Tag Archives: Inception

That Face that Graced Us

Actor Pete Postlethwaite lost his battle against cancer yesterday and died at the age of sixty-four.  A star of t.v., film, and stage, he was revered in Britain, respected everywhere else, and known for his distinctive, bony face and wonderful voice.  He received an Oscar nomination for his role in In the Name of the Father, and was awarded an OBE. He was an activist for environmental issues and most recently graced us with lovely turns in the hit movies Inception and The Town. His last film role appears to be in the up-coming British comedy Killing Bono.  He will be missed on the boards and the screens. Here’s a bit of him doing Prospero in Shakespeare’s The Tempest:

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Since the Christopher Nolan film Inception came out, there’s been a lot written about it and a good bit of that writing seems to be confused over the film’s dream thiefing aspects, despite the endless explanations in the film itself. While it’s true that the film does have some significant plotholes and ommissions, a lot of the big complaints seem to be because people couldn’t follow how the dream sharing works. (Not that I blame them.)

SPOILERS in the material below:

Confusion #1) Why was Mal, Cobb’s wife, a psychobitch, and if so, why would he have married her?

The real Mal was not a psychobitch.  The real Mal, the late wife of Cobb, was a lovely woman who loved Cobb and gave him two adorable children. When she and Cobb experimented with shared dreaming, going very deep into their sub-conscious minds, this caused her to become mentally ill, unable to distinguish reality from engineered dreaming. Cobb had to insert a thought in her mind through the dream world to get her to kill herself in the dream world, which would wake her back into the real world. But on waking, Mal continued to have that thought that she needed to kill herself to awake from the dream, and so killed herself in the real world. Cobb then unwisely built a memory palace in his mind using shared dreaming, in order to hold on to his memories of Mal. But his guilt and depression over her death cause that memory of Mal to warp into an unpredictable manifestation from his deepest sub-conscious of that guilt and her mental illness that then wreaks havoc on his ability to concentrate, to control things in the dream world.  She is violent, destructive and sabatoges Cobb because those are the feelings he has about himself and what he deserves. That’s why Cobb also can’t see his children’s faces in the dream world.

Confusion #2) Why isn’t the dream world (a series of layers,) fragmentory and ever changing like real dreams and why can’t they just do whatever they want or need in the dream world?

Shared dreaming is not the same as real dreaming. It is a chemically induced state that allows different people’s sub-consciousnesses to interact within a designed, chosen framework from one person’s sub-conscious. When Cobb experimented with his wife  and when he is showing Araidne how it works, there isn’t a specific goal, and so a large amount of change can occur. However, there are problems — too much experimentation can cause a person to become unable to distinguish between reality and dreaming, as happened with Mal, and the main sub-conscious of the shared dream may react defensively to too much change that shows the world isn’t real, especially if that person doesn’t know he or she is in a shared dream world, in the form of projections — imaginary people formed by the mind.

To steal an idea from an unknowing person’s mind, (dream thieves,) the dreamworld has to be designed beforehand, in the mind of an Architect, and then changed as little as possible, allowing the target to people the dreamworld and naturally come to think of the information that is sought. It’s important that the dreamworld be as little fragmentary as possible and you don’t make big changes, especially in corporate espionage where the target may have been trained to recognize being in a shared dream and defend themselves from dream thieves through projections and other means. For this reason, the thieves often go two layers into the sub-conscious of the target, in hopes of more successfully lulling the target into revealing information. Cobb, a fugitive concerning his wife’s death, worked as a dream thief Architect with his old pal Arthur, but because he increasingly cannot control his sub-conscious (leading to problems and a destructive Mal surfacing,) he has had to hire Architects to design the dreams for him, but even so, his problems are messing up his work, specifically with a mission concerning a CEO named Saito.

