Afternoon InquisitionRandom Asides

AI: Inception

The idea of bringing dreams to life is something that artists often hope to do and simple ideas are what fuel us and because of that I got ALL super excited about the movie Inception and I thoroughly enjoyed it! (Tiny spoiler alert.)inception

I thought Inception kicked the Matrix’s ass with all its upside down fighting and anti-gravity awesomeness. I’m not exactly sure why that was important to me but it was. The visual storytelling was awe-inspiring. Did you see when everything looked like an MC Escher drawing? Or when the physics went all crazy and turned everything into a box? Awesome. The characters where endearing. I loved the female architect. Architects should totally be glamorized more often and yes, a smart girl character with an artistic career that requires drafting and math is always a good thing in my book. The props were nifty. (I SO want a brass top now!) Even my popcorn was delicious. I had a freakin’ great time.

However, I have been hearing through the grapevine  that not everyone thinks Inception was ‘the thinking man’s (or woman’s) blockbuster and that there were some possible plot holes or problems with the storytelling? But I’m not sure what they were. In my opinion everything seemed to fit together in a very strange and surreal way. Just like a dream should.

If you have seen Inception what did you think of it? If you could dream anything into reality what would it be? If you had the choice would you live in a dream-world or stick here in reality?

The Afternoon Inquisition (or AI) is a question posed to you, the Skepchick community. Look for it to appear Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays, and Sundays at 3pm ET.

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Amy Roth

Amy Davis Roth (aka Surly Amy) is a multimedia artist who resides in Los Angeles, California. She makes Surly-Ramics. She is the fearless leader of Mad Art Lab. Support her on Patreon. Follow her on twitter: @SurlyAmy or on Google+. Tip Jar is here.

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46 Comments

  1. Inception had great visuals and an awesome concept. It fell flat for me though in two areas: the plot and the characters.

    The mystery with the guy and his ex-wife was pretty cool, but the over all plot was that they were working with a corporate CEO with enough power to exonerate wanted murderers to split up a rival corporation by planting a false idea in an innocent man’s mind that his father wanted him to destroy his inheritance. They succeed. Wtf?

    The characters were left completely undeveloped. Why did you like the token girl? Her exclusive role was to play the worried little sister to Cobb and otherwise do as she’s told. Most of the other characters were similarly caricatured.

    Of course even though I’m pretty harsh on it on those two things, I think the concept and visuals were enough to make up for it. I actually liked the film over all. I should also mention that they get the science of sleep and dreams almost universally wrong, but those are storytelling devices, so who cares?

  2. @banyan: I didn’t see the architect as a little sister. I saw her more as the voice of reason. She wasn’t the token girl either. The wife was a pretty prominent character throughout. But ok, I see what you are saying about the main plot. Still I liked it. :)

  3. I saw Inception and loved every minute of it, in particular I really enjoyed the soundtrack and the eerie booming music of what sounds like the begining of a slowed down version of Edif Piafs Non, je ne regrette,

    I would live in a dream-world happily if there were a few people with me.

  4. I was so glad to hear through reviewers that this movie, “Inception,” was a thought-provoking and novel film that I actually went to a theater to see it instead of waiting for it to hit Netflix. I wasn’t disappointed. I thought the concept of a crew of dream engineers turned towards corporate espionage was unique. It was as if someone had taken social engineering to a more insidious level for added impact and vulnerability. What assholes, right? But interesting assholes nonetheless.

    I also liked the relative time compression and expansion that changed as they went through dream levels. Cool idea.

    However, I was left with a lot of questions regarding back story like how Dom’s father was involved and the origin of the dream invasion technique.

  5. I liked it quite a bit, however there was something I couldn’t quite place after seeing it that was off. I didn’t understand the rules well enough. I don’t know if talking about it is the best idea because it would have to contain a ton of spoilers. I just know that no one I’ve talked to can answer the question for me.

  6. *SPOILER ALERT*

    I really loved it. Amy, it’s funny you mentioned the Matrix, because I told my friend that my favorite part was the no-gravity fight scene, and she was like “was it as cool as the Matrix” and I was like “it kicked that Matrix’s ass.”

    One question I have is, if Cobb and Mol had grown old in limbo together for 50 years (and we do see them old at one point), when they put their heads on the railroad tracks to “die” and wake up, why were they young? My partner suggests the train tracks were part of an upper-level kick, not the limbo kick. Thoughts?

  7. @jes3ica: Yeah, I thought about that too! I’m guessing it was supposed to be an upper level kick since they woke up right after? Plot hole or editing flaw? Maybe. I suppose what I liked about this film was the concept that almost everything was a dream. It allowed you to suspend disbelief. So maybe that scene were they were old was a projection of their subconscious.

