The Dream Is Real

2010 July 18

Christopher Nolan did it. He took a concept that’s been rolling around in his head for a decade, convinced a studio to give him $160 million to film it, and created the most original and spectacular blockbuster in, well, a decade. It really happened.

Think about the BIGGEST movies of the past 10 years. They are comic book adaptations, or television cartoon adaptations, or novel adaptations, or sequels to comic book adaptations, or rebooted franchises — you get the picture. The one obvious exception would be Avatar — the highest grossing movie ever. Unfortunately, while “original”, it was also one of the most derivative, predictable, and hollow movies you’ll ever see. But it sure was a 3D spectacle, I’ll give James Cameron that.

But I don’t want to even get into this argument. I really don’t. I just felt the need to address it before anyone challenges the claim in that first paragraph. Sorry, but Inception is THE most audacious blockbuster in years in ways other than just special effects and filming technology. But it’s not exactly a slouch with regards to the former, either.

I will keep this post as spoiler-free as possible, and probably make ANOTHER post about it later on, where I totally go off about everything within the film. And there’s certainly a lot to interpret here — including an ending that seems to have pissed off some and totally impressed others. I personally think it fits perfectly thematically.

The movie drops you right into the action, almost immediately disorientating you, slowly feeding you some explanations, but also leaving some questions unanswered until later on; you might not have even realized you had these questions, but the answers shed even more light on what you saw. You learn about “extraction” first, and then hear the word “inception”, which almost seems to be a dirty word. It’s apparently never been done before, but a powerful man named Saito (Ken Watanabe) wants it done. Dom Cobb, the character played brilliantly by Leonardo DiCaprio, insists it’s possible, and once Saito offers the only thing Cobb wants in the entire world, he has no choice but to accept.

And that’s where we’re off. Cobb needs to fill out his team with specialists, and in the process you learn what each of them have to do, and also what they need to figure out in order to accomplish the job. As a result, much of the next 45 minutes or so are filled with exposition, and it seems to be the part of the movie most detractors focus on, but I was enraptured the entire time. How could you not be interested in the intricacies of such a cool fucking concept? I just don’t get it. But this is coming from a guy who absolutely loves I, Robot — the book, not the Will Smith movie that killed Issac Asimov all over again — which is just a collection of logic puzzles based around three fictional laws of robotics. So yeah, I’m going to enjoy listening to people talk about entering people’s minds and the rules of time and world manipulation and subconscious projections and architectural paradoxes. How could you NOT love that stuff?

Even the discussion about how to implant the idea into the mind of the mark (played by Cillian Murphy) was fun to listen to, aided by the banter between Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and Eames (Tom Hardy), who both fit their roles perfectly. Ellen Page plays her part as Ariadne wonderfully as well, playing the role of inquisitive, but aggressive, novice thrown into the world of dream manipulation. She quickly picks up on the problems Cobb’s subconscious — manifested in his wife Mal (Marion Cotillard) — has created for his team, which forms the emotional core of the film. And it’s a heartbreaking core that reminds one of DiCaprio’s other film this year (also the only other movie I’ve seen in theaters this year), Shutter Island. One scene in particular features DiCaprio’s tremendous acting ability, where he manages to hit the perfect note of anguish and shock with only two words.

The only other relationship that truly matters in the film is the one between the mark, Robert Fischer, and his dying father. Admittedly, this relationship could have been fleshed out some more, but there was just no room, and I think Murphy sells its payoff as well as any actor could possibly have. Murphy’s work in the movie as a whole, even with the relatively small part he has, is phenomenal. Maybe I’m just letting out some built-up praise here, but the man is just a great actor.

But as I’ve already started to say, everyone does great work: Page, JGL, Cotillard, Watanabe (when you can understand him) — with Tom Hardy probably being the standout, if only because his shit-eating grin and accent just make for an awesome combination. My friend and I agree that Nolan will try his best to get him in the next Batman movie. At least I hope that’s the case.

