Wednesday, July 21, 2010


I like movies like calculus: complicated, with intricate and beautiful visuals, and difficult symbols that explain everything if you can just wrap your mind around them. I liked this movie. A lot. I liked it so much I want to watch it again, I want to buy the DVD, I want to play the associated video game, I want to participate in the message boards and go to the conferences where they do reenactments. It was really good.

Inception is a movie that makes you think, like Primer (that masterpiece!), Fight Club, The Matrix, or director Christopher Nolan's other works Memento and The Prestige. It makes you question what is actually happening in the movie. What is real. A movie is an artificial construct, of course: we call them "actors" and "scenes." But the cleverness of a movie that acknowledges this construction and uses it as a tool of moviemaking, and forces you to consider its use as a tool... that is what I like. An intelligent movie. The Awl review follows the same thought:
It’s the merest cliché, that a movie is itself a shared dream. The lights go down, and the audience shares a vision created by others. We are the real targets of the inception, here. ... The most fun part of this whole thing is that Nolan’s attempt at Inception has worked really beautifully, so far. He’s made an idea, “like a virus,” enter millions of minds...

Spoiler warning: go see the movie first. Now. Then read below.

I loved this movie: so clever, so dense, so beautiful. I left it with a few questions, although I was not dissatisfied. Why do the dreams obey physical laws so strictly? I have dreams where I run faster than possible, or fly, or travel through solid objects. I can see why you might need a complicated medical apparatus to invoke sleeping in reality, but if you're already in a dream, why use it? What effect can it possibly have? For that matter, how can the inner ear be effected by the physics of a dream? I thought the whole point of having an inner-ear-recall-to-reality was that the inner ear sensations were real. Also, if one of the group-dreamer's subconsciouses can populate the dream with an infinitely-spawning army of heavily armed Counter-Strike agents, why not just have another dreamer dream up an opposing army? Why does everyone think inception, planting an idea in someone's mind while dreaming, is so difficult? Cobb trains Ariadne in a dream, planting a whole slew of ideas in her mind that not only persist in waking, but that she consciously mulls.

Of course, these are only relevant questions if you take the very literal review's reading of the movie. (I agree with all the praise in that review, and object to the criticisms: Leonardo DiCaprio's performance was good, the exposition was lightly handled and not tiresome.) I much prefer The Awl's metaphor, where every detail and mechanic and shot has two meanings (at least). If you're more interested in visual effects, I suggest reading this interview.

This post gets two theme words, it's that good: zwodder, "a drowsy, foolish frame of mind," and cathect, "to invest mental or emotional energy in an idea, object, or person."

[Update: Another interesting twist is that the soundtrack to the dramatic climaxes of the film seems to be the same song that the characters use to warn themselves to wake up, just slowed down -- perhaps indicating how many levels deep we are in dreaming! HT: postpostpre.]

[Update: Read this for an interesting take on how the act of movie-watching neurologically resembles coordinated dreaming.]


Andrea said...

just saw it last night. sparked some interesting conversation. also an interesting exercise in manipulating storytelling

Andrea said...

thanks for posting those reviews --- they're bringing up all kinds of connection points.

on a personal response note - the part I found most emotionally pleasurable was the heist team's detailed planning and largely improvisatory execution of the "heist" - that it's a team collaboration on a work of art, like a movie crew or theatre crew makes a lot of emotional sense. it's not surprising that I responded that way to this, since that kind of cooperation and group input is exactly what I most desire and enjoy.