Inception rocks. It’s an action movie and a cerebral explosion all in one! It is definitely one of the smartest Sci-Fi blockbusters we’ve had in years. I love this movie as much as The Matrix. It is directed by Christopher Nolan who of course directed The Dark Knight which I loved.
Warning: a few serious spoilers ahead.
However, it is a very complex story. When watching Sci-Fi I try to pay close attention to the techno-babble that explains the rules of engagement, the foundations of a world. I need the premise/s to work. Good Sci-Fi asks “What if?”, and then we watch people reacting to the implications. If the basic premise is confused, then sometimes the solution can feel a little hollow — too much like a kid’s cartoon and Marvin the Martian yelling, “Now I’m going to use my secret weapon!” Or like an Agatha Christie where we find out the Butler did it, but the novel had no Butler!
Inception has a very complex set of rules and premises, and it is hard to tell if the resolution is actually consistent with those rules. Maybe that is intentional. Maybe I need to see it 3 times to truly see how everything hangs together. Here are some of the premises.
What if specialists could plug-in to each other and share their dreams?
What if Dom Cobb (Leonardo Dicaprio) could work as an idea thief by diving deep into someone dreams to steal their secret thoughts? What if one of his team was “The Architect” who constructed the parameters of the victim’s dream, and others on the team acted as bodyguards, assassins, interrogators, and time-keepers?
What if you had to plant an idea in a victim’s mind, and this required you do plunge deep down into dream within dream within dream? What if the victim was a rich CEO with previous training in ‘subconscious defence’, and so the dreams are littered with defensive agents that seem to just keep on coming? (A little reminiscent of the ‘agents’ in The Matrix, but not as super-human).
And what if to go this deep required a sedative so strong that it complicates how you climb out of the dream again? What if only a specific song playing at a specific synchronised time while all 3 layers of dream state experience a ‘kick’ can bring you back?
In other words, the rules are complex; much more complex than in The Matrix. Pay attention. Bladder management is important! One visit to the toilet and you may as well go home and come back for a second viewing. Don’t blink, because this movie moves fast.
Tension builds on tension, and complexity on complexity, every time they delve deeper. They risk ‘getting lost’ in the dream and not being able to wake up again. They could end up stuck in Limbo, a hallucinatory dream that would last a lifetime and age a person’s soul.
The CEO Fischer has had previous training in subconscious self defence, and so his militarised mind keeps sending agents and crack troops after Dom Cobb and his team. The action sequences become ever more spectacular, and yet at the same time are also tense and thrilling, Escher and Surrealist, beautiful and terrifying. As it should be.
However, with all this complexity it is trying to cram a lot into 2 hours. There is scant time to develop characters.
The main hero Dom Cobb gets a thorough working over as the movie explores his regrets. We kind of care about him, and kind of care about his friends. But in the end some have expressed feeling a little detached from the characters. Or is that just the side-effect of the mind straining to absorb such a complicated plot?
Marc Fennell of JJJ says that not just character development, but character accessibility are important. There was little time to explore the rest of the cast.
But under all the action, what is the movie saying?
The recurring theme is Cobb’s regret. Something bad happened to his wife Mal, which is French for evil. Cobb feels guilt, and lots of it. Before the main mission, Cobb is caught exploring his guilt by revisiting old memories through his dreams. He is trying to process overwhelming guilt.
Which leads to the last what if? What if Dom Cobb’s regrets are so powerful that they can steal unwanted into the dreams he visits? The unpredictable nature of his wife Mal’s sudden appearances reminded me a little of another favourite Sci-Fi movie of mine, Solaris. (I prefer the Russian version). This terrifying movie also explores the widower’s regrets as his dead wife revisits him in unexpected ways due to the actions of Solaris — a huge brain the size of a planet.
There are subtle messages here that are easily missed. Inception explores guilt and regret beyond the basic plot with some clever choices in the actress for Mal and music that accompanies their waking sequences.
The song used to synchronise waking the dream team is the French classic Non, je ne regrette rien. The English translation is:
No, nothing at all, I regret nothing at all
Not the good, nor the bad. It is all the same.
No, nothing at all, I have no regrets about anything.
It is paid, wiped away, forgotten.
I am not concerned with the past, with my memories.
I set fire to my pains and pleasures,
I don’t need them anymore.
I have wiped away my loves, and my troubles.
Swept them all away.
I am starting again from zero.
No, nothing at all, I have no regrets
Because from today, my life, my happiness, everything,
Starts with you!
The use of this song as they struggle back into the real world implies we are to ‘wake up’ from our regrets — and maybe try to find a way to live with those around us — and ourselves, afresh from today.
Not only this, but Mal is played by Marion Cotillard, who has previously acted Edith Piaf who is the artist who wrote and performed Non, je ne regrette rien. (See youtube). The directors want us to see Mal as Piaf, singing a warning against regret. But when we place Edith Piaf over Mal in Inception, it appears that Cobb’s regret is warning him not to regret! That is, regret itself is not the end point. Living in regret will solve nothing, but what to do with the guilt? We must move on somehow, but how?
As a Christian I know in my head that true forgiveness can only come through knowing the Lord who has already taken the fall for me. Only the Lord can live the perfect life I should have lived, and stand in for me, and deal with my guilt. But there is more to it than that. Because knowing in my head and living in my life are two very different acts. Inception has something else to tell us. Indulging in constant regret will get us no where.
So please see this movie. Breathe deep. Don’t take anything too tricky to eat, or you might miss some vital second as you fumble through crinkly wrappers. Don’t blink. And in your personal world, as I struggle to in mine, try not to live in your regrets. They should be nailed down and killed, and your mind washed clean with an Inception of your own. Only the Lord can do that.