Inception – A dreamed dream

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“If you’re going to perform inception, you need imagination.”

Inception is a sci-fi thriller that explores the dream world with all its episodic and unusual scenarios.  It is a daunting journey into the once-thought-to-be private realm of dream sleep, where people can invade your very subconscious.  The dreams are no longer a personal experience.

The director of the movie, Cristopher Nolan, dives into the multiple realities of a guy named Cobb, a master thief who’s made a business out of extracting secrets from people’s minds while they’re in a vulnerable dream state. His latest assignment offers a much greater challenge than usual: Instead of retrieving information, Cobb and his team are asked to plant an idea in someone’s head, which involves fooling the brain into believing it generated and nurtured the idea itself. (Hence the title.) In order to pull it off, he recruits an architect who can build dreamscapes densely layered, enough for himself, for his partner, a forger, and other co-conspirators to commit the sabotage. However, the ghosts in Cobb’s own subconscious wreak havoc on the operation.

The film layers dreams on top of dreams to the point where a unique keepsake called a “totem” is required in order to inform a character as to whether or not he or she is still dreaming.   Furthermore, dreams have rules: dying in a dream forces the dreamer to wake up, delving too deeply into a mind can cause an eternal slumber called “Limbo”, using memories to construct dreams is dangerous because it can blur the line between dreams and reality.  In addition, intruding in the dreams of another will cause the dreamer’s “projections” (human representations created by the dreamer) to attack the intruders.  All these represent a fraction of the terminology, rules, exceptions, or details that are necessary for creating the world of Inception.

In the movie, Nolan uses a rich variety of references — from the mind-puzzling drawings of M.C. Escher to the “Am I a man who dreamt he was a butterfly, or a butterfly dreaming he is a man?” koans of Chinese philosophy — to drive this intricate game. There’s plenty of action, plot twists, and special effects.   The physical scope of this movie is astounding.  Worlds fall on top of each other, a freight train can burst onto a city street, hotels can lose all gravity, and everything that we know is impossible appears completely natural.

The  action also takes place in the mind — or, rather, in several minds at once, as our heroes pursue their prize through dreams within dreams. In fact, by the climax, the action is occurring in at least four separate and simultaneous realities.

Nolan has crafted a movie that’s brilliant and perfectly layered both narratively and thematically.  It requires the audience to take in a collection of rules, exceptions, locations, jobs, and abilities in order to understand the text, but also the fascinating subtext.  Nolan’s movie demand intense concentration because it uses complex ideas and that is why the film deserves, demands, and rewards repeat viewings.

This movie avoids making the most serious error a sci-fi movie can make: It avoids confusing science fiction with science fantasy. Good science fiction takes a premise, in this case that a third party can have access to your dreams, and then shows you the real world as though that premise were true. Despite several intricate and overlapping story lines, this movie never loses its way. A plausible reason exists for everything that happens within the parameters of the story.

Inception was not the first movie to mix breathtaking action with thoughtful subtext. In 1999 we had The Matrix.  The comparisons are inevitable.  Both movies deal with the nature of reality combined with pulse-pounding set pieces that will be included in any action-scene highlight reel.  It’s about taking multiple genres, settings, ideas, emotions, and questions and weaving them into a rich tapestry that will make us reflect about its meaning long after the credits roll.

Inception is a great movie. It’s a great inventive script with great actors to pull it off. Not only are the themes thought provoking but there is plenty of action and visuals to enjoy the experience. The movie is about love and loss. The viewer is wrapped up in the action until realizes that maybe dreams are better than reality. The cinematography is gorgeous, the sound design is sensational, and the soundtrack is one of composer Hans Zimmer’s best scores.

Inception is a near perfect movie. The perfection lies in that every viewer has different theories, and is allowed to do so. The plot was complex because dreams are complex, the most intense dreams are also incredibly heavy and the dreams don’t make sense all the time.

“It’s said that Christopher Nolan spent ten years writing his screenplay for Inception. That must have involved prodigious concentration, like playing blindfold chess while walking a tight-wire. The film’s hero tests a young architect by challenging her to create a maze, and Nolan tests us with his own dazzling maze. We have to trust him that he can lead us through, because much of the time we’re lost and disoriented. Nolan must have rewritten this story time and again, finding that every change had a ripple effect down through the whole fabric. ” Roger Ebert

“Dreams feel real while we’re in them.  It’s only when we wake up that we realize something was actually strange.”

photo credit: plusgoogle


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