Sunday, August 08, 2010

INCEPTION is unreal

The idea of shared dreaming is a flaw that doesn’t seem to matter – by Nick van der Leek
Cobb: The seed that we planted in this man's mind may change everything.

I’ve watched INCEPTION twice.  I thought I’d find more to complain about on second thought, particularly the ‘shared dreaming’ technique employed in the flick. I was surprised that the second viewing felt more compelling than the first, more streamlined and still riveting – after all it’s a long, convoluted flick. It works, I think, because instead of being tedious it is refreshingly clever; it presents a host of questions to the viewer, and provides a persuasive finale.

What I found intriguing about the flick, particularly the second time round, was Nolan’s alternate use of slightly smudged focus – what photographer’s call ‘glow’.  The soft blurry quality in so many of the scenes in INCEPTION are subtle but intentional. Theoretically Nolan could have differentiated between successive ‘realities’ by showing dreams slightly distorted, slightly blurred.  Reality would then have more vitality, more focus, much sharper images.  But as we all know, dreams are sometimes real, sometimes even more real than real life, and real life can sometimes feel like a dream that we want to wake from.

So it may take a third viewing to more properly analyse whether Nolan uses a specific system to differentiate dreams and reality.  If I had to guess I’d say it is purposefully inconsistent, meaning Nolan intentionally confuses the viewer so that each successive dream isn’t clearer.  Some elements, like the railway scene, do have that grainy reality.  The lack of sharp clarity throughout the flick isn’t sloppy technique.  If you saw Dark Knight you know Nolan filmed that in IMAX quality ultrasharp detail.

Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight masterpiece got me to the cinema five times, and with INCEPTION Nolan uses a brilliant paintbrush to conjure up strange but not necessarily unfamiliar territory.  In the end it is the simple story of a man who has to fess up to something terrible, and if he can redeem himself, he can go home.  The idea of home is a prevailing metaphor here.

If Dark Knight was about escalation, and violence, and a dark look at a degenerating, fearful society, INCEPTION is a lot deeper, and a lot more sinister.  I am not sure if it is darker than the Dark Knight though, because despite some gruelling subject matter [suicide, guilt, subconscious motivations], many of the visuals are just too much fun to permit depression.

Imagine trussing up half a dozen people together using electrical wire and floating them across a hotel room…

Ariadne: You mind telling your subconscious to take it easy?

Performances are impeccable – you’ll recognise the girl from Juno who plays the Architect.  Er….haven’t we heard that somewhere before?  Leonardo as Dom is another compelling portrayal that resonates.  DiCaprio knows how much passion and emphasis is needed, and he gives this flick just the right dose of gravitas.  Too much and audiences would have drowned in it, too little and audiences wouldn’t have taken it serious and wouldn’t have known what to make of it.

When you really think about it, Nolan’s concepts are extremely improbable.  He talks about living in a shared dreamstate for 50 years.  Constructing settings in shared dreams.  The problem is that if you spare a moment to really consider any of the concepts Nolan expects audiences to take for granted, well, it’s lunacy.  How do you share dreams?  Nolan offers a briefcase and some sort of injection as his Technological Edifice.  Leonard diCaprio has described INCEPTION and Nolan as highly original.  I’ve had my doubts, but was surprised that these doubts fizzled on the second viewing rather than being accentuated. 

Some of the concepts in INCEPTION echo similar imaginings in flicks like the Matrix, and Matrix Revolutions and the out of body syndrome we saw in the far future of Cameron’s AVATAR.  Curiously, despite the subject matter, INCEPTION is curiously grounded.  Colors are dull and earthy, backgrounds are raindrenched streets, gloomy warehouses, elevator shafts and warm, orangy hotels. 

Mal: Your world is not real!

I wonder why Nolan calls his chief protagonist Dom Cobb.  Dom’s wife is Mal.  This may be a long shot, but what if in the same way George Lucas called his arch villain Darth Vader [with vader being a Dutch word for father, and Vader turning out to be Luke Skywalker’s popsickle].  You see, Dom Cobb sounds a bit like the Afrikaans for Dom Kop [or stupid head].  His wife is Mal Cobb [mad head]. Also, with home and children being such powerful themes, isn’t it likely that using Dom and Mal double for Dad and Mom, and the idea running through the flick of children and parents being separated, and dad’s protracted struggle to return home from work?   Silly?  Well, watch the movie and decide for yourself whether either of these abbreviations are really off.

Professor: Come back to reality, Dom.

On a more personal note, I found the idea of death being the means to wake up [something also explored in AVATAR] quite disturbing…particularly the way Nolan links death to suicide.  In a dream state killing yourself can help you wake up to the real world.  But what if you are so lost in your dreams that you confuse the dream world with the real world?  My mother committed suicide, and so the character of Mal Cobb’s wife, who towards the end, cannot avoid the idea of ‘going back’ to some other world that is more real [even better] than the real world, well, this is more plausible than we would like to admit. 

INCEPTION also describes vividly the programming behind human beings, how our DNA wakes us into life, and death brings to an end a particular level of the expression of a certain kind of DNA’s dream.  INCEPTION demonstrates the idea of life – and dreams – resembling computer games, with various levels and objectives. 

Saito: If you can steal an idea, why can't you plant one there instead?
Arthur: Okay, this is me, planting an idea in your mind. I say: don't think about elephants. What are you thinking about?
Saito: Elephants?
Arthur: Right, but it's not your idea. The dreamer can always remember the genesis of the idea. True inspiration is impossible to fake.
Cobb: No, it's not.

INCEPTION provides much to contemplate.  At the end of the day though, how real is it to dream, and then within a dream, wire yourself up and then go into a nother shared dream state – when we must know that was is happening in the first level of the dream state isn’t real?  I mean essentially anything can be made up as one goes along.  Think about the freight train out of nowhere.  In fact there was really just one freight train, making for a relatively benign imagination…

Even so, let’s face it, when we go to watch a movie, we all get caught up in the drama.  In the story.  The story gets 5 stars.  What is important when telling a story isn’t whether it is real, but something else, that is similar, but not the same.  Is it credible?  Does it move me? INCEPTION certainly is and does. In the end what we see in the dream is our reality, and nothing else matters for us.  If you can avoid getting goose pimples towards the end, as that fiery warm music resonates right through you – if that doesn’t move you, pinch yourself.  

Rating: 8.5/10 

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