  8. *spoiler alert*

    The main thing I didn’t like was that the movie lacked resolution. It’s setting up for a twist ending, but then it just doesn’t tell you what the twist ending actually is. It seems implied that the whole thing was a dream partially created from Cobb’s memories (the kids look exactly like in Cobb’s memory, the totem, and some other details during the movie). But if it’s all just a dream, what the hell is actually going on? Why is Cobb having this dream?

    The other thing I don’t like is that the rules seem inconsistent. It seems clear that the rules were bent to make them fit the movie’s plot, and for dramatic moments rather than for consistency. Also, a bunch of things that happen remain unexplained, or seem to be explained differently in different parts of the movie. Generally, this wouldn’t bother me, but if you’re creating a movie like Inception that has its own set of rules and that relies on a convoluted plot, it seems important to make sure the viewer understands what the rules are, and what actually happens. I kind of felt cheated by the movie; it’s like reading a Sherlock Holmes novel, where Holmes solves the case because he has knowledge of a set of facts that wasn’t told to you in the novel, so it was pointless for you to guess who the killer was because you didn’t have all the facts.

    I liked the movie, but it wasn’t the revelation I expected it to be. Other movies have done the whole “I’m not sure I’m actually in real life right now” theme better. Even eXistenZ (which I didn’t like a whole lot) at least created a consistent set of rules and made it possible to guess what would happen.

  9. ***Spoiler Alert***

    It’s a good film, but still an action/adventure film. I like it challenges the audience more than your average summer film.

    Still, this is in no way an art house film, and I think it will suffer from the hype a bit. It’s not meant to be the most mind blowing film ever.

    Characters: I think Leo’s character is the only one that is fully developed. It could be that the entire movie is a dream, and he is the only real person in it. I’d have to watch it again to be sure. It could be that he never escaped the Dream Limbo, and his wife had the right idea after all.

    I thought the ending was appropriate. The Hollywood ending would have been a disappointment. Instead, we have to think and make up our minds about how it ends. I like a challenge every once in awhile. :)

  10. I enjoyed it. I think, though,
    ***SPOILER ALERT***
    that clues were abundant all the way through that the whole thing was Cobb’s dream from start to finish. The last scene just confirmed it. Earlier clues were the chase scene in Marakesh that seemed to have no logic or reason behind it, with shrinking alleyways. Later his wife says, “you don’t believe in this so-called real world either, with these shadowy corporations chasing you all the time and you can never go home.” Someone with an obvious symbolic name like Ariadne is another clue. The physics of the dream invasion don’t have to make any sense, other than dream-sense.

    To me, the movie was about the ways in which our dreams try to repair our psyches while we sleep. All we need to know about Cobb is that he’s a guy who feels guilty about his wife and kids and probably has dad issues too (Fisher is also a version of Cobb). And at the end he wakes up and probably only remembers fleeting glimpses of the complex world his subconscious built for him.

  11. A good satisfying movie that required the audience to remember what had been happening, not just anticipate what was going to happen. Loved the visuals and the characters despite their being somewhat undeveloped. Much better than most summer movies.

  12. Sat riveted through the whole movie. Loved it, but the whole “just a dream” thing what a cop out. Great heist movie with fabulous SFX, but as good as the original Matrix, naaah.
    Good review here includes
    http://bit.ly/crQa0p
    “All the same, there’s a feeling that the whole nonsensical plot is no more than a pretext for ”impossible” special effects that are unveiled like tricks in a magic show: a zero-gravity fight in a hotel corridor, cities that abruptly crumble or turn upside down. I wish that Nolan had given us more of these surrealist visions, as opposed to the gun battles and chases that might take place in any Hollywood fantasy.”

  13. I found it really enjoyable.
    If I could dream away something, it would be the “HAPPY 30th BIRTHDAY LINDA & DAVE” cake that arrived yesterday for my parents 30th wedding anniversary.

  14. Not that I’m incapable of forming my own opinions, but the most succinct not-quite-review review that I’ve read is a piece by a blogger known as SEK.

    http://www.lawyersgunsmoneyblog.com/2010/07/inter-inception

    http://www.lawyersgunsmoneyblog.com/2010/07/bit-more-on-inception

    He admits freely that he didn’t see the whole film, and yet I still find myself agreeing with what he says, there is little reason for us connect with any character, the more you examine the plot the less sense it makes, etc.

    In addition, I enjoy the comments on those pieces.

