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A Spoilerish Discussion of Inception

Update: If you want a good idea of some of the complexity (and plot holes) I talk about below, see this great write up at Cinematical. Judging by the number of comments, I’m not alone in my ponderings.

For my wife’s birthday today, we went out to a matinee showing of Inception. As many of you may know, this is Leonardo DiCaprio’s latest mindbending offering and one of the year’s most original takes on the action-suspense genre. It’s also one of the more complex narratives to hit the scene in recent memory.

There’s a lot I was left wondering about and to discuss it we’ll have to put any pretense of being spoiler-free behind. If you’d like a great review of the film without any of the spoilers found here, check out Professor Beej’s excellent review. If you don’t want anything spoiled, stop reading now.

Let’s start with a brief rundown of the film.

Summary

The premise of the movie is that the military has developed technology that allows people to enter, or be injected into, the dreams of others. Within, characters like ex-military DiCaprio can steal classified information or, as is the case in this movie, plant ideas in the heads of their victims – in essence, making them do something they wouldn’t otherwise have done. DiCaprio and crew are tasked with incepting the son of a dead corporate businessman the idea to break up his company so that DiCaprio’s employer, a competing businessman, can stay in business. In exchange, DiCaprio’s record will be cleared (a false accusation of the murder of his wife) and allow him to return to the US to be with his children. To incept their target, they plant ideas within not only a surface level dream but also much deeper: dreams within dreams within dreams. The problem is, as far down as they have to go, it becomes harder to wake up. On the surface, you can wake by dying within the dream or the sensation of falling in reality. On the lower levels, if you die you slip further away into the prison-like level of Limbo. Once you’re there, there’s no escape – you’re trapped for decades. If you come back, you’ll have lost touch with reality.

Likes

This movie featured great acting, an incredible plot, and some wonderful visual effects. We saw it in 2D by Beej’s recommendation but it’s also out in IMAX 3D. This is a movie you have to pay attention to. The action and suspense go a long ways toward keeping you hooked from beginning until end. I’m a fan of mindbending films and this movie was definitely it. It questions the very fabric of reality, what we know and what we question, and the nature of dreams themselves. I especially liked that dreamers eventually get hooked on the dream, like a drug. Without being synthetically put under, they lose the ability to dream on their own and will eventually go mad.

Dislikes

It pains me to say this, but Inception was simply too long. Clocking in at nearly two and a half hours, I couldn’t help but feel like it was being unnecessarily drawn out. At one point, you literally spend a good half an hour waiting for a van to fall twenty feet. After the third time of seeing that, indeed, the van had dropped another foot, I was ready to see something happen. Now, since there are characters in three different dream-worlds at this point, it’s not as slow as it seems here. Still, during this part of the movie in particular, everything seems to take way too long. Honestly, this is a film that could, and should, have been done in ninety minutes. That being said, it’s a passable blemish on an otherwise entertaining film.

Convulsion Galore!

This is an intricate movie. Beej wasn’t kidding when he said stepping out for a minute will leave you in the dark on some vital piece of information. There are so many twists and turns that, while entertaining and a pleasant change from the average “turn your brain off” movies, it can be a little taxing if you’re planning on watching it in the theater. I’d even venture so far as to say that you probably shouldn’t expect to understand everything on your first run through. It’s definitely a watch-it-twice kind of film.

Plot Hole or Missed Point?

And that’s really what I want to hash out here. I can’t watch it twice, so I’m left wondering whether I missed something or am simply seeing some gaping plot holes.

The biggest has to do with the different levels of dreaming. On the first level, it’s pretty easy to wake up. You die or experience the sensation of falling and you’re good. On levels two and three, however, the dreamers are so heavily sedated and entrenched within the dream that they must be “kicked” awake (a more rough, synchronized falling sensation – ie, the van driving off of a bridge). If you die on these levels, your mind slips into the lowest level of dreaming: limbo. The movie makes a point to say that death doesn’t get you out of limbo. Once you’re there, plan on living the rest of your life there. DiCaprio and his wife grew old together in this place before waking up in their living room young and healthy.

