Is it a dream or just a movie---or both?
This will be quick and dirty. Maybe I'll return to it, and maybe I won't. Perhaps you will have comments that will spur me to a more in depth post later.
It's been a week now, and Inception, Chris Nolan's latest brain bender, is still rattling around inside my casaba. While I thought it was a good movie, I certainly did not love it, and I was definitely looking at my watch and wondering when the sedative was going to wear off as it wound down to its conclusion. By the end, I was more than ready for the credits to roll. Some of that may have been due to the actual movie going experience I had, but that wasn't all of it. Inception was good, but I didn't find it to be actually all that entertaining. There were long stretches where I just wasn't interested; much of the exposition was clumsy and took me out of the movie (dream?); and pretty much everything from the The Spy Who Loved Me sequence in the third (or 33rd?) dream level was butt numbingly boring.
Yet a week later I cannot stop thinking about it.
So I must concede that Inception was certainly an effective movie, above all else, and the fact that I cannot let it go has made me start to think I now understand one thing fairly clearly: Inception was a movie about movie-making, first and foremost. The title refers not to anything happening inside the film, but rather what Nolan wanted to happen inside the theater. If you have not seen the film, it will spoil nothing to explain that an "inception" is the act of planting an idea in a person's mind via their dreams. This is what the Leo/Dom/Nolan character is trying to do in the film, but I now think the actual inception was being performed on the audience. Nolan wanted to plant his seed (ewww!!) in our minds, hoping against hope that it would take and cause us to think about his film and discuss it endlessly.
(And if the grammatically deficient ranting I've seen all over the interwebs are any indication, Nolan obviously succeeded beyond his wildest, ahem, dreams.)
Even someone such as myself---someone who didn't particularly like the film and has zero plans to see it again prior to its DVD release---can't stop thinking about aspects of Inception. I have been "incepted" (said verb awaiting official induction into the new world, new word internet Dictionary of Common Usage).
"Your mind is the scene of the crime."
That was the original tag-line for the picture, emblazoned across posters all over the world, and that, I think, is our best clue that Nolan intended for the inception to take place on the audience rather than on any character in the film. This idea seems to be borne out by the movie-maker/moviegoer metaphors running fast and thick throughout the film. I think my favorite of these comes from the way he handles the "projections," who are quite obviously meant to represent us, the collective audiences of the world. When Leo/Nolan takes Ellen/Forehead into the dream world for the first time, he eyes his projections warily as she begins to mess with the "realism" of the dream. He tells her that the more you mess with a dream's "reality," the more likely you are to confuse and anger the projections, which will lead them to eventually attack you mercilessly. As Ellen bends the streets of Paris back on themselves, we see the projections giving her increasingly dangerous versions of the stink-eye, until finally they attack en masse.
What better description could there be of the relationship between filmmaker and audience?
Humans cannot really experience dreams together, but we do share a dreamlike connection with movies. Movies are surreal bits of realism projected before us. They are a representation of reality where literally anything can happen
But if a filmmaker diverges too far from reality (or at least from the reality he or she initially establishes in their film), then we, the audience/projections, attack them mercilessly online and in print. Whether it be an action film that strays too far from the laws of physics, a drama that strays too far from the emotional realities of how people relate to one another, or a comedy that strays too far from actually being funny, going too far afield from what people expect or believe in often results in not just disappointment but actual anger from an audience. And it's not hard to imagine that the firestorm of vitriol a film can provoke these days may feel---for the filmmakers---very much like being torn to pieces by an angry mob.
We share these living dreams with each other obsessively, but each movie, like each of our dreams, is something intensely personal, too. No one can see our dreams, and no two people really see a movie the same way, either. Sometimes the difference between how you and I perceive a film is small, and sometimes it is overwhelming. You need look no farther than the ending of Inception to understand this immutable fact of life. The images that close the film are themselves immutable, flickering on every single screen in the world in exactly the same way, yet audiences all over the world appear to be seeing those identical images as being something completely different. The message boards are filled with people motherfucking each other to death over whether or not the final image falls one way or the other. It's a computer generated image, designed to look exactly so, and yet people are lining up into at least three distinct camps (and maybe more) regarding what they "think" they saw.
What do I mean by "think" they saw? Well, they all actually saw the same thing, but people are screaming at each other over whether that thing was A, B, or C. That means some people did not actually see what they think they saw. Some people saw a circle, while some people saw a square, while some other people saw a train going through an underwater tunnel
And see what I mean about my having been "incepted"? I've given this quite a bit of thought for a movie I didn't even find particularly entertaining.
As I said, maybe more on this later depending on what everyone else thinks. Tell me what you think about it all, and let's see if we can reach a consensus, or if we were never intended to be able achieve any consensus at all. Did you like it, love it, or loath it? And whichever way you feel, are you still thinking about it a week later? I've avoided being too spoiler-y here, as the film has only been out a week, but feel free to say whatever you want in the comment section. And if you don't want to be spoiled, then don't read the comment section.