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"Life could be a dream..."
on November 17, 2010
On the surface Inception seems to be a crime caper, complete with master of disguise Eames (Tom Hardy), planner Aridane (Ellen Page), point man Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), and master thief Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio). But it's so much more than that, taking place in dreams within dreams within dreams.
Inception, like Total Recall and The Matrix, is about perception. The audience is never sure what reality is because the protagonist isn't sure what's real. There are clues providing evidence for the real/not real theories, but the best movies of this type don't come down on one side or another. Total Recall ultimately had enough clues indicating the "right" way. The Matrix stumbled after it made it clear that reality was fiction, thereby losing an audience who enjoyed the tantalizing mystery. Like so many mysteries, once the truth was revealed it wasn't quite as exciting as we all hoped. Inception wisely avoids providing answers.
Inception is also a thought experiment. The central conceit of Inception is that once you put a thought in someone's head it's like a virus, incapable of being removed. In fact, attempting to not think about the idea causes the mind to just focus on it more. This concept, a key tenet of neuro-linguistic programming (NLP), is part of how our brains are wired. Director Chris Nolan knows exactly what he's doing when the characters explain the premise. It is the key argument between Cobb and his wife Mal (Marion Cotillard): is this life just a dream?
Once you get it into your head as to which of them is right, Inception burrows into your psyche and you see all the evidence you need to reinforce the idea. There are enough discrepancies to suspect that Cobb's stuck in a dream, but there are enough rules defining reality that indicate otherwise. Unless, of course, you believe that Cobb is fooling himself by making up said rules to convince himself he's not in a dream when he actually is. If that sounds confusing, Inception's done its job.
Inception is a little too long in places, testing the viewer's patience as it delves four levels deep into the subconscious, each with different timeframes, settings, and plots. Part of the fun is watching the movie again to look for clues that reinforce what we secretly thought we knew all along.
Me? I'm convinced I know the truth. But then maybe Inception put that idea in my head.