I find it confusing, then, that in the end they seem to escape quite easily. Ellen Page jumps out a window and is wakes. DiCaprio meets up with his employer and, before the screen cuts away, looks like he’s getting ready to be shot, and wakes. Um, did I miss something? Wasn’t the whole point of limbo that you couldn’t just escape? Or, am I wrong and this “fourth level” isn’t actually limbo? But, then, that opens up a whole slew of other questions, so I find it unlikely.

The movie tries to compensate for this by leaving a question mark ending. Did he wake up or is he still dreaming? It is, after all, through DiCaprio’s perspective. Forgive me, but that kind of ending just seems like a cop out. I’m all for letting the viewer come to conclusions on their own, but this needs to be cleared up. How do they get out of limbo and where does that fit in with the previous two hours saying it was impossible? And, if it was so easy to get out, how come DiCaprio and his wife’s attempt at suicide didn’t work for them?

There’s a definite lack of consistency in the end of the film and it makes me wonder if the writers wrote themselves into a corner. Here you have an excellent build up into this place of no return – but then, that’s the problem. How do you get the characters to return. In the case of Inception, it seems like leaving a swinging door ending was the only option. After all, if everything after DiCaprio meeting his employer isn’t real, then we can’t assume Ellen Page – or anyone – really survived.

Help me out here, guys. Did I miss something or is this just a mystery?

Final Thoughts

Even though I walked away from the film with some troubling questions, it has such a high minded essence that I feel like the answer is there, I just have to find it. It’s surprising, but that actually counts for a lot. I don’t feel cheated by the film. I feel… well, like I need to see it again, or do some reading on it, or something to find out what I missed.

From the great visuals, to the wonderful concepts and strong acting, this is an original film that needs to be seen. It’s a rollercoaster ride, to be sure, but a fun one.

As time goes on, I get more and more respect for Leonardo DiCaprio as an actor. He’s really come into his own and tends to choose movies that strike a chord with me. They’re all twisty and turny, usually a little violent but mostly just poignant, and have real punch. It takes a lot to carry a 145 minute movie and, even though this one dragged at a couple points, I’m glad we went to see it.

7/10

3 comments

  1. Kendricke

    “I find it confusing, then, that in the end they seem to escape quite easily. Ellen Page jumps out a window and is wakes. DiCaprio meets up with his employer and, before the screen cuts away, looks like he’s getting ready to be shot, and wakes. Um, did I miss something? Wasn’t the whole point of limbo that you couldn’t just escape? Or, am I wrong and this “fourth level” isn’t actually limbo? But, then, that opens up a whole slew of other questions, so I find it unlikely.”

    As far as I understood it, you could leave limbo. After all, Cobb and Mal both left limbo in the first place through the train incident. The big difference seems to be whether or not you want to leave – Saito is old and decrepit because he’d become so addicted to the dream that he could no longer leave it – the dream had BECOME his reality. Cobb had to convince Mal to put her head on the tracks – she’d bought into the dream.

    Assuming that the top is still spinning at the end of the film, you reach the same conclusion about Cobb himself. The “reality” level we started with is actually a dream itself and Cobb simply needs to accept that and die to re-enter the reality level (as Moll apparently did before she jumped).

    The big difference seems to be in how the mind accepts death while in the dream state. The heavy sedatives used to put the crew under for the inception job seems to inhibit their ability to wake up through normal means. Dying in a dream would normally be enough to wake the dreamer, but it’s the heavy sedation that changes the dynamics on this rule. Both Saito and Fischer died in the third level dream and as such the presumption is that they’d become trapped in limbo – but the inherent contradiction is that they COULD leave any time they wanted, but it would involve them dying, which they wouldn’t be likely to do since to them, limbo was reality.

    With this being the case, Fischer was thrown off the ledge by Ariadne and he was able to wake up because the kick was sufficient. She was already aware she was in limbo (she’d voluntarily entered with Cobb using the machine in the third dream), so the kick of jumping was more than sufficient for her. Saito was involuntary thrust into limbo from dying in the upper dream layers and as such wasn’t likely to intentionally kill himself. It took Cobb finding him and presumably killing him (it’s not shown) to help him wake up.

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