When Saito then forces Cobb and Arthur to attempt an inception — implanting an idea in a person’s head, instead of stealing information, Cobb knows it can be done because he did it with Mal, but for it to work, everything must be very controlled and reinforcing. Cobb recruits and hires Ariadne to be the Architect. Ariadne designs three different levels of dream world and then gives the designs to members of the team, each one will be the main focus (director) for one layer, though the layers will effect each other. Cobb is told as little about these three layers as possible to keep his sub-conscious from acting against them. Araidne fears that this won’t be sufficient, though, so she insists on going along as part of the team. The three worlds together form a narrative  that will lead the target to the idea they want to implant, but they must keep that narrative simple and direct. Once they’re in the dreamworld, if they change things radically from the reality of the dream layer, then the whole thing can fall apart, so they can’t just dream stuff up. Eames shows up with a big gun in one layer, but that’s because he designed to have the gun before he went into the dreamworld. He is also able to change his face to appear as another person, but that’s again because it was designed beforehand.

Complicating things further is that to insure they’re able to go through the dreamworld layers and do the inception, they all have to be sedated, which means the shock of dying in the dreamworld won’t wake them out of it like normal. Instead, if they die in the dream world, they’ll just dive deeper into their sub-conscious and could even end up in a coma. Instead, they need to effect their inner ear with a sensation of falling and/or plunging into water, which will cause the brain to kick the sedative. This is obviously a weak point, but they do stick to that logic in the film. Further complications occur when their target, who has been trained to defend himself against dream thieves, realizes he’s in the dream and they have to accept and use such obstacles in order to keep him on track for the narrative and get the idea implanted.  (Plus then you can have neato fight scenes, including a moving tribute to James Bond movies. Ariadne apparently has a sense of humor.)

So essentially, the shared dream world becomes like a video game. You can make a few choices, but you can’t change the design. (And of course, Inception will make an awesome video game.)

Confusion #3) Is Cobb dreaming or in the real world at the end of the movie?

Nolan left it up in the air. The likelihood is that Cobb is in the real world. However, if he decides to do a sequel and he wants to, Nolan could have the whole team be still trapped in a dream state, etc.

Some of the Problems:

The concept of dream thieves is largely flawed. To put the target into a dream world, you have to kidnap him and drug him. If a corporation is willing to fund a kidnapping attempt and that attempt is successful, then it’s just as simple to assassinate the target and create havoc in the rival company, rather than the far more elaborate attempt to get information out of the target’s head. (Yes, you get the info without the person knowing maybe, but surely someone is going to notice that they’ve been kidnapped.) Or better yet, just steal the info in the real world the old fashioned way. And going to the exorbitant cost of an assassination team for the dream thieves if they fail means that it’s an even less efficient spy idea, and that dream thieves have little loyalty to their employers and are likely to sell them out. Basically, Cobb’s job makes little sense the way it’s presented to us.

It’s never really explained why, if a person dies in the inception dreamworld under sedation and plunges deeper into shared sub-consciousness, or dives deeper on purpose, they got dragged down into Cobb’s deep sub-conscious world. We’re told that this is going to happen, and presumably it’s because Cobb’s been building a memory palace and is screwed up, but we never really get a clear explanation for why — if Ariadne designed the worlds and Arthur, Eames, and Yusef then hold those worlds in their heads — the lowest limbo level is Cobb’s domain.

We’re told that the deeper you go, the more time will pass, even though it’s less time in the upper levels and even less time in the real world. We’re told that the mission could take them months in perceived time because of this. But while time moves slowly in the upper levels compared to the lower levels, it’s not a matter of months passing, but of hours in the dream worlds, except for Saito down in the deepest limbo, who appears as an old man at first, but then is able to change. Mal and Cobb supposedly lived lifetimes down in the deep levels of sub-consciousness, but when Cobb gets Mal to kill herself in the dreamworld, she is her current age, not old, so also changed herself. So the time aspect never gets very logical and seems completely mutable.

Overall, most of the logic in Inception holds together, at least as much as it does in any thriller these days, and it is a fun and visually interesting heist story. The characters are a lot of fun, impeded though they are by having to establish the very complicated system Nolan dreamed up. But the movie does keep doubling back on itself, as College Humor so adroitly points out in this spoof:

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Mad Hatter Awards — Scones for Tea

Yes, today’s Mad Hatter Awards do come from quotes in the magazine/site Entertainment Weekly, and the last batch did too.  Sometimes it just works out that way. Today’s winners aren’t perhaps worthy of full awards. More like they just get tea scones because they are being annoying.

