Thoughts on "Inception"


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

I just got back from seeing Christopher Nolan's "Inception", and I'm not sure where to begin sharing my thoughts on the movie, so instead I'll start with a personal anecdote.

When I'm in a dream, and I'm about to die (or someone is attempting to kill me), I do everything I can to stave off death. Not just because of the natural survival instinct in all humans, but because I know, somewhere in the depths of my mind, that if I die in the dream, I'll wake up. Sometimes I'll be in a lucid dream, and be able to manipulate the world so I avoid death, but other times there'll just be something in the back of my head, telling me to keep going. In some ways, it is the survival instinct, but it's not about my survival, it's about the world's survival, the dream world's survival.

Have you ever tried to get back into a dream after waking up? I'm not talking about having a recurring dream, but trying to re-insert yourself into the dream (and the dream world) from the exact moment when you woke up, allowing you to continue the story. It's hard, near impossible, and I've found that the more interested you are in getting back into the dream, the harder it becomes. 

The study of dreams -- why they happen, how they work and what they mean -- has been something of a side interest of mine dating back to high school, so I went into "Inception" with a different state of mind from the casual movie viewer. What impressed me about the movie, aside from the striking visuals, was just how ... I'm not sure "accurate" is the right word, but "believable" the dream science felt. Once you suspend disbelief on the concept of shared dreams, the rest of the facts given in the movie about how dreams work definitely feel like what we experience in our lives. 

It's that attention to detail that makes "Inception" work, turning what could have been an utterly unbelievable concept into an incredibly engrossing story. Attempting to explain the plot of "Inception" here would be an exercise in futility, and even if I faithfully recreated the entire shooting script, I'm not sure I could capture the actual meaning of the movie. In fact, the ending is intentionally left ambiguous. Some viewers may complain that the ending of the movie is a cop-out, possibly making everything that happened before it invalid, but instead it's really more of an open end that leads you back to multiple branch points in the movie where the reality of the situation being presented may or may not have shifted. I'm very tempted to go back and watch the movie again and try and pick up contextual clues (then again, given my experience with "Memento", that may only serve to confuse the matter).

I've seen wildly varying opinions on "Inception, though everyone seems to agree that it's a visual masterpiece. One of the common criticisms is that the movie is entirely disposable. I will agree that at no point do you ever really connect with the characters, even the main character who is going through his emotional journey. But it's not a character movie, not in the way that "Memento" was. It's a 2 1/2 hour journey through ever-shifting structure and storytelling, and in that way, "Inception" succeeds. If you've never really thought about dreams before, at least not on an analytical level, then the plot of "Inception" works on the surface level with an added twist at the end. If you're like me, and you think about dreams frequently, then in many ways the movie plays on what you think you know. Either way, it's a striking vision by a director who has continually provided some of the most thought-provoking movies of the past decade. 

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