creative and enjoyable at times. Also, the idea that the actual Inception was done by his wife to try to wake him up is a clever one and that would raise the movie a little in my estimation. I don’t know if it was in the story intentionally but it has more potential for interest than the rest do. His profound revelation that the idea he planted in her head caused her to kill herself wasn’t much of a twist but I can see how it would work well as a source of grief and guilt.
The idea of inception itself isn’t one that I find particularly original. All marketing, music and writing do the same thing for us. We are all a product of thoughts and notions that we pick up. Even our language is acquired from others.
Also, one last point: how sitcom and soap opera-like were those glances that the other characters give him when he passes customs? Was that really needed?
Excellent post Xen and thank you for taking the time to comment on mine. Feel free to let me know what you think. I hope it doesn’t sound too argumentative, I was feeling enthusiastic at having to rethink it.