The Runner Up Scone goes to is actor Mark Ruffalo, who is a nice actor and is in the film The Kids are All Right, about which he says, “It wasn’t thought of in a boardroom or in a focus group before it was written. It wasn’t made to sell toys or videogames. A lot of movies are put together through marketing. That’s why there are so many s… movies out there.”

1) Indie movies are not automatically brilliant over studio generated films. In fact, many of them are totally crappy.

2) While the movie was made for a low budget, it had high-powered investors, two powerhouse stars, and is being distributed by Focus Features which is a division of Universal Pictures and also did Brokeback Mountain to huge success, meaning that unlike most indie pictures, it will actually see the inside of multiplex theaters and make back its budget on opening weekend even if it’s not a big hit. The film is about two hot looking lesbians and their good looking children, and one of the hot lesbians then sleeps with the kids’ cute biological father (Ruffalo.) So while I’m quite sure the film did indeed come from the screenwriters/director’s heart and was not cooked up in a boardroom, the decision to distribute it however did indeed have to do with marketing and focus groups, festival style, if not toys, and pretending that does not go on just because toys aren’t involved seems to imply that people who also  like smaller pictures about complicated relationships (and hot lesbians who might do a guy,) are not smart enough to realize that Hollywood also market manipulates them too.

3) Mark Ruffalo starred earlier in his career in Mirror, Mirror 2 and Mirror, Mirror III, schlock horror movies, has taken a stab at t.v., and he starred in 13 Going on 30, Just Like Heaven and Rumor Has It, three rom com films that, while again not involving toys, were designed in a boardroom with focus groups (let’s remake Big with a female!) and while not perhaps s… movies (they were pleasant enough,) certainly don’t give him a lot of height to his horse to look down from. Additionally, he was recently  in Date Night, another big, marketing designed comedy, and Where the Wild Things Are, which, whatever indie bonafides you want to give to its director or creator Sendak, was also used to sell a lot of toys, merchandise and a videogame for Warner Brothers.

4) His co-star Annette Bening was going to be Catwoman in Batman 2, a movie created to sell videogames and toys, until Warren Beatty knocked her up and the role went to Michelle Pfeffer instead. (Okay, so that has minimal relevance, but it does make the point that actors will be doing many types of films if they are lucky.)

Quite simply, Ruffalo has kids. At some point, he’s probably going to be doing the voice for a character in a kids animated feature film. So his comment here about The Kids are All Right just makes him and the movie sound obnoxious instead of heartwarming.

The Chief Scone, however, goes to Leonardo DiCaprio, who is in the hot buzz SF film of the summer, Inception, directed by Christopher Nolan (who directs the current Batman movies, which are used to sell lots of toys and videogames.) What we know of the film is relatively simple — thieves enter people’s dreams in a tricky and risky manuever to steal their ideas. But DiCaprio wants us to know that it’s even simpler than that:

“…it has elements of sci-fi, but the sci-fi isn’t something the audience can’t relate to.”

If you are under the age of 50 (and pretty much even if you’re over 50,) and live in the U.S. or general Western world, you’ve spent your life saturated in science fiction, fantasy, supernatural horror and superheroes, and likely SFF videogames as well. It surrounds us in the culture. It’s the center of most of the biggest, most famous movies in our history, and a good chunk of plays, t.v. and literature. We know it intimately. So why do we continually have film and t.v. makers and actors seeking to reassure us that the most common stories we experience are not going to be strange, hard and confusing to us? Leo, dude, it’s 2010. Sure, back when you were doing Critters 3 and t.v. shows like Growing Pains, you might have mistakenly thought such stories were too deep for most audiences, but by now you should know better. (And wouldn’t it be cool if a journalist actually did ask DiCaprio if the movie was more accessible than Critters 3?)

Apparently, these actors and the studio publicists who instruct them still feel that the best way to get people interested in a movie is to tell the audience that they are stupid, timid, merchandising driven zombies but they should go see the movie anyway. It’s the shaming technique. And it continues to ignore the very culture that these actors and studios helped build. Which is obviously the result of marketing consultants and focus groups, and so these poor actors are being deluded by what they are denouncing into denouncing it. So they only get a scone today. But when Ruffalo gets his own action figure for a film, I’m going to laugh.


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