Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Inception revisited (Spoilers I guess)

I am currently sat in my living room, my cat next to me trying in vain to sleep while Saito's home is collapsing in on itself. Ant bought me the incredibly special edition for Christmas (you know, the one America can't get, ha ha). He would have saved it for the simulation of a celebration of Christ but he had a need to tell me to stop me, ahem, doing something on the internet.

Well, actually now that french song about regrets is playing on a high speed bullet train and Saito is talking about wool. And I've been looking at the IMDB boards, finding it fascinating that people argue soooooo much only about the totem and whether the ending is Cobb in a dream or not. I mean, as in my previous post, that is interesting, that is the very thing everyone's waiting for, but still... I find it interesting no one comments on how beautifully Nolan deals with the nuances of the nature of truth in films. When Usual Suspects came out, many intellectual or pseudo intellectual film fans could be found endlessly discussing how the real point of the movie is it's nature as a work of fiction, not just that the character at the centre of the story is not as he is presented but the very fact that anytime you watch a film you are agreeing to build what you believe about the universe based on the facts given, implicit and explict, in the story itself. That isn't a bad thing when watching a film (at least not fiction, we may care in our real lives, and equally maybe when watching a documentary we may care whether the facts we are given lead to an important real truth, but it's not what fiction is about). In a film we know as we go in that we will be shown a universe and we can judge that film on whether the dots connect up to a plausible and realistic whole. Inception is a brilliant example of actively telling the audience, though very subtely, that you don't have all the facts you need so you will never know not only how much or how little is reality in the internal universe, but you will never know which bits, which relative scenes are real and which aren't. It's the piece that's missing that's important, not the bits that are present. Before people had scientific fact backing up why the Sun is moving in the sky they had all sorts of reasons or reasonings to think different things about whether it moves around us via physics or via magic or god or whatever, and at the time these 'facts' were incredibly important, but the moment it was 'scientifically' proven that we are part of a solar system all those other theories and their importance in the past were suddenly unimportant precisely because those in the solar system 'know' could view them all as nothing more than the personal perspectives and opinions of people who could not think truly scientifically and have professional restraint enough to be completely unbiased and see 'the truth'. In reality of course those people who had thought it was God, or a view based in some semblance of astrophysics referring to the Sun rotating around us, they were still people trying to figure out what was not just true for them but universally true for everyone based on things they believed were facts. They had imperfect minds trying to think of perfect scientific solutions.

Inception is very much the same, and the nuanced balance Nolan employs shows why it took so long to write (I believe with my own total bias that Nolan was completely aware of and focusing on this aspect of imperfect minds, maybe I'm wrong and the theme wasn't intentionally running as deep as I see it, but I like to think it does).

To me the beauty of Inception is that it is All, not mostly but All, about the characters' (or character's, depending on your opinion) attempts at deducing fact out of their opinion born of their leanings and bias, and the fact that whatever piece of fact is missing changes which parts are truth and which aren't. As I said before, this is what Usual Suspects is supposed to be pointing out to it's audience if you believe what many a pretentious intellectual will have you believe, but Inception is so much a better example. One of the biggest pieces of 'factual' information never even slightly given in the movie is the science behind the shared dream, how the machine works, how the relationship works, how integral are the drugs to allowing each member to proactively alter each others dreams not just their own or do the drugs just control the level of immersion, alongside the architect does the machine functionality control whether a dreamer accidentally allows their ID, their neurosis, anything from their deep subconscious do what it is known to do in dreams which is exercise itself by going backshit crazy; in fact what is the science behind only inducing realistic dreams at all?

For example (just a few out of the innumerable versions possible ways the internal facts known to the characters change the narrative if right or wrong):

Cobb tells Ariadne (when she is screwing around with Parisian layouts) that she is dreamer and he is the subject, and his mind is filling the dream with his subconscious, then that her screwing around is making his subconscious aware that he is in a alien dream and attacks the dreamer. Same applies to Fischer being able to send agents to kill them, and Saito etc. This does not explain (hell, scientific it's never really explained) why Cobb's subconscious can bring in trains and Mal; it doesn't explain that when he does something so incredibly huge an alteration to someone else's dream that the subconscious of the dreamer or of the subject such as Fischer's projections doesn't notice that more than another other sign that the subject is in an alien dream and go for that massive sign; sure it's insinuated that emotionally what's going on is that he is so strong as an inceptor/extractor that he can overpower other peoples' dreams and put massive things in there, but what if the actual 'fact' of such a world as the world of inception is that you can only put things in the dream that's already progressing if the dreamer is aware of it too, and to a certain extent, has to agree to include it. This would change the train (and of course Mal in Saito's company and in the snowscape) from something interesting and tantalising about Cobb's emotional demons into a 'fact' that proves its all a long complicated Cobb dream based on his needs, neurosis, wants, desires, fears, guilt, shame where in the 'actual reality' it's like Total Recall and he's in a reality more like our own and only in his head does breaking into peoples' dreams exist as a possible activity with equipment and everything. The train would no longer be interesting because the 'fact' that Yusuf did not agree to it, and that Fischer's defenses would go straight for it, would become an indicator that only Cobb is in a dream, his own dream and he is doing everything. If this isn't the case then there is a strange inequality of the participants regarding the 'laws' of the different layers and reactions.