    I still enjoyed the movie, it was definitely capable of holding my attention. I just didn’t connect with any characters (beyond a cheap ploy for me to care about his poor children and whatnot), and the deeper you looked at the plot, the less sense it made.

  15. *POSSIBLE SPOILERS*

    @James Fox:

    You summed it up for me…this is, basically, a summer movie. Brilliant visuals, and it kept you so engaged the whole time it didn’t feel like you were there for 2 1/2 hours.

    I’ll agree though, with the whole premise for the Inception (i.e. corporate espionage) was a bit lame. The way they set it up it was kind of a let down – I was waiting for another twist.

    Ultimately, I like Christopher Nolan movies. I was just disappointed that David Bowie didn’t turn up as Tesla…

  16. I was pleasantly surprised with Inception, not being a big Leonardo fan. And what could have been a hard-to-follow convoluted plot was actually easy for my wife and I to follow. We walked out of the theater feeling like we understood everything.

  17. I loved, loved this movie. I was very impressed with the story and how captivating it was. I was on the edge of my seat for large portions of the film, and that’s something that doesn’t happen often. I loved the anti-gravity scenes, and gosh, is Joseph Gordon-Levitt the business. Also Cillian Murphy. I love me some pretty, awkward and lean men. Plus, the guy who played Eames is the same one who played Captain Picard’s clone in Nemesis. I liked the corporate espionage angle (because honestly, sometimes the good guys in movies are the bad guys, and vice versa, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be sympathetic characters).

    SPOILER ALERT

    The twist ending thing… I talked to my husband about this because I typically really dislike twist endings. What I felt they were trying to establish with the top spinning (it looked like it was about to fall over, but did it?) and with him finally seeing his children’s faces is that it doesn’t matter whether it was a dream anymore.

    It could be real – Saito shoots Cobb, then himself, Cobb finished the job, got off the plane, and gone home to his children, happily, and they just cut before the top fell.
    Or it could be a dream, Saito shoots himself, and leaves Cobb, and he can finally see their faces because he’s gotten rid of the guilt for his idea leading to his wife’s death. The top keeps spinning.

    The big thing though, is that he walks away without even caring. Yes, he pulls out the top and starts it spinning, but he sees his children, and he sees their smiling faces, and that is all he needs. This is his reality. He’s left behind the guilt and he is where he wants to be. I thought it was a nice ending.

    My husband noted that in the shot where Cobb starts the top spinning at the end, you can see a sleeping female form in the shot, but I didn’t see it (he’s more observant).

    END SPOILERS

    Overall, it was a great film with great effects and I’m pretty entranced. I love the ideas. My head is all twisted up with them!

  18. Spoiler Warning! Although if you’ve read this far in to the comments and haven’t seen the movie yet, the spoiler warning seems kind of pointless.

    First I would like to say I loved this movie. I purposely ignored all the articles and reviews of it so I could go into it without expectations. If I had gone into it hearing that it is the best movie of the decade, I would have been disappointed. I just wouldn’t live up to the hype. I believe this is called “The Phantom Menace Effect.”

    While the plot was basically a souped-up heist movie, I don’t think that it is a bad thing. The movie was about Cobb having to do bad things in order to achieve the one good thing that he wants. There is a lot of moral gray area in this movie, and in my opinion, that is what makes it interesting.

    This is a story about Cobb, and that is the reason some of the other characters weren’t fleshed out. They are there to help Cobb on his journey. If you did develop the support characters more, it would make a longer movie without adding anything. Does anyone care why Ariadne went to school or how Arthur and Cobb met? It would just add 20 boring minutes that wouldn’t advance the movie at all.

    What many people see as plot holes, I think add greater depth to the movie. How many level of the dream world are there? Is limbo really the bottom? What is reality? The movie purposely leaves these answers vague so you’ll leave the movie thinking about it. If it answered everything, people wouldn’t be pondering it when they left the theater, and we probably wouldn’t be having this conversation now. By being vague, it captures the imagination.

    I also don’t understand people obsession with twists. Not every movie has to have one. Besides, some badly contrived twist would throw off the self contained logic of the first part of the movie (“Signs”, anyone?) I thought this was a great movie. It has a great narrative device, was smart, and was fun. Very few movies come together like that. It might of had its flaws, but I think that they can be easily overlooked because of the shear awesomeness of the movie.

    Also, I don’t care what people thought about “Juno,” I just really like Ellen Page.

  19. The only thing that really bugged me was the, “We only use a small percent of our brain” bullshit line.

    Otherwise, I really enjoyed it. It was so visually engaging and the music queues were very clever. Also, I will watch anything with Cilian Murphy in it.

