Inception – On Dream, Life, and Other Absurdities

Dom Cobb: “What’s the most resilient parasite? An Idea. A single idea from the human mind can build cities. An idea can transform the world and rewrite all the rules. Which is why I have to steal it.”

Despite all the flattering reviews of Christopher Nolan’s Inception I thought there was no way for a film premiered in summer to win public recognition. Its official premier in London was held on July 8. And all those parallels with The Matrix… On top of that, a duration of 148 minutes, and not a second less, could dishearten many cinema-goers. I smelled a rat

So I was having those summer thoughts… when the film commenced, in a timid, Hollywood-like threateningly dramatic and mysterious way. And this was it for Hollywood gasping in recent years for lack of original story-lines and characters. From minute 5 till the end the film seizes you and flings you on a retrospective journey from dimension to dimension, until you grow tired of keeping track where you are right at this moment and if you are awake or not.

The complexity of the plot is relatively challenging, although the viewer, engulfed in it, soon starts to think of the story-line on a linear level and the lack of a clear reference point is no longer of any import. Wild! The script suggests a blend of genres – from Western because of the constant search for frontiers, through drama because of the personal tragedy of the main character, through a story of coming home and a story on the road, to a futuristic impression in Dali’s style. And this is how a considerable overcharge of plots and subplots get created, obviously to a purpose.

Using the image of the skilled information thieves, bold and impudent enough to penetrate your dream in a desire to get what they’ve been paid for, Inception plays on the concept of corporate power and invisibility. In this respect, the film discusses the problem of the erosion of moral values – because it makes a thief appealing, even though we have the relativity of the dream. Designing a world dominated by corporate rules, theft and illegal intrusion on personal life, the film eventually creates a permeating idea of subversion.

That’s why the characters are people on the road, cosmopolitans, homeless nomads, surviving in the belly of the corporation and of course in the eternal company of the Japanese. For this reason, I find Cobb’s yearning for his family and kids a bit unusual for this context and for cyber fiction as a whole. As if Nolan cannot shirk from the importance Americans place on family values. Or is there any other reason?

Nolan presents the process of dreaming as an orderly chain of events – perfectly logical while we are asleep but tremendously impossible to explain while awake. Just like any dream, the film is underlined by a fragmentary iconography, which means little on its own while we are awake, but carries a huge overwhelming emotional charge while we are dreaming. Freud would have had a hard time analysing the symbols Nolan uses. Or he would have been happy to find this subdued Oedipus complex in one of the characters or this raging visual creativity and symbolics.

Once in a while Inception stops abruptly its mighty run, obviously on purpose, to display the characters’ inner anguish which haunts them from the past, be it disappointment, feeling of guilt, moments missed. These are all things whose powerful insurmountable energy crushes us while we’re dreaming. More fascinatingly, Cobb’s emotional submergences and mysterious occult-like communes with his late wife usher us into a world constructed by a Faustian and clearly hedonistic craving to live more and more, to reach all boundaries, to experience emotions never experienced before, to explore the potential of imagination.

This is a typical post Post-Modern dystopian film about the world which only exists from the neck up, a world only happening in the head, where you don’t need to even leave your chair in order to live your whole life. Simply a world based on a collective dream.

Probably this is Nolan’s worry for the future world, governed by what William Gibson named back in the 80s simstim – a similation / emulation of life by machines. Presenting a nightmarish futuristic world, the film is in fact an attempt at finding a critical voice for our contemporary world. In this sense, Inception can easily be aligned next to dystopian masterpieces such as Terry Gilliam’s Brazil, The Matrix (d. Washovski’s Brothers) to name but a few.

Do I need to mention the cast and the intriguingly creative camera work, which constructs a mind labyrinth, a borderless world, not subject to the laws of physics? Or the lovely soundtrack for that matter, such as Édith Piaf’s “Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien”. Having listened to such music, you can’t be easily satisfied.

Inception ends on an ambiguous note, which makes it irrevocably pessimistic as well as optimistic. Through a single symbol shown here and there throughout the film, the final scene plants the seed of doubt. We start to wonder if all this has been a dream, if the characters are finally awake but above all – have we, as innocent viewers, not been involved in this uncontrollable collective dream!

Enjoy watching!

Read this essay in Bulgarian.