He Said – He Said … Inception

Inception

I don’t get it. I’ve seen it one million times. There are six different things that it means. It’s too complicated. It’s awesome.

Directed by: Christopher Nolan
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ellen Page, Ken Watanabe, Marion Cotillard
Running Time: 2 hr 28 mins
Rating: PG-13
Release Date: July 16, 2010

PLOT: Cobb (DiCaprio) is a man who infiltrates dreams to steal people’s secrets. Now he and his team must attempt to pull off their toughest mission ever; trying to convince a man that an idea he dreams is his own.

Welcome to the latest installment of He Said – He Said. This time Jeff Bayer and Nick Allen aren’t the stars. It’s the movie. Inception feels like the only movie that anyone is talking about.

Between the two of us, we’ve seen this movie six times. Nick is the real winner here. He’s seen in four times and I’m fairly convinced I can make him believe this entire conversation is a dream. There are some crazy theories floating around with Inception. The most comical is that this entire movie is Christopher Nolan’s dream. We’ll have to see if Nick has read that one yet.

As always with this He Said – He Said, all topics about the movie are fair game. Plot spoilers will be discussed. In this case, they’ll be discussed a great deal. There won’t be a set order to this discussion, except for one thing … we aren’t going to talk about whether or not the top (totem) falls at the end of the movie, until the end of this article.

The most important thing to learn about Inception is this … it’s worth the price of a movie ticket.

Bayer Said

I loved the look and vibe of this film. The first time I saw it, I kept checking in with myself to make sure I was keeping up. The second time I saw it I was shocked how much emotion was in this film. I actually teared up the second time around.

So Nick, let’s begin with this … this movie is actually pretty straightforward right?

Allen Said

Actually, whether that question is sarcastic or not, I believe that Inception can be approached in a simple fashion. In very plain terms, it’s a sci-fi action movie that takes place during dreams, and sometimes dreams of dreams. And because it’s a dream, you can allow the idea of “dream logic” to stand for the reason of why civilians can become action heroes, etc.

But it’s the rules created by the world in Inception that make this movie so beefy, and not just in the usual terms of subtext – this is a script packed with ideas. From the difference of timing in different dreams, to the idea of a “kick,” to the idea that planting ideas itself is a serious … idea of its own merit. For me, the whole “totem” debate is one of the less intriguing mysteries of the film.

Are people looking into this movie too much? I’m not sure. While every movie has endless possibilities for over-analyzing, Inception really does have a lot going on so that re-watches only further one’s understanding of just about everything.

The first two times I saw Inception, I was wowed by it as a very well-made film. After the feet were more than wet, I plunged into round three thinking mostly about the technicalities of the movie, and how even the most complicated elements really do add up in much more ways than one. I also paid attention to the editing, which is one of the film’s strongest points. After round four, which came only a day after round three, I went in with full testing of the “dream or reality?” theory. Since I am convinced Nolan loads the movie so it can float either way, I had a more tedious experience. Now, to me and my goal of understanding every bit of the movie, Inception is a Rubik’s Cube. Everytime I think I’ve got it 100%, I am missing one element. I love Inception, and it’s the kind of movie that is so gorgeous you want to live in it. But as Eames says about limbo’s possible harm to the brain, I sometimes feel like Inception has turned my brains into scrambled egg. That is not to say “I don’t get it” or “This is too complicated for me” by any slightest means. Inception is just such a big movie that I don’t seem to be able to hold in my brain every bit of it, even after spending ten hours of my life watching it.

As for the “Chris Nolan’s dream theory,” if that is talking about the meta-possibilties of Inception, then yes, I’ve thought of that. There is definitely something very reflective about “planting an idea” coming from a writer/director who is putting a whole van load of concepts into their brains.

What are some of the theories you’ve heard?

Bayer Said

The other theories … The whole movie is Christopher Nolan’s dream. Here’s the article from the very passionate Devin Faraci. Another I’ve heard is the entire thing is a set-up to get Cobb over his wife. There’s also the theory that Ariadne (Page) is a psychiatrist, not a team member. And she’s trying to get Cobb over his wife.

Look at the meaning of Ariadne’s name — Means “most holy.” In Greek mythology, Ariadne was the daughter of King Minos. She fell in love with Theseus and helped him to escape the Labyrinth and the Minotaur, but was later abandoned by him. Eventually she married the god Dionysus.

The other theory is, this that this is Edith Piaf’s dream. OK, I made that one up. Anyway, it’s just surprising that there are this many theories floating around a movie, where I think there is one meaning. One meaning, and two possible outcomes.