Have I even touched on the action? And how this is not the same Nolan who filmed the action scenes in Batman Begins? You can actually tell what’s going on, and the entire last hour of the movie is just one big interlocked action set-piece, set up in the most goddamn brilliant way possible. There’s a car chase scene in the rain that includes a train and a motorcycle and a bridge. There’s a hallway fight scene — actually two — that will blow your fucking mind. And then there’s a snow fortress firefight that is straight out of a Bond movie. But it’s really all about the hallway and the choreography needed to come up with THAT fight. Shit, I clicked on Jimmy Fallon two nights ago as a clip of the fight started and my eyes were tethered to my television until it cut off halfway through and made me wish I could see the whole thing all over again.

And that’s what I did tonight. Yes, I am writing this after my second viewing in three days. Inception is everything I wanted and more. Christopher Nolan went balls-out with this movie. It is packed with an insane amount of ideas, combines a heist movie with a tragic story about love and obsession, questions how we perceive reality, and serves as an amazing showcase for sharp men’s clothing. I just don’t know where he goes from here. As an internet buddy said, “How the fuck does he go back to making a Batman movie after this?” I don’t know, but I’m anxious to see if he can continue to top himself.


Related posts:

  1. Inception’s New Trailer Will Melt Your Face
  2. Inception Hits Theaters July 16th
  3. I’m Obligated To Post This Since It Uses That Music From The Inception Trailer

  • Malcolm

    You saw it twice.. can you explain the connection between the opening scene and then the second to last one? No connection?

    Also.. I thought I understood the kicks until they started jumping off the buildings in Limbo.

    The van hitting the water is meant to bring everyone out of the “hotel” dream.

    The explosion in the elevator shaft is meant to bring everyone out of the “snow” dream.

    So was planting the charges a last-minute plan in the “snow” dream? Going in they didn’t intend to go another level deeper.

    If those charges are meant to bring people out of Limbo… why were they jumping off the building at the end?

    I think I’m not understanding something basic.

    Also- does it just go unsaid that the descent of the airplane and/or the wearing off of the sedative brought them out of the “van” dream and into reality?

  • Malcolm

    After typing that I realized that maybe they were just jumping off the building as a means to kill themselves? (They had a gun though..)

    Early on they said they had about a week in the “van” world to equal the 10 hour plane trip. After the van hit the water, did they all hang out there for a week.

  • CajoleJuice

    Well I *was* trying to save discussion like this for another post, but ok. I actually thought about the very same problem with the charges in the third level but upon second viewing I forgot about it again. You’re not missing anything basic.

    I figure what brings them into reality is the wearing off of the sedative. And I never thought about how they would have to hang out in that first level. Hmm. I guess they would be able to, considering both Fischer’s and DiCaprio’s subconscious are calmed down by the events of the movie.

    With regards to those charges in the third level, they WERE meant to bring them out of limbo, and it was a last-minute thing. Hardy created the charges. But yeah, I don’t know why they needed to jump. Perhaps to confirm to their subconscious that it’s a dream that they can wake up from. Or to make a really cool fucking shot when Ariadne jumps.

  • CajoleJuice

    Oh and the first and second-to-last scene — I think the connection is just that they are the SAME scene.

    • SpeedingUptoStop

      Yea, the connection is that you’re meant to get the idea that the first scene is connected to the first set of dream jumping in the movie, when it’s really the last scene of the final set of dream jumping. Providing some contrast fro where the characters were and where they are when it’s over while also deceiving you into thinking it was connected to something different and less meaningful than what it was.

      Or, atleast that’s what I think. We probably need to get some of those “the movie is SO STRAIGHTFORWARD” trolls up in herrre.

      • Malcolm

        I don’t think I remember the beginning all that well. At least what happens between the scene showing an old Watanabe and then the sequence of dreams that includes the party/Cobb shooting Arthur.

