Dreams feel real while we’re in them. It’s only when we wake up that we realize something was actually strange.” ~Cobb

This movie is 2 hours and 28 minutes long and was directed by Christopher Nolan. The cast includes Leonardo DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ellen Page, Tom Hardy, Ken Watanabe, Dileep Rao, Cillian Murphy, Tom Berenger, Marion Cotillard, Pete Postlethwaite, Michael Caine, and Lukas Haas.

Before I attempt to explain some of the complexities of this movie, I must say how much I enjoyed Inception. Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight) managed to create an engrossing piece of work here, where there's a quality plot and characters along with terrific special effects. (Pay attention Michael Bay!)

Also, before the you the rest of this, I must give a SPOILER ALERT. There are several thoughout the review.

Basic plot summary: The basic story involves the concept of entering people's dreams to extract information. A company known as Cobal provides this service with specialized extractors, who are usually called upon to find secrets about other companies through exploring an unknowing person's subconscious. Cobb (DiCaprio) is considered the best at this, although his personal life has recently changed drastically for the worse because his wife killed herself and police in America believe he actually murdered her. So he works primarily in Europe, unable to go home to be with his two children in the United States, who he misses greatly. A powerful businessman named Saito (Watanabe) offers Cobb a special payment (his record wiped clean in America) if Cobb and his team can perform a major task: He wants them to plant an idea in a man's head about his company, which is monopolizing the same thing Saito's company does, and get him to break up his empire into smaller pieces so that Saito's company can continue to be successful.

Planting an idea in someone's subconscious is called inception, and according to the movie's world it is an extremely difficult task to perform without the individual being aware that someone else put it into his mind. Cobb takes "a leap of faith" and accepts Saito's offer, knowing both the difficulty of the task and the possibility that Saito won't follow through on his word. He assembles a team, which must include an architect (someone to design the layout of the dream), a forger (one with a keen skill in conning), a special chemist (someone who knows how to use particularly heavy sedatives since they have to go unusually deep into the mark's mind), and a few others who can provide needed help with the project.

Review: Although the film moves pretty fast when it comes to explaining further details about inception, most people will understand it provided they pay attention. It's definitely a film that requires a viewer to concentrate a little more than one normally has to with most other movies, but is worth the effort to enjoy this unique piece of work. The beauty of the dream worlds Nolan creates is phenominal. Today's special effects capabilities shine throughout the film, where dream worlds can explode if the dreamer panics, Parisian buildings can fold over onto themselves if desired, and visually tricky mazes and loops can appear when needed by the extractors (and implanters).

Concepts get slightly precarious when Cobb's team works to build a dream within a dream, within a dream in order to plant the idea in the mark's head without him realizing it. The deeper you go into the dreams, aspects of time shift and time actually moves along a lot slower to the dreamer. Also, in order to wake up from the deepest dream within a dream you are in, a complicated plan must be created to jar those asleep back into consciousness. Thorny as it is, the film makers manage to pull it off and the attentive viewer stays on the edge of their seat throughout the last third of the movie.

I won't go into much more detail so as not to spoil Inception for those who haven't seen it yet. But there is certainly more involved in dream-invading and more involving Cobb's dead wife- who he feels tremendous guilt about and who appears in the dreams often in order to mess up Cobb's plans while he works.

Notable scenes: Toward the beginning, Cobb is working on a dream extraction and must be jarred awake by dropping the chair he is sleeping in into a bath filled with water. The action is edited in a superb way, where while he is dreaming he watches as huge bursts of water break through the dream world and eventually getting to him, waking him up. This early scene gives a viewer an idea of what they're in for during the rest of the film.

Also, the fight scenes toward the end in which characters are floating through a suspended dream world are terrific. In the first dream, a van holding all of the sleepers ends up rolling over several times, then falling off a bridge; those who are in the deeper dreams see the dream world spinning and feel the loss of gravity as they fall in the first dream. This provides for more gorgeous special effects as the team fights off bad guys in the middle of it all.