Active viewing is the beauty of this movie. The beauty and the problem. I have had so many people (probably only 12) come up to me and ask, “will I be able to keep up?” Active viewing is something people just don’t that much of. This film demands it, because it’s new ideas with under explained technology. If you focus, you’ll understand what a “kick” is, or that you need to hear the music, or if you fall too deep you’ll end up in limbo. But we’ll never understand how you can hit a button in a dream within a dream, and that button in your dream with have a technical outcome. Think about that. Because a button is hit in a dream, more than one person ends up in the same place. Then again, the only way this works is for that technology and the job of an architect to be under explained. I love when a film says, “Keep up with our world. You have to focus.”

Now, there is one moment I’d love for you to attempt to explain. Eames (Tom Hardy) walks up to Arthur’s (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and says something to the effect of, “You’ve got to dream bigger.” And then Eames pulls out a grenade launcher (compared to Arthur’s machine gun). Um, how did he get that grenade launcher? You dream it, it happens? Nope, that’s not how this world works. Did he tell Ariadne to dream him a grenade launcher? It’s not either one of Eames or Arthur’s dream. It’s Yusuf’s (Dileep Rao). I don’t think he asked Ariadne for the launcher, because then that’s what the line would have been. I finally decided this was simply a cool scene, and the one error in Nolan’s logic. Got anything better for me than that?

Allen Said

As for your question, there’s a reasonable answer. It may not be the best, but stay with me here: it has to do with “shared dream logic.” In the same way that Ariadne can go into Cobb’s dreams and manipulate the landscape, so can Eames dream up a grenade launcher, or Leo bring in a freight train into Yusuf’s dream. As a friend reasoned to me, “When you share a dream with someone, it is never 100% your own.” So, cool line, and it makes sense, if you ask me.

Wow. The whole “trying to have Cobb get over his wife” theory? Damn. Now I need to see it again. (This is sarcasm, but only slightly.)

With the many theories being thrown out, probable or not, I feel it’s time we discuss the ending.

I love this ending. First, it’s a great cap to this “active viewing” that we both seem to really like about this movie. As this movie is winding up, the theater is silent. No one is leaving when they think it’s “over” (which stupidly happens during 99% other movies). In fact, one could argue this silence is started earlier, before the ending, and is maintained throughout, only broken by a gasp or laugh of relief. Regardless, you have your audience in a tight grip, and then you have the symbolic top. Everyone is staring at it, trying not to blink, waiting in anticipation. Is it going to fall? Keep spinning?

It doesn’t matter. While the idea of “dream” and “reality” are already wonderfully mixed by the “romantic” story in Inception, the concept doesn’t become fully tangible until this ambiguity is thrown in. Other directors would’ve used this moment as a cheap shot. But with a script like Inception, it’s far from cheap. One can imagine Nolan jumping at the chance to create such a heavily debatable topic, but it’s with great intentions. Not only does Cobb not know if it’s a dream or reality, but neither do we. Boom.

As to whether I think the top fell or not? I do think so. I have this theory that there are parts of this last scene meant to echo the idea of “dream,” but it’s still reality. A colleague argued that in baggage claim, all of the main cast members are looking at Cobb as he walks away. This could lend itself towards them being projections, but there are not enough “strangers” looking at him to really say this is so. Plus, projections only look at the person in the dream when they are manipulating the science of the dream.

Later, towards the very end, there’s a very odd line of dialogue spoken by one of the two children, which I didn’t hear until the fourth time. As Cobb picks up James, he says something like “I am building a house on a hill.” What? Odd, but I think it’s only meant to reference as deja vu the dream. Or maybe, James wants to build just like daddy. It’s small reasons like this that have me thinking the top did fall, and that Cobb is safely in reality.

Also – how lame/hunky dory would it be if we actually saw the top fall over and stop spinning?

At the same time, don’t get me mentally backtracking to Mumbasa. After all has been said, it’s very possible that Leo is still dreaming in Mumbasa. After all, it is there that the older man says to him, “They don’t come to dream, they come to be woken up. The dream has become their reality.” This statement is followed by a shot of Cobb trying the Mumbasa liquid, but he only sees two shots – both of Mal – before waking up suddenly. Then, in the next scene, he tries to spin the top, but is too antsy and it never actually spins – it just lands on the ground. He picks it up when Saito comes in, and walks away.

Did I say Rubik’s Cube? Perhaps, with Inception, my head is a spinning top. Stuck in a dreamy movie, and without any hope of ever stopping.

Bayer Said

Wow, Mumbasa. Another alternative. I love this movie. I need to say that more often, right? I love this movie. You added the Inception Timeline to your TSR Buzz, and it really is something to look at. This movie took effort to make, it takes effort to understand, and then if you want, you can give yourself tons more effort by exploring alternatives.

