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OMGWTF Inception

July 30, 2010

A few days ago, I finally saw Inception, and it’s taken me this few days to sort of wrap my head around it and come to conclusions on it. This is the first time I’ve written a review or recap using my beloved term OMGWTF, so you know it’s got to be good.

First let me say, I freaking loved it. It was innovative, original, and visually outstanding. I think I knew it would blow my mind before I saw it but I didn’t expect the affect such a visual and sci-fi based film would have such an emotional affect on me. Also, it’s been one crap of a film year, and Inception is finally here to remind why we all love going to the movies. In a summer full of sequels, comic adaptations and remakes, Inception is a completely original idea and stands out among the garbage of summer movie monotony. Dare some say it is a masterpiece? (Though that label seems to be getting a lot of press “Any movie worth seeing is worth arguing about, and any movie worth arguing about is worth seeing”). The zero-g hotel scenes were particularly cool. I also like the quirkiness of a character named Ariadne being responsible for creating mazes, and that a ball of string is later used as an aid in the mission. Also, when did Joseph Gordon-Levitt get so sexy?? It’s the 3 piece suite dudes, I’m TELLING you.

There are a couple of issues I’d like to address, first there’s the  common critique that in a film about the subconscious levels of the mind and the deep levels of dreaming that humans perceive when sleeping, Inception paints was too clean and neat a picture of a minds unconscious ramblings.  Regarding A.O. Scott’s New York Times review, I have to counter what he says regarding the topic with simple film based observations. Scott argues that the dreams are too realistic and constricted. Scott says that, “Mr. Nolan’s idea of the mind is too literal, too logical, too rule-bound to allow the full measure of madness — the risk of real confusion, of delirium, of ineffable ambiguity — that this subject requires. The unconscious, as Freud (and Hitchcock, and a lot of other great filmmakers) knew, is a supremely unruly place, a maze of inadmissible desires, scrambled secrets, jokes and fears.” In simple terms, the dreams in the film aren’t nearly crazy enough to be taken seriously as the dreams produced by the human mind. I understand where he’s coming from completely; dreams are much more bizarre in actuality. But think for a moment about these characters and what they do. They are highly trained in their extraction endeavors. They do this “professionally” (albeit illegally) in order to find things in the deepest levels of peoples’ subconscious. They need that kind of order and control to complete their missions. That is why Cobb seeks out a new and talented architect in Ariadne. The architect designs the dream to the level of simplicity or complication that she desires. The dreamers themselves (Cobb, Arthur, Eames) are also all highly trained in controlling their subconscious and creating order out of the chaos of their dreams. They are also all male, hence the extreme masculinity of each of the dreams (in my opinion with regards to colors etc.) If they didn’t have these kinds of restrictions that Scott finds too limiting, I don’t think they’d ever get their missions done. Also, the seeping chaos of dreams is exactly what Mal represents. She is Cobb’s scrambled secret; his unruly and unrestrained subconscious that keeps infiltrating his attempts at control. She is the train crashing through the mission. And that’s why, in a world where people are trying to control dreams, she is so dangerous.

Moving on, I was totally expecting some sort of cliffhanger ending. SPOILERS AHEAD! When a film goes to such lengths to challenge to nature of reality, concrete answers will only muddle the journey. Essentially, we’re left with one simple question: Did Cobb get out, or is he stuck in Limbo? The arguments for both are there, but I personally believe that he did escape; the fact that Cobb (and the audience) saw his children’s older faces in the end kind of solidified that for me. I also don’t think that Cobb would have left Saito down in Limbo if he could help it. Despite the peaceful place that he could create for himself in Limbo, I don’t think he’s the kind of person to leave Saito down there with him while both of their bodies turn to mush on the plane. We don’t see everything that happens, but here’s how I saw things as going down:

-Cobb and Ariande chase an unconscious and dying Fisher down to Limbo or Level 4 of the dream. I have to side track here for a minute. There are some SERIOUS fights going on on message boards with regards to weather or not Cobb and Ariadne end up in Limbo or go down to a 4th level via Cobb’s Dream. (Remember that each team member is the dreamer for each level they visit and the dreamers themselves don’t go any further. Hence Yusef staying awake in Dream 1, Arthur staying awake in Dream 2, Eames staying awake in Dream 3 and finally Ariadne entering Cobb’s dream for Level 4) It makes sense either way, but I think it’s a 4th level/Cobb’s dream rather than Limbo (Limbo is later). It wasn’t previously designed by Ariadne so he filled it with his memories, that’s why it’s decaying and crumbing and as a result unstable. If you’d like to read more arguments regarding this, by all means check out the IMDB boards.

-So there, they find Fisher. Mal and Cobb have their argument and Mal stabs Cobb. Ariadne pushes Fisher off of the balcony at the same time that Eames defibrillates him in Level 3, creating that push/pull kick to revive him.

-Saito at this point has died in Level 3, sending him to Limbo.

-Ariadne throws herself from the balcony, kicking her to Level 3.

-The hospital is blown, kicking them all to Level 2.

-The elevator is blown, kicking them all to Level 1, where they have to simply sit and wait for the sedative to wear off. Fisher’s subconscious doesn’t attack them any more because Cobb pulled a “Mr. Charles” in level 2. Yet Cobb’s “body” is trapped in the sinking van.

-Cobb dies in Level 4, either from his stab wound or by drowning. Here’s where I’m a little lost, considering that Cobb essentially dies in two levels of dream. He wakes up on the splashing shore, which artistically reflects either his drowning in the van or landing on the collapsed shore. Either way, he has made it to Limbo, where Saito has been living for many years.

