So I saw the new Christopher Nolan film Inception yesterday.
Here’s the spoiler-free part of the review first:
This is a seriously impressive film, and you should go see it. It’s thoughtful, it’s visually stunning, it’s challenging without being obtuse and inaccessible… You’re almost guaranteed to get something out of it, and even if there are parts that don’t work for you (which there almost certainly will be) it’s still worth seeing it for them too. This movie’s flaws still make for well above average cinema.
But I also has opinionz on some of the actual, y’know, content. So be aware of SPOILERZ OMG DON’T READ ANY FURTHER if you haven’t seen it yet. (I suppose it also wouldn’t matter if you have no intention of seeing it, but if you never plan to see this movie, then… it’s like I don’t even know you, man.)
Okay, I’m assuming it’s just people in the know reading on from this point.
So, now that we’re alone together…
Although it’s ostensibly set in a near-ish future, and is billed as sci-fi, I think it helps to take this film as a fantasy story as well, at least in part. If you want to pick through the science of what the human brain is actually capable of, and compare it to what’s attributed to it here, there are definite snags. And while they gave me the occasional roadbump, I don’t think they’re enough to destroy the film’s credibility.
One thing that bothered me a little at first was something I remembered hearing a while ago: that it’s impossible to read when you’re in a dream. Unfortunately, 90 seconds of online research have failed to conclusively back this up – I thought the idea was that some parts of your brain that are necessary for reading aren’t switched on while you’re asleep, but some people seem to think they can read things, the text just changes when they look away and back.
Though actually, this may not even need to be a problem, if “dreaming” doesn’t mean precisely what it normally does. Clearly the thing the characters are talking about is something artificially induced with the aid of technology, so the normal facts about a sleeping mental state needn’t apply. It may be that the term has been co-opted in the future to refer to some different, more artificial state.
More of a problem was the time dilation effect, and specifically the idea that it can be compounded. That if you go into a dream within the dream, your brain starts running much faster once again, and much more observed time passes in a much shorter period.
This I just don’t buy, if you’re going to take any of it remotely literally. If you’re dreaming, you’re dreaming, and there’s just not another layer to go down into. When you go into the first dream, things start running faster, because your brain is now creating its own experiences, no longer slowed down by all that external stimulus it’s having to process and deal with. And when you go down further, into a dream within a dream… it’s still doing the exact same thing, on the same level as before.
It reminded me of an analogy my Uni housemates told me about once, to try and get me to understand post-modernism, or post-structuralism, or whatever the hell it was that their degrees were all about. Imagine you paint a painting, and it’s a scene of, say, someone’s living room. This living room you’ve painted has walls, windows, a sofa, and a picture hanging up of an ocean view. Now, your painting is obviously less real than the real world. But the ocean view in the picture within the painted scene isn’t less real again than the rest of the living room. It’s all just pigment on a canvas.
And once you’re dreaming, you’re just dreaming. So the only way this compounding of time makes any sense in the movie is if you imagine the dream-world to be genuinely some other place, a layered world to which the mind travels, rather than just a creation of the mind itself. And it’s kinda essential to the plot that it works somehow, so you’d have to give it this significant fantasy aspect, or just accept it as soft sci-fi on some points, and not get hung-up on the slight handwave. For all that it sounds like I’m complaining, I didn’t have any problem doing that.
I know it’s an erratic style of reviewing to focus on one thing for so long like this and zip through others, but it’s representative of my thoughts.
I’m sure there was more I wanted to say, but I seem to have run out of think. Let me know if you agree or disagree or were struck by anything I’ve not mentioned, and maybe I’ll follow this up later.
Oh, one last thing: The ending was perfect. No, shut up, I don’t care. I will fight you on this. They fucking nailed it.
Oh, one even laster thing: I just read this article, having already burbled my way through the above few hundred words of nonsense. Now that is an interesting take written by someone who has a clue what they’re talking about. I’m having to replay it in my mind all over again now. (Hat-tip to @AmSci for the link.)