Inception Essay

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Clearly, Inception is a highly accomplished movie - for a Summer blockbuster. No one can possibly be so dulled to the dazzle of special effects and stellar cast, and the fast-paced action sequences, not to appreciate it at some level. The question that Nolan's unusually intelligent thriller wants us to ask of it, however, is whether this is a good, thought-provoking film by any standards, not just Hollywood's own seasonal one. Certainly, the film teases at the limits of its viewers' intellect, with its illustration of the truly strange unconsciousness of dreaming. Rather than resorting to pseudoscientific explanations for its premise that dreams can be shared and altered by others, the film instead asks legitimate questions that we may ourselves have thought about at some point: Why can we construct coherent narratives in dreams but can never quite remember the beginning of one? Why do we always wake up before we hit the bottom of a fall? Why does a minute of sleep encode hours or years of narrative play within a dream? Especially towards the start of the film, as we struggle to orientate ourselves in relation to the imaginary dream worlds on screen and the everyday truths about our own dreams that they point towards, the film teases us that we have comprehended its conceptual playfulness before it suddenly scurries away down another Carrollian rabbit hole. Led on a merry chase through its mazes and Escher-type paradoxes (both of which feature as prominent metaphors), we leave the cinema not quite sure of whether we have reached the film's intellectual centre - or even if it is supposed to have one at all. However, in an attempt to claim some point of understanding, I would note some aspects of the film that are most interesting. The first is how well the film deals with the potentially subversive question that is lurking in the background. Ostensibly, the plot claims that it is possible for one person to share the dreams of another, and to enter their subconscious dreams in order to steal secrets or to implant life-changing ideas. In this case, Cobb (Di Caprio) and his team of conspirators must craft a dream narrative and sustain it in the mind of Fischer, the son of a dying industrialist, in order to convince him to split up his father's business empire once he inherits it. But surrounding this plot, like a partially-perceived halo, must be the question of whether this entire plot is "just another dream," the conspiratorial fantasy of the would-be-but-not-really dream-thief Cobb. The tension of this peculiar heist narrative derives from the risk that, over time, dreamers might confuse reality as being just another layer of a dream and will try to kill themselves in order to "wake up"; or that they will prefer the magical realism of the dream world, or the dream world which can conjure up believable happy memories of lost lovers, to the dull real world where the laws of gravity and death stubbornly persist. Thus at a certain point it becomes impossible for dreamers to escape out of a dream and back into actual life; they will inhabit their dreams in a state of limbo for what seems like decades, whilst in actuality they become either vegetative or suicidal. The thrill of the second half of the film depends on a version of the archetypal ticking time bomb that here is the planned "kick" that should reawaken the infiltrating dreamers once they have completed their mission, preventing them from falling into limbo. In principle, the film thus needs to draw a clear gap between truth and fiction, between the corporeal characters in actual life and their fictitious projections in Fischer's dream world, if it is to cause us to fear emotionally for what will happen to the "real" characters if they overstay their time in Fischer's dream. In practice, though, there are plenty of hints that this whole premise - the entire narrative from start to finish - is just one big dream which we never step outside of, thus deconstructing the...
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