-Cobb and Saito’s moment here was played in the opening of the film; back there now we finally see where it’s heading. Cobb explained earlier that people get lost in Limbo, it’s what happened to he and Mal, and the only way of escaping is to realize that you are there and kill yourself in the dream to bump you back to reality. Cobb has come to remind Saito where he is how he’s trapped, which is when Saito reaches for his gun. I guess we have to assume that Saito shoots Cobb and them shoots himself. Cobb wakes up first on the plane, with everyone else awake after the sedative wore off and they had hung around in Level 1 for a bit. Then Saito soon follows.

This little chart puts everything together nicely:

So that’s all if the whole thing wasn’t a dream to begin with. Bear in mind that while we as the audience may accept Cobb’s story about he and Mal’s trip to Limbo and their 50+ years of life together, only Mal wakes up from their encounter with the train. We assumed that Cobb woke up as well, but I think it was intentionally ambiguous. Perhaps Cobb is still in Limbo anyway. I expected the conclusion to actually end up being that Mal was right all along; that Cobb was still trapped in the dream world and she was trying to lure him back to reality. I.e. I thought Mal’s reality would end up being the “true” reality. Is there a true reality?? That’s basically what Nolan is asking of us. I mean, if death truly sends you to wake up in another reality as a much younger version of yourself, how is that at all bad? Is that what reincarnation may be? The FH told me after we left the movie that he used to have a nightmare as a kid that he’d grow old and die but then wake up as a 5 year old afterwards. Heck, sounds good to me. That our life may essentially be one reality that we get to experience only to “wake up” to another reality after we die over and over again sounds amazing. The top will continually keep spinning, and we will accept our realities as they are. A poster on IMDB put it quite beautifully by saying, “at the end, [Cobb] would’ve accepted it either way. He does not stay and look at what the top does. Even though both the audience and the character are blindsided by the first appearance of the children’s faces, it is only the audience that remains to look at the top. The children are elevated to the very top of Cobb’s priority list in that moment; in a way this demonstrates his newfound indifference over the reality of his world. The camera hangs still, focused on the spinning top [the] screen cuts to black. The audience leaves the theater arguing over the reality of his world. Yet nobody seems to mention that he has already walked off to his children, for the first time in the movie, he seems to be FREE from the paranoid reliance of his totem. Perhaps it’s that everyone chooses their own reality, and this is what he wants. It doesn’t matter whether the top stops spinning or not, he … is… home.

Bravo Inception. Bravo.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Jess Verdi permalink
    July 30, 2010 9:07 pm

    Ok. Yes. I agree with you. I also loved this movie farrrr more than I thought I would. I think it was not only brilliantly written/conceived/directed, but also perfectly cast and acted. I think it’s Leonardo DiCaprio’s best film to date (I, for the most part, don’t usually care for the projects he chooses), and let’s just take a moment for Joseph Gordon Levitt. He was rockin’ the shit in this movie.

    As for A.O. Scott’s feelings about the dreams being too cohesive, I think I agree with both him and you. I agree with your rebuttal that the whole reason there is a dream architect is that these dreams need to make more sense than normal dreams in order for these people to carry out their missions. However, they do also explain that the “projections” are people who the dreamer themself has supplied. Therefore, the dreamer’s subconscious DOES still have a say. I think it would have been appropriate for them to draw a happy medium, where the architect creates a logical world, but then, when they’re in the dreamer’s dream, they encounter just a little bit more of nonsense… if that makes sense. I do totally get where Tony (that’s what I call him… because we’re tight) Scott is coming from. I’ve always taken issue with books and movies where a character can hear people’s thoughts (ie. the Mel Gibson classic What Women Want) and the thoughts he or she hears are all complete sentences. I don’t know about you, but I don’t think in complete sentences. I think in pictures, fragments, and emotions. If someone were reading my mind, they wouldn’t get proper parts of speech. I think what Tony Scott is arguing is along the same lines.

    I agree with your feeling that Cobb got out in the end. They did show him sorta wake up after the train-head-go-splat scene. Yes, they were focusing much more on Mal’s awakening, but they did show him start to rouse. So he’s not still there. Besides, if he were, what’s all this other stuff? Like the whole plot of the movie, with Ellen Page and the Ken Watanabe and Crispin Glover and all that? Is that a dream within his limbo? I don’t think so. They didn’t set that up as even a possibility. He was in limbo with Mal for 50 years, they built the city together and they grew old together. If they were able to dream and/or transport themselves to alternate realities during this time, I feel like that would have been addressed. I think when you’re in limbo land, you’re stuck there. Therefore, this applies to the ending as well. I think Saito shot him and then himself and effectively kicked them out of limbo. Otherwise, we wouldn’t see them all on the plane and him going home and all of that. They would be stuck in the Japanese palace on the beach. This is all making sense in my mind, but I don’t know if I’m explaning any of this right…. Anyway…

    Oh yeah, AND his little spin top thingy did topple over several times in all the “real life” scenes. So, if we’re abiding by the rules this story has set up for itself, we are to presume that if the top topples over, he’s not dreaming.

    Yes, the ending was left intentionally ambiguous, with the cutting to black as the top was still spinning. But… I think that little sucker was starting to waver. It wasn’t spinning as fluidly as we saw it spin in the bonafide dream scenes. But, like you said, it doesn’t really matter. Cobb is happy and content and with his kids, and the journey that we just spent 2+ hours watching is what got him to that point. That’s satisfying enough an ending for me.

    • August 13, 2010 3:33 pm

      Remember though that the projections we see from Fisher (Cillian Murphy) are the way that they are because he, too has been trained. They mention that while there in there that the projections are appearing in such a way that he’s had training in defending his dreams. Perhaps dudes with big guns is the most successful way of doing so?

      Also, apparently if you stay through the credits, there is a sound effect bit that sounds very much like the top falling over. 🙂

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