Friday, July 23, 2010

The Perception of Inception's Perfection and Deception

It seemes that somehow the reality-bending Inception was somehow already having an effect on my own personal reality.  Last Friday I was in a tangible position to see Inception on opening night, which is rare these days for reasons that I'll explain later.  Due to forces beyond my control this did not happen.  So I decided to go to see it on Tuesday, for reasons which I'll explain now: on Monday I was podcasting and Tuesday night is cheap night and tickets are half price.  However, when we (my brother-in-law, Bonegod and myself) arrived at the theatre there was a problem: there was something "wrong" with the plumbing and they had no running water so they had to send the throng of people gathered in front of the theatre home.  This seemed odd to me because last time I checked the projectors did not require water to run (good old steam power) and I can piss in a garbage can.  In the context of watching movies running water is a luxury, not a requirement.  Anyway after we couldn't get in to see Inception we went back to the Bonegod's bachelor pad to watch a little movie called The Fourth Kind.  I arrived home completely freaked out and crawled into bed beside my wife and glanced over at the clock which read 12:34. 

Finally on Wednesday, July 21 I was admitted into Galaxy Cinemas and was able to witness Christopher Nolan's latest addition to cinematic lore.  I have no idea how or why Inception changed the course of my life so that I watched it at that specific time at that specific place, but I'm absolutely sure that it did and that it will ultimately affect every moment of the rest of my life.  If this is indeed my life, which I'm not sure it is because after watching Inception I am no longer sure of my reality.  My biggest piece of evidence that something is amiss is that when I crawled into bed on Wednesday I glanced over at the clock and once again the glowing red numbers shimmered 12:34.  Fucked up, right?

The plot of Inception follows a thief named Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) whose speciality is stealing ideas from people's subconscious via their dreams.  After a botched job Cobb decides to lay low lest his (now angry) employers decide to tear him a new one.  Before he can do this, however, he is offered a job by an industrialist Saito (Ken Watanabe) that will essentially end his troubles and let him go back to America and see his kids again.  The twist is that instead of Extraction -stealing ideas- Cobb and his team must attempt Inception - planting an idea in the subject's mind.  This is infinitely harder and Cobb and his team must delve deep into the subconscious of Robert Fischer Jr. (Cillian Murphy) and plant the idea to break up his father's company after he dies (from surprisingly natural causes.).  In order to make sure that Fischer accepts the idea Cobb and his team must go deeper into someone's subconscious than any of them have gone before, but with greater rewards come greater risks and the deeper they go the more dangerous it becomes and the more difficult to seperate dreams from reality.

OK, even though I have just described the basic plot I have not yet spoiled anything because the plot is infinitely more complex and layered (both literally and figuratively) so I will issue my SPOILER ALERT... now!  I can't tell you how much I've been looking forward to this movie.  Inception really was the only movie I wanted to see this summer and the only one I really had any hope left for.  After first becoming a fan of Christopher Nolan years ago after watching Memento, was rewarded for my loyalty with The Prestige and completely wowed with Batman Begins and The Dark Knight.  So it was with unrealistically high expectations that I went to see Nolan's latest,  and all I can say is: Damn!  Inception completely blew my mind and definitely exceeded any and all expectations.

The whole premise of the movie is just fucking cool and the way it is handled lends itself to philosophical debate.  The idea of being able to initiate lucid dreaming basically on a whim with the use of technology is tantalizing to say the least.  Then to expand it even further and dream communally is even more engaging and , of course, is an interesting take on the idea of a collective consciousness.  I loved the way that the movie sets up the premise immediately and doesn't waste time trying to explain the technology.  It is a simple fact that the technology exists to enter each other's dreams and what is actually in those crazy metallic breifcases is unimportant to the story.  The fact is it works and as a member of the audience you never feel like something is missing by not having it explained.  And that, ultimately, is really what helps make this movie so great: not everything is explained.  Now obviously some of the rules of this universe had to be explained to the audience and this is done (flawlessly, I might add) through the use of the "new team member" character Ariadne (Ellen Page).  She asks questions, of course, and she is answered by other members of the team but none of it feels extranious and really I was intrigued learning about the whole process.

Acting in Inception was top notch, just fantastic.  Leonardo DiCaprio can emote like a motherfucker, and he can do hardcore action as well.  As of this point in time I do not believe he has won an Oscar and this is a crime.  Joseph Gordon-Levitt who play's Cobb's pal Arthur is also fantastic.  He really won me over in Brick and continues to wow me with performances like this.  Ellen Page obviously isn't on the same plane as these two guys, but she's getting better and her performance here was solid.  Tom Hardy also played his character of Eames "The Forger" to perfection and I was glad to see Dileep Rao in there too.  I really liked him in Drag Me to Hell and he switches gears for this movie perfectly.  Cillian Murphy is just fantastic no matter what he does and just hearing his name now is an instant draw to a movie.  Also Marion Cotillard who plays Cobb's wife Mal does an excellent job and has some pretty intense scenes to work through.  I'm not a huge fan of Ken Watanabe, but he did a good job and Michael Caine, well it goes without saying he was excellent.  All in all an excellent cast with a shitload of combined talent. 