        The movie is better for not bothering with the science/technology of the operation… but I wish they would have explained the “master” forger part. Did Cobb’s walk and talk with Juno include anything about changing your physical appearance? Just because he can forge documents and study people’s behavior.. Eames can appear in different forms? It was bothersome every time he did that.

    • CajoleJuice

      Yeah, that’s basically it. It also possibly helps you connect that idea that Saito creates that SAME world in limbo from that “half-remembered” dream from earlier in the movie.

      Well, crap, you managed to comment in between Speedin and me, Malcolm.

    • CajoleJuice

      I never gave much thought to the forger stuff, at all. I’m sure it was just a cool idea that Nolan wanted to get in the movie, and either he couldn’t come up with a decent explanation, or he felt he didn’t want to devote time to it.

      And that transition is just to confuse you, like it seems to have. The first scene is actually the end of the limbo in the heist dream. Once it transitions to the party and young Saito, with Cobb and Arthur, it’s that initial heist where Cobb and Arthur are attempting to extract from Saito’s mind.

      • Malcolm

        Goddamnit I’m a mark

  • SpeedingUptoStop

    ahw, JEEEEeeSUSss!!!

    • CajoleJuice

      Oh God

      • SpeedingUptoStop


  • Cory

    In regards to the exposition, there was never any moments where I was bored, I just thought it was unnecessary in places. “The Kick” was explained brilliantly early on when cobb gets dunked. It’s a visual explanation and one the audience can understand clearly. However Nolan decides later on to explain this concept again and again. there’s no particular reason for him to do this, but he does anyway. I think this may be a result of his earlier weakness in visual storytelling, but here he was able to dispatch a lot of stuff visually, and the constant narration was superfluous.

    • CajoleJuice

      Now, now, didn’t you say the second half-hour bored you a bit? But ok, that’s a legitimate gripe. I’m not sure if it detracted from the action on-screen for me, but he definitely did his best to make sure EVERYONE got EVERYTHING. Something like JGL saying “paradox” when he pulled that staircase trick was definitely unnecessary.

      Yet, I’m sure if my parents go to see it, that they’ll come back home ready to ask me what the hell happened.

      • Cory

        i used the wrong word. Not bored, just wondering why it was so talky. There wasn’t a part of the movie I felt like I could skip to the next scene (like in The Dark Knight) but I did feel like some scenes could have been left out and the overall quality would be the same.

      • Malcolm

        I want David Lynch to re-make Inception for Summer 2012.

      • CajoleJuice

        Fair enough, Cory.

        And Malcolm, I remember reading a review saying that people that hate/dislike Lynch would love Inception. Nolan takes dreams but then grounds them in reality with that rule about projections — I’m sure Lynch would have just had four levels of insane, incomprehensible shit going on.

        Not that I know, since the only Lynch I’ve seen is about an hour of Dune. *ducks*

  • Cory

    It’s also worth noting (to me anyway) that my two favorite “big” movies in the past 10 years, Aviator and now this, are both DiCaprio movies.

    • CajoleJuice

      There’s a reason why the only two movies I’ve seen in theaters this year star DiCaprio. Not only is he a great actor, but he picks his movies well. I thought even Blood Diamond and Body of Lies were serviceable.

      But yeah, The Aviator is wonderful.

  • Malcolm

    I love the Lynch stuff I’ve seen (Blue Velvet, Twin Peaks) and love Inception. Some magazine should have paid Lynch to review Inception- I’d love to see what he thinks. But yeah, he’d probably rip it apart for applying rules to dreams.

    The last act of Inception pretty much put to bed any concerns I had about Nolan’s action-directing ability. I’ve never seen a more stunning sequence put to film. If totally fucking up all the action in The Dark Knight was the price of experience, it was worth it.

    • CajoleJuice

      Yeah, I remember you voicing that concern in an earlier Inception post. I was impressed to the point where I’m convinced Nolan really meant it when he said he wanted the action in the Batman films to be disorientating, putting you in the shoes of the guys Batman is attacking, or some bullshit like that. All of the action was filmed more than competently, and the hallway fights are unlike anything seen before, with no quick cuts or shaky cam to cover up deficiencies.