You spoke of the ending. The following is for my benefit to try and spell things out. Correct me if I’m wrong. Here’s the thing that people don’t seem to think about too much … who goes into limbo? Mal, Cobb and Saito. Eames and others talk of limbo and how brains can turn to mush, but supposedly Mal and Cobb are the only ones to go in. Cobb wants out, Mal doesn’t. Why? Deep dark secrets, and because. Those are our reasons. So once they are out, Mal goes crazy, Cobb keeps it together. Then, Saito goes into limbo against his will (dying in a dream with defensive projections). Fischer doesn’t, right? That’s just Cobb’s dream, not limbo. Even though that was limbo for Cobb and Mal, right? Head is starting to hurt. Cobb must look around for Saito in limbo. When he washes up on shore, that means he died in his dream from the knife wound from Mal, right? He finds Saito. They have a lovely conversation. Saito picks up the gun … If Saito shoots Cobb, then Cobb would be in limbo limbo, right? Cobb would know this. He wouldn’t even bother spinning the top, because he would know it would be of no use. So that’s why I think Cobb is out with his kids. Active viewing.

When I see this movie again (on Blu-ray), I’ll be looking at Cobb’s wedding ring. Supposedly that hand is covered the entire time in the “real” world. It’s only at the end, when he’s with his kids that you see he’s no longer wearing it.

Now that you’ve seen in four times, is it still a 9/10 for you? My second time definitely maintained my 10/10 viewing. It’s my favorite so far this year, beating out Toy Story 3 and The Secret in Their Eyes. Then again, it already had the edge as I like live-action over animated, and typically like American over foreign films. In other words, I would clearly gouge out my eyes if I ever had to watch The Secret of Kells. Clearly.

Allen Said

“Head is starting to hurt,” indeed. Hmm. To answer your question about Mal – I think the “because” you are trying to reason can be elaborated on Mal’s disillusion with the idea of “reality,” etc. Cobb keeps in check the difference between reality and dreamland (at least up to that point) and Mal starts to blur the two, especially when Cobb spins the top inside her safe, etc.

A bigger question – Cobb wouldn’t be in “limbo limbo.” If a person dies in limbo, they’d be woken up (which is how Ariadne gets out of Cobb’s dream/limbo, along with Fischer). That’s why Saito is down there for so long, and aging. He hasn’t been killed or died during all of that time, and is convinced himself that’s the reality. During that “pleasant chat” they reconnect, about being two young men who would grow old together, etc. It’s also interesting in that if you connect that interaction to the very introduction of the movie, the entire film is basically a flashback. It’s like Cobb hears familiar words when Saito says “Have you come to kill me?” and then, after the entire story of Inception plays out, he knows why he’s there. So, a memory does help in a dream, even though the rest of the movie operates on the idea that memories can be harmful to the dream process.

Yes. Even after all of the viewing and brain scrambling, it’s still a 9/10. I’m wondering if it’s gone up slightly by a few tenths, or maybe even lower than my first two viewings. Overall, Inception to me is still the best movie of the year so far, and likely one of the more intelligent blockbusters we’ll see for a long time.

After one of my viewings of Inception in Chicago, I remember walking away from the theater and passing by a large set full of chaos and destruction for Transformers 3. It was a humbling experience, especially after my mindset was already flying at 100mph (for a summer movie!) Picturing what brainless nature would be brought by future summer movies without even a twentieth of Inception‘s encompassing effort, (not just of the mind), I was certainly brought back to reality. The dream was over.

1 Comment

  1. JennyK says:

    Maybe the two of you can answer a question I had about the film that came up after my second viewing of “Inception” (IMAX this time) as you’ve obviously both thought about it, a lot. I am not saying that I didn’t enjoy the film, of course I did, even if I felt Nolan’s first movie, “Following” had a bit more satisfying ending for me.

    So, to set up my question, given the reality that Nolan has created for us, the only thing that you can completely count on as real, beside your talisman, is the feeling of falling, due to the inner ear factor. That’s why when the van begins toppling off the bridge (a dream) it is felt the next level down (also a dream) as floating weightless for maybe a half hour or so. Why then, is there no evidence of “the kick” effecting the next level down, or did I miss it? The guys on the snowmobiles didn’t seem to feel it at all, and why in some of the levels does “the kick” have to be induced, and on others it is just felt, coming through from that previous level?

    And also, why doesn’t he show us how the falling sensation was induced in the real world? Did the plane they were flying in experience extreme turbulence, go into a dive, or can this kick-induced extraction be restricted to the dream level without being in “the real”? Okay, now MY head is beginning to ache, too. I’ll look forward to your answer(s).

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