Monday, July 19, 2010

Inception revisited

I see a lot of movies. Many, many people see far more flicks than I do, including people who aren't being paid to do so or who haven't suffered the misfortune of being married to or dating someone who is paid to do so. I grant you that, I am in no way bragging. The point is simply that my tally each year is in the multiple hundreds, and that means that I really don't see a lot of things twice in the theaters. I don't have the time, pure and simple. Sure, I'll catch it a second time on DVD (or if FX gets a hold of your cheesy action movie, I will somehow watch it about 7,000 times for no reason), but by and large I do not see things on the big screen two times during their entire run, let alone twice within a week.

I saw Inception again in the theater last night.

If you read my review, which practically canonizes Christopher Nolan and calls this a modern masterpiece, you're probably wondering if I felt awkward the second time, noticing every flaw, cringing about my hyperbole-laden love letter. Nope. It's even better. Like, way better. Why? I think two reasons: (1) You're not as hyper-alert about being mind-boned, meaning even though you're actually looking for MORE details now, you don't feel that same pressure to notice everything and take it all in; and (2) It's just that good.

I want to talk about this movie all of the time. I don't ever want to stop talking about it. I want to discuss its relationship to the cinema, and what it seems to really be saying about making movies. I want to imagine further and previous adventures in this dream-sharing world, where Arthur has a real back story, and Eaves has multiple adventures. I want to analyze every nuance of the music, every cue. I want to talk for hours about the power of dreams, their innate personal nature, how they can never be truly shared. I want to roll around in this movie for days. So, talk to me. Talk to each other. Let's open up some dialogue in the comments, which will be HEAVILY SPOILED, so please do not read it if you haven't seen the movie.

Also, I want to talk about this essay on it, which may have the best take on some of the bigger questions in my opinion. Look away if you haven't seen this film yet...seriously, don't keep reading, I'm trying to help you. Okay, for those still here, the big question the second time is "what's real and what isn't" or, to put it another way, "is the ending real?" I thought that the answer was a qualified yes, in that we're supposed to feel like it is to make us feel better, even though there's a clear way to read it where it isn't. I've changed my mind after the second viewing and after that essay from Devin above. Why? Several reasons. Howsabout the only reason we believe any of it is real is that the top stops spinning when Dom had the gun in his hand in Kyoto. Well, what if the whole thing was a dream? That's Devin's thrilling premise. What if there is no dream sharing technology, there is no real life-and-death situation with Mal, and every damn thing that happens is a dream. Interesting, no? Even if you don't want to go that far, consider that the totem that proves reality WASN'T DOM'S. It was Mal's. He took it. They made a big point about not doing that, about not touching someone else's totem. Not only did he touch it, he took it. Does that mean it's no longer valid? Consider that the kids at the end are wearing the same clothes, that Michael Caine's character says "come back to reality," that walls started shrinking on Dom in Mumbai when he was supposedly awake, that Mal called Dom out on everything when she described how ridiculous his situation in "real life" was.

So what does it mean if it was a dream? Well, like Devin points out, many people are pissed by this interpretation, because people want to believe it was real. It wasn't by any account, it was a movie. That may sound flippant, but I mean it: There is no real in a fictional movie. You don't care about characters and what happens to them because they're real, you care about them because they speak to you somehow, or their experience speaks to you. Inception is about emotional catharsis: They tell you that over and over again, with Dom specifically saying that he believes positive associations will outweigh negative ones. I think that speech was telling audiences it's okay to believe the "reality" version of the movie if they want.

God, I could keep going and going and going, but this isn't something that works well as a one-way discussion. Writing volumes on it just doesn't feel as right as talking about it. So, let's talk it up. This is a great movie, perhaps one of the greatest I've ever seen. After seeing it twice, I'm positive.

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14 Comments:

Blogger Chris said...

Well, kinda surprised no one else has chimed in. I for one, am waiting for the opportunity to see it again before passing summary judgement. I think it is absolutely necessary to see this movie twice in order to truly evaluate it. Watch it once for the conventional movie experience, and then watch it a second time for critical analysis.

But, my preliminary thought is this may be the best metafiction I've ever experienced.

July 19, 2010  
Blogger Ryan said...

Did you read Devin's bit about how each character relates to the role of a person responsible for movie creation? That was very interesting. Also, I'm really torn about what is "real" in the movie. I think I'm leaning strongly towards...nothing being real.

July 19, 2010  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As I was watching the movie, I had 2 thoughts: I was actually wondering what you thought of it and if you'd dissect it in your blog! Glad you liked it, but I figured you would, because you like Lost- a show that requires work and a brain and an opinion. But I needed help and will definitely need a second viewing on this one. I can't say 100% that I agree with you that nothing was real, but I do agree that the "positives" outweigh the "negatives." I wanted a happy ending. I wanted Dom to see his kids and want to believe that that top fell over after they cut to credits! So, until I see it again, that's how I'm going to look at it!