  • Cory

    The inspired casting choices makes the Christian Bale batman pick all the worse.

    • CajoleJuice

      Tom Hardy as Batman in the next installment?

      • Cory

        I hope so. Make him James Bond as well.

      • CajoleJuice

        Now we’re talking.

        In other news, I REALLY need to fix this comment threading, or just turn it off completely.

  • Justin

    He went from Batman Begins to the Prestige – a movie about deception and trickery atop moral commentary.Cue the Dark Knight and the Joker character.

    Now he comes out with inception, a wildly intricate heist film bent around concepts of mazes, puzzles, illusions and perceived reality. Cue…the Riddler?

    Just their names (Joker < Riddler) suggest a hierarchical climb in "bad-guy". With Nolan stating he would not recast the Joker character, he could play a bit starting The Riddler out to be a Joker copy-cat (back heist, etc.) before spinning the character and Batman into something quite awesome.

    Also, The Mad Hatter seems plausible. There was an old cartoon episode based around the Mad Hatter where at the end you find out the entire episode was Batman's dream, induced by The Mad Hatter… It was by far one of the best episodes, but perhaps that would be too close a concept to Inception.

    • CajoleJuice

      I know the episode you’re talking about with the Mad Hatter. Batman wakes himself up by jumping off the clock tower. Yeah, that definitely sounds too much like Inception haha.

      Interesting connection you’ve made there, though. Two years until Batman Rebooted 3, exactly.

    • CajoleJuice
      • Malcolm

        I hate shit like that. It’s a pointless exercise. That guy acknowledges the counter argument in his first paragraph, but that’s where this line of thought begins and ends for me.

        Rather than build up an argument that the whole movie was a dream… I could just say that Inception was a movie. It was filmed by Christopher Nolan and produced in part by his wife. Declaring that it was all a dream, in my mind, is the same as acknowledging that this was a work of fiction. For a movie (or a book, for that matter) to be worth anything you need to accept SOME framework.

      • CajoleJuice

        Ah, that was meant more for Justin than you. But yeah sure, it’s quite a lot of bullshit, but I’m not quite sure how arguing it’s all a dream and metaphor for directing isn’t an attempt at forming “some” sort of framework.

        I guess you could say in the end it doesn’t matter, since Cobb’s catharsis is the same in the end either way. Also, here’s something else:

        (I think I’m just going to make a post collecting all articles like this.)

  • Justin

    The first article seems to me like its author came up with a nice allegory and ran with it, doing little to justify the whole thing as an actual dream, aside from a few points. One of the points is the window sill his wife throws herself from, but given the occasion, and the apparent look of the room, its not unlikely that this room is a luxury suite and quite large…large enough to wrap around some, creating that alley she falls into (think the kidnap scene in Taken).

    The second article, while being an interview with an actor in the movie, seems to have some mistakes. He is entitled to interpret the story as he pleases, and likely has better insight into directors “intent” but the fact that it’s Fischer’s dream on the 3rd level isnt a fact at all.

    He makes a mistake here. Its Fischers subconscious, it’s Eames Dream. Like Cobb says to Ellen Page in the training, “we create the world of the dream then bring their sub-conscious into that dream”. Fischers is fooled into thinking they will be exploring Browning’s sub-conscious, when really they explore his own, but the constant remaining is that its Eames world, its his dream. This is explicitly stated by Cobb to Eames when asking him to mess with the guards. He also asks Hellen Page what Eames has changed and she says “the air-ducts that cut through the middle of the building”…or whatever she says.

    It makes zero sense that it would be Fischer’s dream, because Fischer would be far less likely to dream the EXACT same “hospital in the middle of a blizzard” theme that Ellen Page is contracted to design for the 3rd level. Each level was taught to the dreamer, who then recreate it for everyone to experience and the subjects sub-conscious to fill. You see this again in the progression of the inception process. Each level is designed specifically, and this needs to be recreated specifically and so Fischer, having no knowledge of the 3rd level design, cannot be the dreamer on the 3rd level.

