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Inception

I finally saw Inception last night. (I love Christopher Nolan's nonlinear philosophical screenplays, so I'm surprised that it took me this long.) Even if no one reads this, perhaps writing it will help me to make sense of it in my head. I may also have to watch it again before returning it.

As I understand them, the rules of the dream worlds work as follows:

1) Dreams can be shared. The architect designs dreams, the dreamer dreams them, the subconscious of the "subject" populates the dream with projections who will attack when they perceive a foreign consciousness, and multiple connected individuals can enter the same dream.

2) Dreams can be designed with multiple levels: if the participants fall asleep in one level, they can go deeper into the next level, which may be a dream belonging to someone completely different. Subjective time passes more slowly the deeper you go. In the heist, one dreamer had to remain "awake" on each level in order to help return the rest.

3) A "kick" received by the sleeping body - the jolt of falling or hitting a surface - will wake the sleeper and eject him from his dream. This even applies over multiple dream levels, which made careful synchrony necessary during the inception heist.

4) Dying while inside a dream wakes you up - unless you can't wake due to deep sedation, in which case your mind is trapped in limbo. That is why Saito was trapped in limbo when he died in the multilevel heist dream.

5) Even if trapped in limbo, you can wake - eventually - if your dream self dies. That is why Cobb brought the gun to Saito in limbo, and why he needed to convince Mal to lie on the tracks with him, and why she committed suicide by leaping off the balcony (supposedly in reality).

6) Inception is the act of essentially planting an idea in someone else's subconscious by invading his dream; this can cause him to act on the new idea in the real world. This is the premise of Saito's hiring Cobb et al for the heist. It is also Cobb's secret shame: that he somehow planted the idea in Mal's head that their world (limbo) was not real so that they could commit suicide and wake up to reality.

7) The totem is an object that an individual carries with them which should help him distinguish between dream and reality due to his exclusive knowledge of its characteristics. My understanding is that this would only apply to distinguish between reality and another person's dream; if it's your own dream, your subconscious could make the object behave as expected if you wanted to remain in the dream thinking that it was reality.

Okay. I don't think I have any major problems with the multilevel heist itself, or with Cobb rescuing Saito from limbo. This was all beautifully constructed and followed its own internal logic with simultaneous simplicity and complexity. Kudos to Nolan.

My first question is, how did Cobb actually practice inception on Mal? He tells Ariadne that the totems were Mal's idea, and yet the shots of him looking into the safe - the hidden secrets of her subconscious - suggest that he tampered with her totem to convince her that limbo was not real. Did he make up the idea of the totem in the first place in order to convince her? If not, did her totem (the top) originally behave as it should in a dream world while they were in limbo, and if not, why not? Did he somehow swap it out with one that behaved differently so that she would agree to commit suicide and leave limbo?

My other question is, did Nolan leave the ending deliberately ambiguous, making an artistic statement that ultimately there is no way to distinguish reality from dreams (and perhaps in addition that all we can do is believe that life is real and act on that belief)?

Or was he in fact suggesting that Cobb either 1) was in fact reunited with his family in reality or 2) was in fact still trapped in his own or another's dream? And if the latter, whose dream do you think it was, and why? Is it Cobb's? Mal's? Ariadne's? Miles'? (I suggest these because they are the only known architects who appear in the film. Remember, when Cobb meets with Miles to recruit an architect, Miles accuses him of needing to return to reality. Is it possible that the whole heist was conceived and designed by Miles in order to convince Cobb to do just that? Even Cobb's fears of the Cobol operatives could just be projections chasing him through a dream.)

The ending could, of course, just be ambiguous. Nolan's movies like Memento and The Prestige have memorable "a-ha" moments at which one discovery makes sense of the entire rest of the film. But maybe that "a-ha" moment is the revelation that Cobb performed inception on Mal, rather than the ending itself.

At least now I finally know what GY was referring to when he described the "Bombshells" scenes as "dreams within dreams."

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( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
justjuly4
May. 19th, 2011 02:58 pm (UTC)
Flywoman, I saw this film in cinema and I was hypnotized by it! It's complicated film which impressed me as much as The Matrix once did long ago.

Then I watched it once more at home, but some things are still unclear. The ending is open for guesses, but I heard of planning to shoot a sequel, so maybe we would get the answers in a future film. But rumors might be just rumors. Personally, I think it's better with an open ending without the second part.

I think Miles with the help of Ariadne made up a plan to bring Cobb back to reality or to influence his mind so Cobb won't feel guilty for Mal's death or something. I think Miles was the smartest person who knew the inception technique. May be he and Ariadne changed Cobb's dream - some kind of "trapping" him in a positive dream? But it's complicated!

flywoman
May. 19th, 2011 04:56 pm (UTC)
Personally, I think it's better with an open ending without the second part.

I agree... and I feel the same way about The Matrix ;).

I think Miles with the help of Ariadne made up a plan to bring Cobb back to reality or to influence his mind so Cobb won't feel guilty for Mal's death or something.

I really like this explanation. I think that it would have to mean that Cobb is still in a dream at the end, but at least a happy one in which he is reunited with his children and reconciled to his memories of Mal.
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )

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