In the end, I give this film a well-earned A. I've seen it twice already now, actually, and I haven't gone to see a movie at a theater more than once in years.

O-Swirl has offered a comprehensive picture of the Christopher Nolan movie Inception. I recently saw this movie, and felt compelled to offer my take on it (because I'm incurably self-important, and because I came away with a different response than O-Swirl did).

I really only have one thing to offer here, and that's the feeling I got when watching it which stuck with me as I was walking away from the theater. It's a bit hard to explain, so I'm going to have to resort to metaphor. Bear with me, if you will.

The visuals of Inception were well done, if noticeably 'generic Matrix' (which to some degree was itself an iteration of a subset of 'Paul Verhoeven Modern'). As for the rest of it...I think the best way I can put it is that it was sort of like watching a movie which was trying to pull off a really over-the-top complex special effect. In fact, the effect is so complex that there's no way they can get the crew doing it 'out of the shot.' Imagine that the technology doesn't exist to do the effect in post production, and the supporting equipment and personnel can't be moved far enough from the effect to move them offscreen. The McGuffin Effect itself looks unbelievably cool, however.

So while you see the effect when watching the movie, you also see a team of people and all their gear surrounding the effect, which ruins the illusion the effect is going for. You appreciate the effort and skill that the effects artists mustered up to do this really complex thing, but you weren't affected the way the director wants because you could see the effects team up there. The reason you could see them is that the technology just didn't exist, or wasn't available, to put them actually outside the camera's eye. OK? Got that image?

Now, for Inception, take that same description - only substitute 'story' for 'effect.'

I know what Nolan was trying to do. I could even, deep inside this 'frame' of trickery, 'see' a sub-movie where what he was trying to pull off was happening. I just couldn't get the larger picture, that of a movie consisting of completely visible, unexciting and pedestrian plot scaffolding and story patches, out of frame.

So I guess I give the whole crew points for effort, skill, and execution - but the whole thing is still in the red because of the initial design decision that let all those hackneyed plot scaffolds stay 'in frame.'


Honestly, I can't help thinking that maybe Christopher Nolan was drinking one night and made a drunken bet where he said to someone "Yeah, I can get a heist movie climax, a chase movie climax, a commando movie climax, and a martial arts movie climax ON SCREEN ALL AT THE SAME TIME." Technically, he won, and I doff my hat to the gyrations and gymnastics and finance required. But actually watching it? Well...let's just say I have real trouble suspending enough disbelief to just watch the movie. I keep feeling like a figure skating judge. All the technical components of the score are high. The 'Flow' (or for newer events, 'Interpretation') score, though? Not so much.

Suggested soundtrack for this essay: Erik Satie "Gnossienne No. 1-6" for most of it, and then Philip Glass "Powaqqatsi" for the last 4-5 paragraphs.

Perhaps when you clicked the link to this essay, you were still expecting a simple review. Or maybe, you were expecting a clever analysis of Inception that would put the film in its proper sociocultural context. The more inventive of you may have even assumed that I would just rant endlessly on topics that are only somewhat related to the film. I'm afraid to say that it is the latter of you, dear readers, who would be correct.

Inception nearly made me lose my mind. As I perceive it, it was another orchestrated attack on my psyche by one Leonardo Di'Caprio. Seriously, what is with this guy? Starring in Shutter Island and Inception, and releasing both in the same year? It's as if this man, this dapper Hollywood multi-millionaire goon, forever young and well-groomed (with his makeup and hair products), has an agenda to make me and JUST little old Buddha me question my eggshell reality with his warped films. I left his last two films feeling like I was walking into a frightening alien world (which he would have been delighted to hear, I'm sure). After Inception, my hands were honestly shaking as I put the keys into the ignition of my car to leave.

