I don’t even know where to begin. Inception is a wonderful action thinker that manipulates time and dreams and spins the viewer in so many directions that after the popcorn is consumed and you leave the theater you are still trying to sort through all of the events leading to the end. That is a sign of a good movie.
For the skeptic, we could easily tear apart the fictional element of sharing dreams and director Christopher Nolan does not even bother with trying to create hard science. He simply assumes we can stretch our imaginations to a future when science is able to accomplish such a feat. Therefore we have a chemist who formulates unknown concoctions that put the participants into dream states combined with a box of electronics and wires attached to each person as they sleep. Within the dream there is an architect who builds the illusion, but it is the dreamer’s subconscious that populates the landscape. While it is interesting to speculate on the ability to be able to see what a person is dreaming we know it is currently not possible and at the very least Nolan didn’t resort to lazy writing and bring in psychics. He treats the ability to enter dream states as advanced technology and avoids mysticism…refreshing.
The plot could be ripped from numerous spy novels. Dom Cobb played by Leonardo DiCaprio assembles literal “dream” teams to steal valuable information from important individuals–new technology, business plans, stock market tips, etc. Because they are stealing the information from inside the sleeping mind they call it “extraction”. The question is, can they do the reverse? Can they plant an idea, one that won’t be rejected by the dreamer and one that will change the course of that person’s life (as well as the world)–forever!
What makes Inception work is that each event pulls you in as you try to understand how you got there and how it may relate to a past event or the opening event which was revealed to us. Time within dreams slows compared to time constrained by reality (which truly reminds us of the dream state) and there are dreams within dreams which bring up questions of how the mind can be manipulated into thinking a dream is real enough to cause another dream. Have you ever woken up from a deep dream only to find you are in a shallow dream until you finally wake up? Freud would love this movie if he could get past the loud sound effects and well directed action scenes.
I’m not even sure how to recommend this film. It is espionage combined with guilt combined with a lost love. It is people controlling a domain where we feel loss of control–a feeling that makes dreams feel so real because reality can often have the illusion of control. If dreams can be controlled then it may be humanity’s last conquest over the mind. We use drugs and stimulants to alter our moods but dreams are elusive, otherwise most of us would engage in love and lust every night and avoid the nightmares.
I recently watched a Nova special on what dreams are. There is still not a definitive answer but one of the prevailing thoughts is that dreams are a testing ground, similar to child’s play. We experience nightmares so as to emotionally and possibly even physically prepare ourselves for some challenge. Whether it be something as simple as finding the room where you are to interview for a new job amongst a maze of office spaces or tackling the rapist that comes for your family. The evolutionary reasoning suggests something similar to interactive fiction for the sake of preparation–one of the reasons we also watch violent horror films.
You would think with an action movie about dreams that the movie itself would take on a surreal quality and it does to some extent–but for the most part it felt real throughout the film. Nolan did not abuse the dream world by going too far into the realm of the fantastic. Dreams try to associate random events from our lives, often boring events and scenes, and he does this well by having a loved one appear from a painful memory or a train come out of nowhere because the main character cannot control his guilt. There are no people flying because they wish to be superheroes or extraordinary powers such as dream realization. At best, one character can trick the mind into thinking he is someone else and dream a bigger weapon than another character. It is a careful balance that could easily have been toppled by the ridiculous.
To me the results are satisfying and yet unsatisfying as you would like to probe Nolan for answers to what actually happened to get the main character from point A to point B and did we miss some clue that would have revealed the overall mystery? I don’t believe a review can even describe the film, it has to be seen and reflected upon. Some viewers will be lost and others will be frustrated, but I believe those viewers with patience will appreciate what Nolan has built.