July 19, 2010  
Blogger Ryan said...

Well, thanks I'm flattered. I don't know that anybody "needs help." You're totally entitled to your own opinion, and I'll go one step further. I believe that dreams are the most personal thing on this planet, maybe the only thing we truly own as humans. Only we know exactly how they felt, what they meant, and we are unable to properly communicate it to others with just words or pictures. Inception is like that in a way. Your take on it is your take on it, and I think an optimistic one is totally valid. But as a counter point, I will say one of the more interesting theories I have heard right now is that Dom is the target of the inception. There's a way to look at it as though they wanted him to get over his wife and the way they did it was to use his relationship with the children. I just love all of this so much.

July 20, 2010  
Blogger Chris said...

@Ryan: I did read Devin's post and think that is a completely valid, and probably spot-on accurate, way to read the movie. The fact that Inception works on other levels (viscerally, emotionally, metaphysically) is testament to how good it is.

Massawyrm over on AICN, in a somewhat disappointed review, outlined four different possibilities that the final shot implies, including Dom never escaped Limbo. As much as I hate linking away from Cutting room, I suggest reading it if you haven't already: http://www.aintitcool.com/node/45790

From his review:
"One: that everything we’ve seen is above the board and is a solid, internally consistent film. The top is about to wobble and fall. Two: that the movie has been mostly honest with us, but Cobb never actually made it out of Limbo and, now - lonely from of Mal’s departure - has constructed an elaborate fantasy involving his escaping. It doesn’t matter whether the top falls or not. Three: most or all of what we’ve seen is real until Cobb descends into Limbo to save Saito, but everything after that is an elaborate construct to ease his suffering before he goes mad and scrambles. The top does not fall. Four : most or all of what we’ve seen is a fiction and Cobb is a dreamer in some dream world that may or may not involve dream invasion technology at all. It also does not matter whether or not the top falls over."

He thinks the fourth option, that it has all been a dream, is the one that's least supported. While I haven't seen it again, yet, I think I have to agree with you that is the most likely intended interpretation. Much of the "real world" segments follow too much dream (or movie) logic
for it to be real. Plus, as much as I dislike unnecessary sequels – cause let's face it, this movie doesn't need a sequel), I think the idea of Inception 2's plot being the rest of the crew (who I think are actual identities though they could be projections ala Peter in the Mr. Charles segment) waking Dom up to be an instant ticket buy for me.

July 20, 2010  
Blogger Chris said...

Also, have you seen Cronenburg's eXistenZ? More than any other movie, Inception recalled that layered reality presented in eXistenZ, but with an emotional core that was more positive.

Inception had fewer teeth guns and spine vaginas, though I'm not sure if that is necessarily a bad thing.

July 20, 2010  
Blogger Ryan said...

Thanks, Chris! I read that one as well, but I wholly disagree with the idea that it isn't supported. Here's three examples of support right off the bat:

1.) The kids at the end of the movie are dressed the exact same way in the exact same position as the they were in his dream. Possible? Sure. Likely? No. Forget the top spinning, this was the most telling shot that at least THAT part was a dream. Let's also not forget little things like his passport was totally empty and his professor Grandfather just happened to go from Paris to Los Angeles to be there to greet him.

2.) The whole scene in Mumbai, which comes immediately after we have confirmed via the top failing to spin indicating "reality," is totally insane. Not only does everyone respond to him like the subconscious does when alerted, not only does he survive ridiculous falls and stunts, and not only does he squeeze through buildings that appear to be narrowing, but he just happens to run directly into Saito right when he needs him?

3.) The top itself is invalid. How? Like they made a HUGE point of saying, you CANNOT let anyone else touch the totem or it is not valid because someone else has knowledge of its weight and can simulate it in a dream. Dom's totem wasn't his, it was Mal's. Thus, the barometer of reality was tainted the whole time.

I like what you're saying about the idea for a second film, even though it isn't needed. I just want more of that world, even though I think it would not be a good idea in the end. The other thing is, as Massawyrm suggests, the slender character backgrounds for the supporting cast lends itself to the idea they may not be real. That's intriguing, no?

July 20, 2010  
Blogger Chris said...

Here's a spin: I keep asking myself, do James and Phillipa even exist? I read the film as being a shared dream (with the team being actual people rather than projections – though I can't discount that theory off of one viewing), rather than just Dom's personal dream, but I wonder if the children exist beyond this dream.

When Ariadne takes the elevator down into Dom's memories, remember how the kids are playing with Mal on the beach? Since beaches in this movie seem to represent the raw creative power of the subconscious, and we see Dom and Mal begin to create their shared world on the beach, I wonder if the kids are just figments of that creation. Also, where as others can see and interact with Dom's projection of Mal, no one besides the projection of Mal can see the children. Michael Caine's character is the only one whom I can remember to even reference the children...

