Further Notes From the “Inception”

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Posted December 9, 2010 by Kristian Lin in Blotch

I got the DVD of Inception a couple of weeks ago, and I’ve been obsessively re-watching it. Indeed, this is one movie that seems made for the experience. I already tacked on a few links about the movie at the end of this post about The Kids Are All Right. (I now see that they deserved a post of their own.) Now that the film is out on DVD, I’ve come up with a few more thoughts on it.

I freely admit to not having wrapped my head around the movie when I first reviewed it. I saw the film the night before we went to press, so I had just over 12 hours to try to process it and write it up. Since then, I’ve read a number of think pieces on the film, and this reading of the film as a highly sophisticated allegory about filmmaking strikes me as the most thorough and persuasive one. (It’s from the indispensable website Overthinking It, which also had a nice sidebar on how much Saito must have paid Cobb and his team for the inception.)

I mentioned that Inception points out the connection between dream logic and movie logic, but this movie doesn’t just use movie logic to get around. It also uses video game logic. These days, gamers are used to the idea of the same player or team of players carrying out missions on a number of different levels (such as an urban street, a high-rise building, and a mountaintop fortress) at the same time. Maybe that’s why younger viewers tended to understand the movie’s convoluted narrative more easily than the older ones. This video currently making the rounds tracks the different plotlines simultaneously. It’s handy, though not all that entertaining. What we really need is a video keeping track of all the dream-world events that impact the events in the different levels.

I think a bigger key to Inception might be in another Christopher Nolan film entirely. (Warning: spoiler alert.) At the end of Nolan’s 2002 cop thriller Insomnia, Al Pacino’s homicide detective lies mortally wounded, and Hilary Swank’s novice cop is the only one who knows that he’s been killed because he’s corrupt. She offers to destroy the evidence of his corruption to preserve his reputation, but he prevents her, saying, “Don’t lose your way.” Most of Nolan’s films are about well-intentioned folks losing their way: Guy Pearce’s vigilante in Memento, Pacino’s cop who frames criminals he can’t catch, the feuding stage magicians in The Prestige, and Aaron Eckhart’s D.A. caught up in a war on terror in The Dark Knight. The difference is that these characters are irrevocably lost, while Dom Cobb has a chance to find his way back. He’s lost in his work, and while any rewarding job can swallow you up, a job that involves creating entire worlds unto themselves is particularly dangerous. This is the strain that runs through Nolan’s films: people losing sight of their core values. It’s easy to overlook amid all his technical wizardry, but Nolan is one of contemporary cinema’s great moralists.

I posted earlier about the late Satoshi Kon, whose animated film Paprika bears a marked resemblance to Inception. Since then, others have noticed the same thing. The big difference is that Paprika has the real world in danger of being overrun by the dream world. If you’re interested in something similar, check this Japanese film out on DVD and remember a director taken from us too soon.


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