A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.


December 31, 2010


For our last movie of 2010 we wanted a really great one. With typical lack of forethought we watched our only New Year’s movie (Strange Days) many months ago, so we had to just pick from what we had available. Thankfully we had purchased Inception a few days before Christmas while we were shopping for presents for my nieces, so we had this to look forward to.

When we first decided to review Inception, a few days ago, I dreamed about the movie. Or rather, I dreamed that I was part of the movie. I was an extractor inside a dream setting traps and playing tricks and generally being badass. This movie means a lot to me because I have always held dreams in high regard. I love dreaming, because in my dreams I am always a super hero or a god or just generally the center of the world. My dreams are epic adventures. A reoccurring theme of my night-time wanderings is that I discover wondrous treasures in the mundane surroundings of my real life. There are hidden secret passages behind the walls of my grandparents’ home. My digital pocket watch has a secret series of button presses that unlocks a vast quantity of previously undiscovered video games. And of course I can usually fly. So a movie about people entering each other’s dreams and having adventures there is bound to pique my interest.

Then again, this is only nominally a movie about dreams. The dreams portrayed here are fairly rigid, with clearly delineated rules. Nobody has super powers. The thing about dreams is that they don’t actually make sense. Every once in a while I’ll have a dream that seems to have a relatively sane narrative thread, but when I recall it in the light of day it never quite holds up. It’s not just that dreams are constantly filled with strange juxtapositions of disparate memories (which is, I believe, their defining feature and actually their purpose) but that they involve creations that almost cannot be defined by the waking mind. It’s easy to cope with a dream that involves unfamiliar places or events, but then there are the truly deep and moving dreams (for me at least) that involve entire artificial memories. You are in a place, caught up in some epic struggle, and your mind provides you with the whole mythology and background that is involved. I don’t think you ever “live out” this background in your dream – it is simply there. A whole alternate world contained in your dream-memories. How can something like that ever possibly be captured on film?

No, after much consideration I think that the dreams portrayed in this movie are not actually dreams at all. The movie is actually about ideas. It’s right there in Leonardo DeCaprio’s first dialog as Cobb. An idea is an insidious thing like a virus. It can worm its way into your brain and come to define who you are.

There are a whole lot of stories going on here. There’s the whole notion of trying to plant an idea deep enough into some body’s mind that they think they came up with it on their own. There’s Cobb with his guilt over his wife’s death. There’s the whole notion that it can be almost impossible for a dreamer to tell that he or she is dreaming at all (a frequent occurrence for me since I often find it amazing that I should have suddenly discovered the secret to flight or something else unbelievable – so I wonder if I am actually dreaming, only to dismiss this because it feels too real. Right until I wake up.) There’s a heist film with a crew coming together to pull of an amazing feat against insurmountable odds and pulling it off even when all appears to be lost. And what’s amazing is that every level of the film really works.

This is Christopher Nolan at his most impossibly talented. He has a great crew of actors who can do deep drama and impressive action and blend it all seamlessly together. He playfully flips through the multiple levels of dreams as the action climax last fully half of the whole movie. He has action set pieces combined with emotional revelations and very Nolanesque brain twisters as well. How can the same movie contain both the visually stunning rolling corridor fight scene and Cobb’s painful struggle with the literal embodiment of his unresolved guilt regarding his wife?

The funny thing for me is that the whole movie seems to me to be a blueprint for inserting an idea into an audience’s mind, but there is no idea to place. The best way to plant the seed of an idea is to make it part of a story. A story we want to believe about ourselves or the world we live in. Nolan understands this. The dreams his characters use for extraction or inception are not very dreamlike, but they are very much narrative devices. They are stories built to entrap people so that something can be done to their psyche. And, really, isn’t that what all the best stories do? They touch us and in some way they change us. But like dreams within dreams there’s a recursion to this movie. It’s a story about stories. And maybe that’s what it’s meant to be. It makes you question your own reality and your own beliefs, which is a healthy thing I think. Perhaps by saying that people can implant the seed of an idea in your mind Christopher Nolan is trying to make us look harder at the roots of what we have come to accept to be true. maybe this movie is not so much an inception as an inoculation.

Of course like any dream, or like the infamous last shot in this movie, all of this is very much open to personal interpretation. I fully accept that what is deeply personal and undeniably true for me might well make no sense to somebody else. That’s the curse and blessing of individuality after all.


December 31, 2010 - Posted by | daily reviews | , , , ,

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