Reviews seem to be somewhat mixed. Some people love it, some resent that it's supposed to be great, some are confused, some don't think it's dreamy enough, etc. And as usual, some completely miss the point. Jim Emerson, for example.
Boy, was I misinformed. I'd gotten the impression that Christopher Nolan's "Inception" was about dream states, but what this movie's facilely conceived CGI environments have to do with dreaming, as human beings experience dreams, I don't know. For what it's worth, Warner Bros. describes it as a "science fiction action film." But the movie's concept of dreams as architectural labyrinths -- stable and persistent science-fiction action-movie sets that can be blown up with explosives or shaken with earthquake-like tremors, but that are firmly resistant to shifting or morphing into anything else -- is mystifying to me.
As is the writer-director's conception of dream-time as something linear, scalable and reliably convertible with a calculator. (There's an app for that: Let's see, 5 minutes of real time equals -- what? -- one hour of dream time, equals a week of deeper dream time, equals ten years in limbo... Have you ever experienced seven consecutive days in the course of a single-setting dream?).
Oh, Jim. Yes, you were misinformed if that's what you thought. If only you'd watched the film! Then you would be correctly informed. Because all of that was explained. Discussions on lucid dreaming, shared dreaming, and the fact that an architect was needed should have clued you in. Then there was all that dialogue that you seem to have skipped over. The whole POINT of extraction and inception was to create a dream-space where the dreamer didn't know he was dreaming. So no, the movie wasn't about escaping into an existing dream and being naked in high school, or flying. It was about architecturally creating NEW spaces and realities. Everybody in the movie reiterates this. It's quite clear. That's what really worked for me -- the idea that the dreamspace was SO real that it was virtually indistinguishable from reality. The movie gave us a reality based on our own physical universe. Even the totems are specifically pointed out as having weight. The characters go so deeply through the different dream levels that it IS hard to keep track of where you are. And that's basically the POINT, especially when they're talking about limbo. See, people dreaming in limbo have NO idea they're in a dream. And at a certain point, is there even any difference? If you build a dream-world that is convincingly real, does that negate reality?
Inception works like the best of Philip K. Dick because it asks his favorite question -- What is reality? One of his definitions is "Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn't go away."
Inception is the closest we've come to Blade Runner because of its very ambiguity. Nolan could have given the audience an unambiguous ending and when you're watching the film, part of you aches for it. But when you don't get it, well... if you're with the movie, then it's just SO affecting. And so Christopher Nolan. As one guy in the audience moaned at the end, "DAMN YOU, NOLAN!" Memento had one of the strongest character points-of-view I have ever seen in a movie. It's quite astonishing, really. And Inception continues to explore point-of-view. But rather than it being the main character's point of view, like it is in Memento, it's the audience's. At the end, Cobb has walked away from the totem which, let us remember, is his wife's totem and not his, indicating that he's in HER reality or dream, perhaps? So Cobb makes the decision that THIS is reality. He doesn't question it, so he hasn't given it that test. He ACHES for it, so he makes the decision that he is in reality. Does that make him wrong? It's the audience that is left wondering. I would love to know if the studio fought him over this. Because if there HAD been an unambiguous ending, I think it would have wrecked the movie. It definitely would have damaged the film's emotional core.
Unlike Jim Emerson, I think the decision to make the movie NOT weird and dreamy, but realistic, gives it a chilling reality. Nolan wants his characters to question what is real, to question perception, and he wants the audience to question it, too. He gives us rules about how one interacts in dreams, and those rules have to do with maintaining a tenuous reality. But even with all of the explanations (yes, all that TALKING, which people don't seem to like), he asks us to accept a world where dream extractors exist. It's not a science fiction/future world, it's a world we're familiar with, but bubbling under the surface is this form of corporate espionage. What's so marvelous about this is that Nolan's already using his audience's point of view, setting them up for the ending. He's using our perception of the world. It's not the weird, noir world of Dark City. It's not even future Los Angeles of Blade Runner. It's essentially 2010, but something is just... different. Nolan doesn't allow us to step back. He invites us in.
So really, this COULD already exist, but we just don't know about it. And when you look at the weird shit that's floating around, why couldn't it already exist? Hell, Sony's been doing work on mind control. What if we're all in dreams, or games, having information stolen, but we don't know it because it seems like real life?
One of Philip K. Dick's favorite discussions was about how much perception alters reality, and how governments and corporations have found ways to create spurious realities that they then market back to us, the consumer. His amazing speech on the subject, which he gave in 1978, is just SO ahead of its time. I'm sure I've posted a link to it before but here it is again.
If you question the creation of realities, all you have to do is look at Fox News. It's always easy to deduce if you're talking to someone who's a Fox News junkie because they use the talking points, but not like they're imparting information. They're imparting BELIEF. Fox News creates a reality, feeds it to its consumers, and makes those consumers think that THEY THEMSELVES did the research that led to this conclusion. It's fascinating, and I think it would scare the shit out of Philip K. Dick.
But it's not just politics that does this. It used to be that we were advertised to, and we knew it, and we accepted that advertising had to exist, and that was fine. But now EVERYTHING is an advertisement. There are no barriers anymore. A lot of it is SO viral and clever that we don't even realize what it is anymore. We can no longer tell the difference between a REAL reality, and one that a corporation wants us to believe.
That's a large part of why Inception worked for me. I can't wait to own it on BluRay!
Comments and nonsense at the end of the Doctor Who post, because I'm dragging my ass down to San Diego tomorrow to make fun of starships.