My mini-nervous breakdown actually began the night before I saw Inception. I was playing at my piano, tickling ivory and ebony (from the bones of dead elephants, keepers of wisdom), when my fingers started playing a scary chromatically colored minor key song of their own creation (as is their wont, as anyone who tries to write songs understands that it isn't a conscious effort). I was inspired, for some reason, to try and read an Edgar Allan Poe poem over the ominous notes. It was then that I chanced upon Poe's A Dream Within A Dream for the first time. I must have spent a half-hour trying to make the poem fit with the song before I gave up and ate a bologna sandwich (pickled bologna with pepper jack cheese). Needless to say, I liked the poem very much.

The next night, as I nestled in a cozy plush theater chair of Mass Production (what kind of mass?), imagine how startled I was when the phrase "a dream within a dream" emanated from the screen not once, not twice, but many, many times. To be fair, I did know that the movie was about dreams beforehand (although I honestly believe that I had no notion of the convoluted dreams within dreams concept it would explore). You could say that the whole coincidence was the product of some kind of subconscious projection on my part that could be traced back to me watching a trailer for the film. I happened to read a poem and was drawn to it because I somehow knew subconsciously that it was related to the movie I was already planning on watching the next day. Whether it was a projection or not (but the film was), I still think the whole incident qualifies as being an example of "spooky action at a distance", to borrow a phrase from Albert Einstein (and, thus, giving my ideas instant credibility).

I would say even more so after I realized that the similarities between the film and the poem did not stop with that phrase. The entire poem reads as if it could have been the deepest, innermost thoughts of Di'Caprio's character, Dominic Cobb. In Poe's poem, the narrator laments a lost love from a surf-tormented shore. He knows not what plane of reality he and his lover had lost hope on, knowingly only they had ultimately lost it. Sweetly or maybe morbidly, he kisses her farewell. Where is he going? We are never told. Perhaps he is going to kill himself. Or, he could be leaving her to go deeper within his dreams, the escapist fantasyland of his own insanity. Anyone who has watched the movie can make the connections between Inception's plot and the poem without my help. I hope, anyway, for my sake more than your sake.

Understandably, my psychically intuitive senses were piqued (abilities of intuition inherited from my European ancestors, who had spent much time honing them in the chaotic realms of Dionysus). The door to my mind and soul ajar, I watched as the film put all of my preexisting paranoid fears into a disconcerting context. Finally everything made sense. I mean, what happened is that everything in fact stopped making sense, which was the only thing that made sense in the first place.

For the whole of my all too brief life, I have had a deep fascination with coincidences. I feel as if my life has been guided by events too perfect in their alignment to be mere happenstance. Chances are, you too, in your life, have been guided by events intelligent in design and uncontrollable in their power. My personal belief is that these events are coordinated by otherworldly forces to subconsciously influence the directions we take in our lives. For better or for worse I can't say.

What Inception has done is made me realize that coincidences could be used by higher powers to implant our minds with ideas, to bring us towards a desired action (or "inception", as the film refers to it as). For example, I once had a dream where a Blue Cloudy Sprite tried to transmit me melodies telepathically, as they should be transmitted. As the transient piano keys floated and flitted in front of me, I struggled mightily to play the transcendental melodies. Did someone invade my dream? When I think I dream, is that just another level of the dream I'm already in? Does that mean people could be invading my subconscious while I think that I'm awake?

"I don't how to play this," I told the spirit, and He/She in His/Her infinite wisdom didn't say anything but gently, kindly nudged me awake, like I was a babe in a manger.

It was a month before Christmas, the birth of Jesus, Son of God. On his birthday, I opened a box wrapped in candy cane paper. It was a Yamaha keyboard. Since that glorious day of pure white snow, I've been almost a slave to music, one of many man and woman army working diligently to build a pyramid out of sound for the Pharaoh's pleasure (see Radiohead: "Pyramid Song"). I honestly believe that music is a way for supernatural entities to communicate with us. Was it not my keyboard that delivered me to Poe's poem? And not so coincidentally (sorry, it was a coincidence, I suppose), music was used in Inception by Cobb and others to send messages between different dream states, or levels.