Or, if it's all true in the film's universe that dream invasion exists and the army built it so soldiers could experience war without actually dying as a training exercise, and if something about the science or the drugs, the machine, the hook up is what dictates that this type of engineered dreaming will only involve 'realistic' dreaming maybe the crack of bias is solely in the believe that you can dictate what the totem does, and you can only control the neurosis and ID when in a dream to a certain extent. What if Cobb's tragedy (as clearly hinted at in the film) is that his strength as a dream invader is in direct correlation to his strength as a dreamer generally and when his subconscious takes over he is at it's mercy more than anyone else, but tragically he is so set on his perspective that he is stronger than any other extractor that he can't see he isn't stronger than himself = what if due to the power of his subconscious and it's need to express itself, he has absolutely no way or ever telling which time the totem falls because his subconscious needs it to or wants to prove something deeper than can be indicated that way.

Ect, etc, etc, you get the picture; for me Nolan is saying look how strongly people can believe stuff and make their opinions about science and fact shape around what they need to believe and without the internal universe being properly explained in the narrative you will NEVER know which missing fact explains what is really possible. He are done it on purpose. I'll stop now cos Ant want's me to either watch the movie or turn it off......

Edit Add On:

Having reached the end of the film I think the other two glaring examples that the film gives no actual 'facts' about the scientific laws of the dreamscape and dream sharing is because every rule only applies to Cobb (or Mal via Cobb's interpretation), plus, and I'm getting this fresh this time, I couldn't put it into words before - what is Limbo? Is it a shared state of consciousness, shared in the sense that absolutely every soul that enters that level doesn't enter something in their mind or the mind of someone they are connected to, but their is only one limbo in existence that everyone enters.

For example, when Cobb and Mal entered they entered, we assume, by choice, not forced, via the (aptly named PASIV) machine, and so tubes hooked them up in reality and this kept them hooked and as they went further down they stayed hooked up and they built things together in limbo. When Cobb and Ariadne need to go get Fischer they have to hook up to go together and it's them going into Cobb's dream. But Fischer dies, his mind goes into Limbo because that is what each mind does when you are killed too deep to wake up - shouldn't this be his own limbo if he doesn't go down via the machine? Why would a previous Limbo made by Cobb and Mal be the Limbo that Fischer enters before Cobb goes down to get him if Limbo is the natural individual need of the individual mind that dies in a dream and is too deep to get out? Wouldn't Cobb have to be a God for only his Limbo to exist for anyone no matter whether Cobb is with them or not? Fischer would have to be actually psychic to know what Cobb's Limbo is like and to be stolen kidnapped my Mal to be involved in such a Limbo before Cobb and Ariadne go down to get him, and theres no suggestion anywhere else that each person is psychic or each others every thought and impulse in the dream. If the film's reality was that we are watching a film of a bunch of people hooked up to a machine going into dreams as equals (other than the idea that one of them is the dreamer and the others are guests) then wouldn't this suggestion that there is only one Limbo you can end up in mean that it's like Heaven and exists on it's own, otherwise Cobb and Mal's Limbo world would have 'not existed' the moment they leave it, just like when anyone exists any dream that dream no longer 'exists'. Or is it that it is all Cobb's mind doing what we all do in dreams; put ourselves at the centre even if we think we've including other players, and so when they end up in Limbo it's still the Limbo that Cobb knows (or thinks he knows, if you go the whole hog and think everything is the dream of a normal person). Naturally I quite like this perspective, firstly because it does allow you to do exactly what I'm doing here - go on and on and on about every single nuanced indication that it is about the science of a future technology or its about a severely damaged mind caught in a variably complex webb of self delusion, and it allows so many things people argue over to be not just irrelevant but a shrewd neon sign. All characters' bar one incredibly under developed with no backstory? Not an accidental flaw or indication of the limits of a man's writing ability, no it's a giant sign that a lot of this may be only about Cobb for the most important reason, he is literally the only one with any real human dimension. Inconsistencies in how certain aspects of the inner logic works? Nothing to do with the story being so convoluted little bits slipped through the cracks but a comment on the main character himself, and how the narrative within his dreams (or in other peoples' depending, again, on what you think the missing parts of the 'science' would be) has itself become so convoluted that as his mind tries to create and perceive at the same time he doesn't have the ability to keep it all seamless. Ect Ect Ect.

I love this film. Never before has a film made me wonder this much, or be happy that I'll never know precisely how much is on the side of reality and how much is on the side of dream. Or psychosis. Or whatever. I mean, I thought Usual Suspects was ok, didn't have it's internal theory quite right, I thought Mulholland Drive was awesome but you still get the sense that in parts Lynch was just doing whatever he felt like with no precision of meaning. This would bug me but since I've now denounced Lynch and will never be a fan again (re: Polanski letter innit). And Dr Caligari, that episode of Buffy where she thinks she's in an asylum, blah blah more examples; they were interesting but you could walk away sure you understood what happened and that was that. This is like a jigsaw puzzle but a jigsaw where each piece is made of lenticular lens material, but where lenticular technology has moved on so that you can have innumerable pictures flashing where viewed at different angles. And if such a thing was possible then you think you've completed the puzzle but oh wait, a picture from one of the angles doesn't match up, and then another after that and then.... That to me is Inception.

Thank God Nolan didn't sign that Polanski letter or I would never allow myself to wax analytical at all, let alone this much, and that might literally do what the kidney failure never managed.....

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