Plus the whole issue of planting the seed of an idea into an individual's subconscious, something unseen until it affects the real world, is kinda similar to reproduction. We know Cobb at least thinks he's successful in planting an Idea into Mal's subconcious, but we never know what it is. It's probably a MacGuffin, but there's evidence that it has something to do with child hood or children. Mal hides her totem, a child's toy, in a dollhouse in the projection of her childhood home, right? So, I think there's something to the children as symbols of successful inception – symbols of forgery or false reality. I'm just not convinced the children we're created in the "real world" and not in the dream.

Which makes it especially mindborked. How can Cobb find catharsis with his supposed guilt of planting the seed of Mal's "suicide" when he vehemently holds on to some aspect of their created world?

Also, how creepy is that Dom and Mal leave their dream by being run over by a freight train? Can't wait to see this again...

July 20, 2010  
Anonymous Andrew said...

-Other defense of how it’s all a dream is not a cop out in this case: Typically the “it was a dream all along” is used as a shock twist—to surprise the viewer, then neatly wrap up the inexplicable things they’ve just seen. In this case, ask anybody on the street who hasn’t seen it yet, what the twist of the movie is and guarantee they say It’s All Dream.

-Did I recall this correctly? When Cobb talks to the kids on the phone, the Grandmother is on the other line yet she’s never really referenced again, and the kid voices seemed older than in the flashes.

-I’m not ready to give the whole Totem-thing doesn’t matter yet, which may be commentary on faith – the name sort of begs for it, but it’s too big a plot point to simply say, this rules isn’t a rule because it isn’t *cough*It’s-just-a-name-on-the-wall-Kate *cough*.

Thanks to Chris for the eXistenZ shout-out. Tooth-gun 4-ever.

July 20, 2010  
Blogger Ryan said...

Hey buddy! I thought when Chris busted out eXistenZ you would automatically be summoned. It's like saying Beetlejuice three times for us, isn't it? God I need to watch that movie again. Anyhoodle, you're right on point one, correct that the Grandmother is the one with the kids and she had a french accent...so why she's living with the kids in the U.S. when we know that Cobb goes to Paris to visit the grandfather is beyond me. I don't know about the older voices, though. As for point 3, (A) you're a douche for slandering the good name of "Lost" and (B) I agree that the totems matter...they just told us that his was tainted. Between Arthur explicitly telling Ariadne she couldn't touch his die and Ariadne telling Cobb he couldn't touch her bishop (an interesting tie-in to your religion/totem connection), it seems to me we were all but told that we couldn't trust Cobb's totem because it was Mal's. In fact, he explains that right after Ariadne won't let him touch her totem. That's pretty explicit that his no longer works, right?

July 20, 2010  
Anonymous Andrew said...

Don’t tell me what I can’t do.

I can buy that because he was never correctly orientated to the totem that he has no base in reality. And the world is realized, fully formed, it fits the thematic how has the world reacted to this tech?

I will say that that Momento is still Nolan’s masterpiece, besting Inception in emotional immediacy and theme-plot-form combo.

Kinda wish Hardy was the lead (see weirdo “Bronson” and be amazed), because he knocked everyone off the screen when we was about.

July 20, 2010  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just reading these comments blew my mind. I have to see this thing again!
That said, after my viewing of the film this past weekend, a small detail has been nagging me. Perhaps someone can help me make some sense of it--remember when Arthur (Gordon-Levitt) is shooting at the dudes on the roof and the other guy on their team (whose name escapes me) says, "you gotta dream bigger," and shoots a big ass gernade launcher? What was up with that? They can just create weapons in the dream world? Why was this not employed by the characters throughout the whole film?

July 20, 2010  
Blogger Ryan said...

Yeah, that was a weird one for me too. In truth, I think that was just a cool thing they wanted to include. You could assume that Eaves simply prepared better (he did work with Ariadne, as referenced by his addition of the ducts that went straight to the antechamber at the end) and had the architect include the gun somehow for him, but I agree it was just a weird moment.

July 20, 2010  
Blogger Chris said...

Saw Inception again on Saturday, this time in IMAX (probably worth the extra couple of bucks) and a few things stuck out. In support of the the film being in a dream, Dom says he and Mal were exploring dreams within dreams, but we only ever see them go back up one level (via freight train) when they should go up at minimum two to be fully awake.

Second, there's the scene where Mal and Dom are on the beach building sandcastle-city when Dom moves over a mound of sand. I missed this in the first viewing, but in the background, as Dom wipes out a san building, a huge chunk of the background crumbles at the same time. Awesomely understated effect.

Finally, when Dom is reunited with his kids, I listened pretty closely to what they were saying and James says something like "We built a clay house!" as the camera moves and focuses on the spinning top.

July 26, 2010  

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