And what to make of these dream states? Christopher Nolan, Inception's writer (and producer, and director, and caterer, I'm guessing), puts forth the idea that the people your subconscious projects into its dreams are more one-dimensional than real people. This, too, worried my fragile super-ego (my Id is fine, thank you). I feel like the reasoning skills of people are too flimsy. I find that the connections they make and the justifications they use for them are fanciful at best. Surely, there must be scientists and mathematicians out there who reason strongly, but I never actually meet them. I just know the average American, and their delirious sense of reason is beginning to make me feel that I must be in a dream, or hell, or on very the precipice of hell, peering below at the fire and brimstone and suffering, Jonathan Edward's sinner in the hands of an angry God.

Which now brings me to my most insidious conclusion, that ideas are being incepted in my dream, or someone else's dream that I'm trapped in, to convince me to kill myself so that I can escape this dream and move back (or forwards?) to a higher level of existence (which relates to darker experiences I won't share here, and again relating to Poe's poem). That is how Cobb and his wife, Mal Cobb, escape a shared dream. Of course, you, the reader, are most likely a projection of the dreamer. Consequently, you will try to convince me of the validity of the dream world. A dream can only exist when a dreamer believes that it is real. Once a dreamer realizes that a dream is fake, it becomes something else (and then, usually, you wake up). I truthfully had to drink myself to sleep after seeing Inception to calm down.

Strange coincidences involving dreams and media has become a motif in my life. The first time I smoked salvia with my cousin, he put on a Japanese animated film called Paprika while I was tripping (it was a mild trip, so I could still make out the images on the television screen). As he did this, I became convinced that he and everybody else was out to torment my mind. Somehow, I felt that I existed separately from them, not just in the sense of being a different person, but in the sense of being a completely different kind of entity. As you can probably almost guess, I later found out that Paprika's plot is about dreams taking over reality. Of course, I had to see it while smoking salvia, the drug that made me start questioning reality (and how and why is that drug still legal, given our government's stance towards psychedelic drugs?). I have many more stories in that mold, like the time I watched 2001: A Space Odyssey and thought that aliens had guided me to it. For the sake of brevity, I won't divulge all of the sordid details. All I'll say is that this time is serious.

It's funny, while I was writing this (over about 3 days, not because I was creating a masterpiece, but because I'm lazy), I had a spooky drunken conversation with a friend of a friend. He started telling me that nothing was real, and that we could do anything we wanted if we just believed it could be true. This man wasn't what you would typically perceive as a lunatic, either. He was a very popular young hipster, with suspenders and hair and a waistline that I'm sure a girl would kill for. He was ranting about subconsciousness and the idea of universes existing within molecules, as dreams within dreams. Was he a projection of my own subconscious? It reminded me of how my mom used to tell me that God could move a mountain for you if you wholeheartedly believed He could do it (I mean, you could do it). Was she a projection, too?

I had to laugh. We're all just crazy, aren't we? And here we are, all Prometheus-like, trying to steal the flame from the gods. I took my lighter, made in China, and lit a cigarette. I watched the flame burn slowly, illuminating my shoes, made in China. I thought about my dad's explanation of his Buddhist beliefs. We are all, according to him, One, part of a larger Godhead, who fractured himself, broke himself up into these shards we call Us so that could experience the joys of life as we know it. Or, you could call us projections of His subconsciousness. One day he will wake up and all will return to one, the Grand Universal Consciousness. The gods and goddesses, as Buddhists know them, are evolved beings that urge us forwards, to Nirvana. They incept us with ideas by taking "spooky action at a distance". These Far East thoughts, made in China, were like a mirror image of what I had been thinking.

Here we are, all the same, all subconscious projections of a Grander Being, moving towards he same conclusions in the most supernatural of ways. Me and that guy are just dumb saints, dumb prophets, or dumb priests, moving unknowingly towards realization. If only I knew what it was. Does it mean that I really should kill myself? Or is it a metaphor, or a Zen koan, urging me to kill my ego, that ugly ragged doppelganger hanger-on following me around with his ever-present storm clouds?

