Monday, July 26, 2010


I have lots of other updates I could post about, including how marathon training is going (decent), how my book is coming along (so-so), and how my debt-paying quest has gone (excellent, but problematic). And I will write posts about all of those things soon. Really, I will. I promise.

In the meantime, this past weekend after visiting Michigan to see both my family and Dave Williams' family (with a side of Egglestons), on Sunday my brother Sean, sister Nora, and I went to see the film Inception.

I think the mark of a great movie is one that stays with you, that you turn over in your head before going to sleep. Inception was certainly one of those for me. Nolan is a talented filmmaker with an excellent vision. Almost everything about the film is sleek and well-crafted.

After watching it, I've been sifting through various theories on the web about the film, seeing if there's anything I might have missed. (that is what the Internet is for, is it not?)

[Major Spoilers Ahead]

There are those who've watched the film and come away with the theory that the whole thing was a dream. I can see why. Because we are shown that the end may or may not be Cobb's dream, (which is a great ambiguous clincher), it's tempting to think, "Ooo, we don't see the top fall over. We don't know if Cobb's dreaming or not... Maybe, MAYBE the whole fucking film is a dream!"

In some ways, this is true. After all, it's a work of fiction and so it is a dream: on a meta-fictional level. By Nolan having his characters explain to each other (and the audience) the narrative tools that all fiction (film or otherwise) use, such as scene shifts and or lucky narrative events, etc., as simply the mechanics of how a shared dream works, he not only allows us to suspend our disbelief, but actually pulls the viewer in deeper by forcing them to wonder if the whole thing is a dream.

I mean, I thought it unlikely that Cillian Murphy's character would have so easily believed Cobb in the "hotel", but then I thought, "Well, the guy's in a dream of a dream. He's had several dozen projections of his subconscious security team killed, so he's probably not operating with a full deck at the moment." It's a narrative ploy that is both devious and effective. (in contrast, Nolan's Joker pulled off quite a few nigh-impossible feats, but our disbelief was just as suspended there because we could say "Its a comic book movie")

One can say, "but wait, who names their child Ariadne? That's obvious symbolism. She must be an aspect of his Jungian psyche! Same with Arthur. And what if Eames was a doctor? Then his name would be Dr. Eames!"

That's a little too obvious. Stories use archetypes. (that's why they're archetypes) Because of the exceptionally complex meta-juggling that Nolan is doing throughout the film, especially with his finale, it's difficult to sift through what in the film is a dream and what is simply a narrative device. I should add that I think that was done deliberately. That's what makes it fun. Nolan deliberately leaves it ambiguous enough so that you could debate the whole thing. Mal's attempt to seduce Cobb to stay in limbo by questioning his reality is another lie, but like all powerful lies, contains a grain of truth (since this is a fictional story). Her attempt to persuade him to stay serves a double-purposed of getting Cobb, as well as us, the audience, to question his reality.

However, the theory that the whole film is Cobb's dream fails to take into account the narrative moments in which Cobb has absolutely no part in: Saito waking up an a train in front of the Asian kid. Arthur training Ariadne on the Penrose staircase. Ariadne watching Cobb sleep. Arthur kissing Ariadne. Saito and Eame's interaction on the elevator. Arthur fighting a Spider-man-esque/Matrixy battle in the hotel. Eames going all James Bond on the skis. (Eames was awesome by the way)

So, I think that up until the end, it was all real (in that fictional world).

Now, after Cobb wakes up on the plane after rescuing Saito... I'm not so sure.

The remainder of the film did seem to have an ethereal quality to it, and seemed almost too perfect. But the maddening thing is: THAT'S HOW ALL FILMS END.

Think about the end of Ocean's 11. Or The Italian Job. Or any movie when a parent reunites with their children.

I could go either way, but I like to think that in the end, it was real, that Cobb succeeded and did reunite with his kids, after finally putting his guilt over his ex-wife to rest.

The fact that I felt moved enough to think about the film this much (I definitely plan on seeing it again) makes me enjoy it all the more. I'm glad that there are artists like Chris Nolan around, who aren't afraid to be unique, who aren't afraid to test the audience. Inception was a treat. One that I plan on experiencing again soon.

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