I've heard a lot of comparisons being made between Inception and The Matrix, however that analogy is simplistic and misleading and is based on two key issues.  Issue one is that both movies deal with the idea of realities within realities.  While this is true, both movies have very different takes on this.  The other detail which keeps getting compared is the action and special effect sequences.  This is also not really an accurate comparison because both movies had very different types of mind-blowing action sequences that were both awesome in their own right.  The main sequence I think that everyone refers to in Inception is the "twisting room/zero gravity" fight Joseph Gordon-Levitt has with a bunch of goons in Cillian Murphy's subconscious, which was totally awesome and fused with seamless special effects.  Just don't go in expecting The Matrix or you will find yourself sorely disappointed.  I'm not saying one was better than the other, just... different.  At certain points in Inception I felt like Ellen Page's character did after learning she was in a dream for the first time (literally, her mind was blown.).  And even if you were watching this movie just for the action (like going to a Chinese Buffet just for the wonton soup) you would definitely not be disappointed.  It was really fucking cool how external factors in the "next reality up" would affect what was going on in whatever level of the subconscious the characters were in which resulted in some crazy spinning rooms and zero-G fighting.

Oh, what a feeling..

I've read several reviews of Inception by this point and one of the criticisms that came up was the idea that for being in dream worlds there was nothing that was really, really trippy ie. the dreams lacked a certain dreamlike unpredictibility.  This is utter bullshit, however.  One of the key ideas that really fuels the audience's immersion in the movie is the idea that you don't really know you're in a dream until you wake up.  So a slightly-altered reality makes more sense in the context of this movie rather than flying elephants, swimming pools filled with eyeballs, or surviving a nuclear blast by hiding in a refrigerator.  (Now why does that sound familiar...?)  Something else I read also brought up some point about the defences in people's subconscious always being depicted in this movie by dudes with guns.  While I'm sure it would have been cool to watch adversaries duke it out over a game of backgammon, or through wet T-shirt contests (as I'm sure battles would be waged in my subconscious), the dudes with guns in crazy action sequences was a lot more engaging to watch and far more appropriate given the context of the movie.   

Now one of my theories surrounding what makes a kick-ass movie involves the cinematic holy trinity: Character, Plot, and Idea.  By keeping one or more of these basic concepts in mind and in balance one can make a great movie.  For example, Martin Scorcese would exemplify the Character aspect.  His movies are essentially character-driven, and at their core are driven by the characters rather than the plot.  Steven Spielberg exemplifies the Plot aspect.  Spielberg's stories are powered by series of events rather than the characters.  Christopher Nolan embodies the Idea aspect because his movies are centered around core themes or ideas he wants to explore.  Now, before you get your panties in a knot, let me clarify by saying that none of the above directors is completely devoid of the other two aspects.  Scorcese's movies have plot, and Spielberg's character's have arcs.  Nolan is primarily an idea guy and Inception is the quintessential example of this.  It offers various concepts to ponder while you're handcuffed to your bed while your hooker counts your money to make sure you "don't come up short this time."

As Cobb and friends ply their trade one of the tricks they employ is the old dream within a dream deal, prompting the audience to constantly question what was real.  The basis of the whole movie was really that question of what is real and perception versus reality (more on that later.).  There's a really interesting concept of the idea as parasite which comes up throughout the movie.  The subconscious is depicted as having it's own defence system almost like the body's immune system which manifests itself in some pretty cool ways (ever get that feeling everybody is staring at you?).  Something else that really stuck out in my mind was that at the core of the mission that DiCaprio and company are on is the relationship between a father and his son which to me was just as prominent as the relationship between man and wife, or rather lover and lover.  It was no coincidence that these two relationships were juxtaposed throughout the movie. Nor is it coincidence that outside of Cobb's possibly dead wife Mal there was virtually no female presence in any of these men's dreams, and even when Mal was around she was either locked away deep in Cobb's subconscious or she surfaced to fuck his shit up.  This all tied in with the idea of catharsis which was even addressed explicitly in the movie. 

The real treat here though is not what the movie is about it's discussing what the movie could be about.  There are several theories, however the relative accuracy relies on the theory of Plausible Interpretation (I just made that shit up!) which basically states that there is no one "correct" interpretation of any given text (yes, a text includes movies) and that texts can be read and interpreted in many different ways but that the accuracy of those interpretations is limited by textual evidence.  For example, one might reasonably and effectively argue that Field of Dreams was ultimately not about baseball but about the relationship between a father and his son.  This is no stretch and perhaps the most obvious interpretation.  On the other hand somebody might argue that Field of Dreams is about Hitler's rise to power and the birth of national socialism.  According to the tenets of Plausible Interpretation the second reading of the movie -while it was one individual's personal opinion- is highly inaccuracte and irrelevent because there is a lack of textual evidence to support this opinion.  This theory allows for everyone's opinions, no matter how stupid or misguided they might be, but ultimately gives more credence to coherent theories put forth by highly advanced individuals (yours truly included.).