Uh. Turn me on, dead man.

What can we conceive of
But the time gone by?
The future of course
And our part in it.

But the future
From the present
Is only dreaming
Conjured by design.

Or born from the accident
Where headlong
A face becomes broken
As through a windshield it shreds.

Well as you can see from everything written above me I didn't come here to write a plot synopsis or even to give much discussion of the film.

Perhaps the most significant (and oft repeated) part in the film for me is the following:

You're waiting for a train.
A train that will take you far away.
You know where you hope this train will take you,
but you can't know for sure.
How can it not matter to you where this train will take you?
Because we'll be together.

Two things of fundamental importance jump out at me from this dialogue: Faith and Love.

Now, although I initially approached this from a religious--though I prefer to think of it as existential--perspective, I won't bore you with the details of that. What is important is I stress by faith I do not mean belief (in God). I simply mean a confidence, trust, assurance, devotion, loyalty, or commitment. The crucial point that this back and forth between Mal and Dom emphasised for me is our dependence on these harmonious opposites-faith and love--to give us rhyme and reason in our lives.

From the film we can see that Mal lost her faith in reality. Not only that but her faith in everyone she cared for. Her husband and children (as you'll notice I chose to accept the more optimistic ending). Mal lost her faith in these things but kept her love for them. With only love but no bond she was essentially turned into the villain of the movie. She was scary at times--giving the film it's thriller edge. She became a monster in her love for things (seeking them was her only intent)and without maintaining a real commitment or bond to them.

Perhaps this says something about the human condition. With only love we can become obsessed. Infatuated, fixated, consumed, preoccupied, and fanatical. We become dangerous in one way or another. In the film, Mal was selfishly focussed on pulling Dom towards her. It would have broken all ties with reality. With no emotional or social ties they would have been dehumanised. Essentially we need to hold both faith and love in equal measure to maintain our humanity.

I've discussed faith without love but what of love without faith. Well love already heavily implies that very faith. The commitment to another. If you need a definition think 'Do unto others...', Abraham's sacrifice to God, Christ's sacrifice to Mankind or John 3:16. If you're diametrically opposed to bible references, think of love as doing something for someone else even though you know it'll make you unhappy. Breaking up with your dream girl because you know she'll be happier with someone else.

So if you don't hold that love towards another person. What's left? You substitute the role of the human. Greed, consumerism and materialist sentiments spring to mind. it leads to a single person accumulating more wealth than they could spend in several lifetimes. Take bankers for instance. Demanding ever more wealth even after having achieved this. Perhaps in reaction, resentment, reparation for the realisation of futility of your own mortality. The kind of sentiment that argues rather lamely: 'whoever dies with the most stuff wins'.

Anyway, back to what I was on about. So we require that coexistence of faith and love. Where do we find that exactly? Well I mentioned before that people may choose to see it in commitment to God. Since you can't know for certain if there exists a deist God (just as neither of our main characters know where the train will take them) faith in God becomes becomes not belief in the supernatural but a bond between men.

However as I said, it doesn't have to come from an existential or religious premise. It may come from anywhere that is strong and resilient enough for you. For most people, even those who are religious, it will come through family. Another thing the film emphasises is the importance of family. Nonetheless, wherever you choose to seek the foundation for this 'faith' it helps if it's something deep and impenetrable like the ontological concern for the nature of God that gives you a solid basis for living in faith and love with others.

So here it is. This wasn't meant to be taken as a religious homily. It's simply my way of emphasising how this film has an overwhelmingly optimistic (or, Christian) theme. At least for me. But maybe you think I'm looking too hard. Seeing what I want to see.

In*cep"tion (?), n. [L. inceptio, fr. incipere to begin; pref. in- in + capere to take. See Capable.]


Beginning; commencement; initiation.


Marked with vivacity of inception, apathy of progress, and prematureness of decay. Rawle.


Reception; a taking in.




© Webster 1913.

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