(Note: this may include spoilers)
“Inception” was fucking incredible, but not entirely what I was hoping for. I was hoping for more of a “Matrix”-style exploration of “What is reality?” – if dreams are as tactile as reality, then maybe reality is no different than a dream. The movie does that somewhat, but the rules of the dreamscape are pretty straightforward. You enter a dream, walk around, then wake up, where you don’t have the same kind of manipulation of reality as you do within the dream. Where Philip K. Dick would take this is to suggest that there is no difference between our waking and sleeping worlds – but “Inception” doesn’t really explore these implications. This is not a polemic about consciousness, it’s a spy movie.
I also think that the world of dreams as portrayed in “Inception” isn’t quite realistic. Put another way, by portraying dreams as another realistic world no different than waking reality, it’s actually a less realistic depiction of what it is to dream. Dreams actually seem to be fairly chaotic. I’m sure most people have the experience in dreams where suddenly the dream is in a totally different locale, about a different subject entirely. It’s rare when a dream takes on a realistic narrative where I wake up and think – I was just told the plot of a novel (this has happened).
Of course, if you were to lucidly enter a dream, you might have control over this kind of chaos, so maybe that’s moot, but what would have made “Inception” more psychedelic is if the dreams themselves were more unexpected and imaginative. It does that somewhat by showing how Leonardo DiCaprio’s relationship with his wife enters the dream world, but if he’s truly entering his subconscious, we’d also see talking rabbits and other things totally separate from our flat reality.
To do that, though, would have been another movie – and six hours long – so Christopher Nolan stuck with this premise, which is really just a spy movie, where you’re spying on the mind. He calls attention to this very much in the James Bond sequence in the snow at the end. So the movie’s a bit about the fantasy of moviemaking – the inherent unreality of movie fiction. The death bed sequence in the end is reminiscent of this scene from “2001″:
The snowmobile sequence is where the movie actually lost me – you enter the world of dreams and all you get are thugs with machine guns? There’s also a moment where a guy’s shooting a gun – the “forger” steps up to him and says something like “dream bigger” and the machine gun turns into some kind of grenade launcher. If that’s the case, why weren’t they doing this over and over again? Why couldn’t they “imagine” the thugs away? Maybe I’m missing one of the core rules about what you’re allowed to do in these dreams.
These criticisms are sort of a nitpick though for a movie that’s hugely imaginative and more entertaining than most movies coming out of Hollywood in last ten years, maybe ever. I just wished it spent some time covering the mystical implications of the different levels of dreams. What’s it mean for our waking life – what else can be extracted from the subconscious? Because if we’re eventually able to enter dreams and all we use it for is corporate espionage, then we’re pretty fucked.