This is one fucked up party

So now comes the part where we try to derive meaning and interpret Chris Nolan's latest masterpiece.  What's my take on this intricate narrative, you ask?  Well I would argue that Inception is even harder to pin down to one or two big ideas than the majority of other movies (even though that is exactly what I did two paragraphs ago), but I will tell you what I got out of this movie.  To me the core of the movie revolved around the cartharsis one gets from developing, realizing and finally accepting one's perception of reality.  The movie is ultimately about that emotional release that comes with letting go of and absorbing all of the negative shit in your past that you can't let go while turning your attention towards the future.  That may sound vague and even slightly cheesy, but it is also awesome.  For those of you who saw the movie you might refute me because it appears that by the end of the movie Cobb is still in some kind of dream state, so any catharsis he might have would not be "true" or "real" because he is not in a "true" or "real" place, merely a dream.  Well let me explain even further.         
There is no truth or reality - only the perception of truth or reality.  "Well that's just rhetorical bullshit," you might say.  And I will admit that you would be quite correct insofar as that is your perception of reality.  However, in the larger scheme of the universe and in the context of my theory of Plausible Interpretation, you would be the one who is full of shit.  (Well, it is my theory after all.)  To illustrate let me illuminate you on your preconcieved and (entirely) wrong understanding of truth. 

There is no ultimate, overarching Truth that is inherent and constant in all time and space in the universe.  Take language as an example.  If Truth were an intrinsic quality in the universe there would be only one language because every object, feeling, thought, action, etc. would have only one inherently conceivable way to define it.  Each would only have one set of phonemes that could only possibly be represented by one universally accepted set of symbols combined in only one concievable way.  As this is obvisouly not the case, I am proved right.  If there was only one ultimate Truth, there would be no wars fought over political or religious ideology: they would, instead, be fought for fun or out of boredom.  If Truth truly was intrinsic in the universe the entire judicial system would disappear and there would be no police because everything we said and did, by definition, would be the truth.  It there was an ultimate Truth then the world would not be subdivided into political units like countries or republics, our national (or I , suppose, planetary) anthem would be "Back in Black,"  only ugly people would be required to wear clothes (and because there is only truth there is only beauty so there is in essence no ugliness, which means we'll have to look at a bunch of naked, ugly people), everyone would drive a 1965 Stingray, fucking would become the (only) national pasttime because with inherent Truth comes the lack of guilt or remorse (even when fucking fat, ugly nudists), and all desserts would contain both chocolate and peanut butter in that order.  And since the basis for the argument of an objective, absolute reality rests on the notion of an objective and absolute truth, I have also disproved your notions of reality as well.   

I could even take that one step further and say (at the result of delving into pretentious ramblings about philosophy) that perception is reality.  However, the reverse -reality is perception- cannot be true, and I will explain why.  Reality by definition is static and absolute while perception is dynamic with no defined boundaries, therefore while perception is able to adapt to any reality, reality will never bend to the whims of perception.  This, of course, raises the question: if perception is indeed reality, which means that reality itself is dynamic and constantly changing, then what was it we percieved in the first place?  (And no, the answer is not "We percieve perception" smartass.)  The answer is: the question is its own answer.  And that answer is another question.  And each of us is both the asker ofer that Ultimate Question and, in the end, the only one who can answer it.  This brings us back to the counter-arguement of how can Cobb's catharsis be real if he is not in a real place?  The answer is because he believes it.  He accepts it.  He feels that emotional release, that peace inside himself, and that ultimately is "real."  It doesn't matter if you're in a dream, or if life (itself) is but a dream, if you feel happy that happiness is real.  If you feel sad that sadness is real.  Our perception of reality -and not reality itself- is ultimately what causes us to be happy or sad or violent or loving, and no matter what the context your emotional responses cannot be virtual or fake. 

The question is not what or even why we percieve and interpret, but ultimately how.  Do you accept your life and move forward?  Or do you hang on to guilt and past regrets and grow stagnant?  Of course this is all just speculation and opinion, but fuck if I wasn't inspired.  I think the greatest part of Inception is that it initiates and fuels dialogue which is something rare in movies these days.  Now the preceding was merely my own interpretation, but there are others that are equally valid.  I was reading one review over at Chud and that dude's whole theory was that that Inception was about filmmaking.  Cobb is the director, Arthur is the producer, Eames is the actor and Fischer is the audience.  The article goes on to argue that everything that happened in the movie happened within a dream, even the parts where they were supposedly in reality.  Both of these ideas I accept intellecually but deny viscerally.  The reading of Inception as allegory for Hollywood is a very valid reading and supported with textual evidence, however I think that narrows the overall meaning of the film which I choose to believe has more far-reaching implications.  This is not to say I disagree with the article in any way, because it makes some excellent points, it's simply another interpretation.  And pretty fucking clever, too.  Asshole.

Alright, I believe I have rambled on more than my fair share, and if anyone is still reading after all this time then you really have no life and I am forced to ask myself: Why the fuck are you reading this instead of out watching Inception?  From now on whenever I see the numbers 12:34 in any context I will be reminded of this movie and question my own reality.  I give Inception a perfect 10/10 = One Head Within a Head Within a Head of Awesomeness 


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