    Also, a curious thing to note along the lines of the concern that his kids clothes never change, is the “Beautiful Mind” effect. That is, his kids never grow old. I dont think we are told how much time he has passed since he has been away, but one thing to note is that when he calls home, they sound much older than they appear, especially Phillipa. The fact that at the end he is able to see their faces isnt telling at all because it seems evident he can see their faces whenever he wants and chooses not to (a sort of memory totem). He doesnt let himself see his children’s faces because its a “one truth” he is able to keep out of his dreams, reducing the urge to fall into one forever.

    This is evident in the last confrontation with Mal when his children’s faces are about to be revealed and he looks away. He can see them if he wants to, but refuses. In the last scene he drops his guard and allows himself to see is non-aged children’s faces. On this, Dileep Rao, has something interesting to say…for whatever reason he doesnt stick around to see the totem fall or not. He seems to relinquish himself to whatever reality he currently is in.

    This doesnt really solve anything for the audience, who can take it as either assurance he has made it home, or has so lost himself in limbo, that he doesnt even care to check if he is still dreaming.

    Ultimately, for the sake of story-telling there is a sort of perversion that goes on concerning the top totem. Nolan needs a totem the audience can also use, and since we cannot hold it, we have to visualize it. The physics of why tops dont topple in dream-land isnt ever explained and it makes more sense that it was a law Mal came up with for when she was in her own dreams. Does it apply for Cobb then when he is dreaming or in others dreams? Who knows, no one can, and there isnt any offering of an explanation.

    Taking that for what it is you can nearly solidify the directors intent to have the audience take place in a decision. For this reason I do not think the whole thing is a dream (however fun it is to try to prove it is), but likely Nolan wants the audience to wonder whether or not Cobb ever makes it out of Limbo with Saito or succumbs to the confusion of his mind. Any other possibly doesnt really stick for to explore them more seriously, you need more knowledge on the top totem, and its really just guesswork.

    For instance if I were to explore the scenes after Cobb and Mal “wake up” and Mal sits at the Kitchen table running a finger over a knife with her top totem sitting next to the blade, I might suggest Cobb’s inception was to show her (in limbo) that the top wasnt falling and thus they were dreaming. Wouldnt she perform this trick at the table? Wouldnt she run the top test over and over? Wouldnt she see it fall or not?

    Of course as Cobb says, “in her dreams the top never stopped spinning.” Interesting that at the kitchen table she tells Cobb “YOU’re dreaming”.

    Cobb’s “inception” on Mal is the act of spinning the top, letting the gravity of its spinning sink in. But if Mal believes they are in Cobb’s dream, who knows how the top is supposed to act. While being a brilliant way to incorporate the audience into dream discernment, the top totem seems to case many problems. I dont think you can really go too deep into it aside from seeing it as a yes or no type deal, meant only to incite that awesome feeling you feel at the end of the flick….and oh how awesome it is.

    • CajoleJuice

      Awesome comment. I really don’t feel like writing a long post in response, though, since we’ll just discuss it in person this weekend again or something.

  • Justin

    wrote that at 5am, if it gets confusing…this sums it it up:

  • Justin

    So im being sucked into buying songs off itunes via their ingenius recommendation system when I come across an album cover by the band “Mystery” which reminds me of the style of inception. So I go to the album and find a song called “the Third Dream”. So I preview this song, and about 30 seconds in I hear that low bass motif used throughout the entire damn movie of inception. Im talking nearly exact.

    So I purchase this song, and so far as I’m listening its pretty terrible…like 90′s cliche prog rock. But I’ll be damned if that wasnt the exact same sound from inception, titled “the third dream” no less. Released in ’07.

    • CajoleJuice

      Maybe I should have made this song the Song of the Week? I need to find it.