Note: As with my take on The Social Network, I will try and avoid all the things that have been said before (or said often) about this film. The point of this is to provide what I hope is an interesting distinct perspective, not a re-hashing of the plot or other reviews. Hope you enjoy.
Also, I WILL NOT mention spoilers because this film has been in theaters, on DVD, and discussed incessantly. I can’t imagine anyone reading this hasn’t seen the film.
At its core, Inception is a film about control. Dom Cobb is what one may call a “control freak.” He plans his jobs meticulously with almost unfathomable intricacy. This perfectionism is what’s keeping him from being with his family, and in turn, from being happy.
Cobb is such a tense erratic character he almost feels schizophrenic. As he moves from city to city, and between dreams and reality, he loses his ability to control his own mind. We see DiCaprio and Nolan manifest this in a large variety of ways. First, DiCaprio’s eyes are always chaotically darting around. Second and more importantly, Nolan fills this film with crumbling buildings within collapsing dreams. This is my favorite visual representation of Cobb’s mind, as it’s seen at the beginning in Saito’s dream within a dream, and near the end in limbo (which notably looked new and flawless when he was comfortably in love with his wife and not being chased by governments and corporations).
The film portrays the ultimate struggle for control through the relationship between the conscious mind and the subconscious mind; which basically means the difference between what we can control in our mind and what we cannot. In the scene Cobb teaches Ariadne about shared dreaming, he emphasizes that he cannot control his subconscious. This foreshadows the upcoming incident with the character Mal, his wife that invades his dreams and sabotages missions. Mal represents his fear of not being able to control his own mind. This pervading aspect of the film is crucial, as it shows the most terrifying loss of control. Our mind is the only thing we can control over anything else. When faced with a situation, no matter what the circumstance, you get to make a choice by your own mind; we have the power to decide. Inception is about a character that can’t control his own mind.
If this is such a terrible dilemma, why does Cobb ever get involved with dream sharing and extraction? Nolan explains this through Ariadne’s curiosity, which is said to reflect that of Cobb at a younger age. She runs away from the warehouse knowing that Cobb has an unstable mind, but decides to return for the simple reason of control. Shared dreaming allows her to have control of the most restrictive aspect of human life, science. Shared dreaming allows her to redefine science, most notably physics.
Dream sharing is an addiction, as eerily shown in the chemist Yusuf’s dream den that looks like a drug den. In the dream den, the creepy Yoda-like figure (who’s name I can’t find) responds to the team’s surprised comments about why people come to sleep for hours, saying “They come to be woken up. The dream has become their reality. Who are you to say otherwise?” This sets up where Cobb is in his life, as one of these people who’s living life asleep in his own fake world. Yusuf has Cobb try dreaming with their compound, and then wakes up vulnerable. He runs to the bathroom after having visions of Mal, where he slaps himself awake with water. This moment is beautifully symbolic of the journey Cobb is about to begin, the journey to faith.
In the end, the film deviously lets Cobb’s totem spin and wobble until Nolan cuts to black. Technically, we have no conclusion as to whether this ending, of Cobb getting back to his family, is a dream or reality. However, not once in the film during a dream does that top wobble, which it clearly does at the end. Therefore, I think this is almost absolutely reality. However, we don’t know and frankly, neither does Cobb. He walks away, not caring if it falls or not. This is a key detail because it shows Cobb trusting his mind. For possibly the first time in the film, he trusts something to happen. This ending is really about faith, refreshingly without a teeny tiny mention of God. You need to have faith in people and yourself, otherwise your world will always be on the verge of crumbling, as Cobb’s appears to be throughout Inception.
Some extra musings that I kept out for the sake of this review not being too long or too dense, or things that have been said 100 times:
1. The anti-gravity fight scene with Joseph Gordon Levitt is a tremendous innovative achievement in the tedious action. That being said, the film has a lot of flaws filming action. The biggest is the Mombassa chase, which is incoherent, confusing, and kind of pointless.
2. Time is also tremendously important in this film. It’s important to note that Cobb is always in a rush throughout this film. Nolan portrays this through crowded cities and fast cutting. The film condemns the fast life style, as it makes you feel like you’re lacking in time. Time is distorted in dreams so you feel like you have more control over time. The more immersed in fantasy, the more time you have. In the end however, the time gained in the fantasy is shown to give you nothing in real life, it’s just empty memories of dreams. If one lives in a life like Cobb’s father, it feels more like time is passing slowly and not slipping away.
3. Chud.com makes an excellent point about Inception being a metaphor for filmmaking in this article:http://www.chud.com/24477/never-wake-up-the-meaning-and-secret-of-inception/ .
I kind of took the ideas and ran with them myself…
On the grand scale, the film is about Nolan’s relationship with control. No matter how hard he tries, this film walks a fine fine line between being genius and being a total failure. Trying to organize this complicated movie and edit it and have the right music and rhythm is so difficult, just like performing Inception.
Even more, it’s about the filmmaker’s struggle to create an idea in your mind. Isn’t creating a film exactly what Inception is? You’re trying to create a complex situation in order to guide the viewer towards genuine inspiration reflecting on the topic/ideas you’ve presented.
4. Inception is about the relationship between dreams and reality. One could say that while Inception is a reality in the end, it is of course really just a dream by Nolan. The catharsis that Robert Fisher feels is real, and affects him. Therefore, Nolan is making the point that even though you’re in his dream (so he is kind of like the “Inceptor”), your catharsis is still real and significant. This really opens up the discussion about whether or not films really do change people’s lives. For me personally, life is changed by films and I 100% think the catharsis I feel is almost as potent as if I had the real life experience. That being said, Nolan clearly separates from the idea that they are one in the same. Remember Arthur’s explanation of the difficulty of Inception to Saito. He says, “here’s me planting an idea in your head; I say to you don’t think about elephants. What are you thinking about? Elephants. Right but it’s not your idea because you know I gave it to you.” Nolan recognizes that true inspiration can only come from getting out in the world and living yourself.