  20. I’m a big fan of Ellen Page, but she seemed a bit wooden and not quite sure of herself in this role. Tom hardy is an excellent actor, he’s going to blow away everyone else in the industry in terms of intensity and talent (cf. Bronson where he plays an insane psychopath terminal prisonner.)

    The plot was okay, and they handled the concept quite well. The one plot hole was the guy’s decision to split up the company, it just sort of happened but without any real explanation. I think the film ran a bit long but I was hungover and tired so that may have been an issue, I didn’t find it riveting though and wished that they’d have accelerated the descent into deeper dream levels.

    I agree that technically this was one of the most beautiful films of its genre, and blew away Matrix, albeit with the advantage of 15 years of technical achievements, so that might not be a fair comparison.

    Overall I loved the film in the end. The ending was fun and made me feel happy, which is a nice change from a lot of the art films that I watch.

    Sit back and enjoy.

  21. Well, as a huge Dickhead, I really loved it.

    Granted you had to suspend your disbelief, and not take some of the dialog too seriously, but overall I think they pulled off a pretty ambitious storyline.

    Since Philip K. Dick is my favorite (male) author–James Tiptree Jr. is my favorite female author–there was no virtually no way I would not like it.

    I thought the acting overall was pretty good.
    And the visuals were great.

    And the ending worked for me. Life is not black and white. And leaving the decision up to the viewer was the right thing to do.

    I’m sure PKD would have smiled, nodded, and asked for royalties…

  22. @Amanda: “The only thing that really bugged me was the, “We only use a small percent of our brain” bullshit line. “

    Instant irritation for me as well, but I was pleased when they then took off into complete fiction after that making being insulted more difficult.

  23. @James Fox:

    Well, that’s the thing, isn’t it?

    If you want reality, watch a documentary. This is fiction – summer blockbuster fiction to be precise.

    Sure, good fiction has basis in reality, but it’s still fiction. Knowing that Velociraptors weren’t that big (and wondering how much Steven Spielberg paid James Kirkland to dramatically reveal his Utahraptor findings around the launch of the movie) doesn’t actually diminish my enjoyment of “Jurassic Park” one tiny little bit.

    I didn’t buy a ticket to see “Walking With Dinosaurs”, I bought a ticket to see what Steven Spielberg – in all his anal-retentive-about-filmmaking glory – could do with scads of money while adapting an entertaining book. I damn near cried at the first reveal it was so damn good.

    Now don’t get me wrong – I probably really annoyed a bunch of people during my screening “Dante’s Peak” when I couldn’t stop laughing hysterically. It was so far out of whack (and volcanologists, sadly, never look like Pierce Brosnan ;) ), it was annoying to someone like me who has actually done volcano field work for a world-class volcanologist. But I took it for what it was – a mindless piece of entertainment and an excuse to eat nasty-buttery theater popcorn.

    So I didn’t go into “Inception” expecting reality and accurate neurological science. I expected to be entertained. And I was. Because I told the scientist part of me to sit down, shut up, and enjoy the yummy Joseph Gordon Levitt in his awesome anti-gravity fight scenes :D

  24. *spoilers*

    I liked the movie. It wasn’t the greatest movie ever, but I didn’t feel terribly insulted by it, it kept me interested, and was worth going to the theater for instead of waiting for it to come out on video. I chatted with my friend after seeing it, and we didn’t really see any plot holes or problems with it.

    I’ve heard people complain about how they set up all these rules and then broke them, but the way I figured it, the operation they were doing wasn’t normal or usual. When they dive into people’s dreams, they don’t normally sedate them that heavily, they don’t take that long, they don’t dive that deep (3 levels, remember some expressed surprise at that), so that’s why a lot of rules got “broken.” It wasn’t a typical operation.

    It was to0 bad that not all the characters could be developed, but I rationalize it by thinking that there was so much information and plot that they had to cram in to get the story to go where they wanted, there wasn’t time for a lot of stuff. So things like non-primary character development was minimized, explanations of where, why, and how the technology worked was either not explained or minimized. I’m not sure I missed it, as with scifi you usually have to accept the premise anyway (seriously, we don’t ask how the time machine worked in Back to the Future), and I’m not sure the other characters’ motivations would have added much to the story anyway.

    I’ve heard some complaints about the ending being ambiguous. Personally, I don’t think it matters if it was real or not. The character got his catharsis — he got to see his children again, which was his primary motivation, so everything else is irrelevant. Either he really got to see his children, or he was able to fix his dreams so that he could see them. The effect is the same.

    As for myself, I’m probably one of the few to say this, but yes, I absolutely would live in the dream world. (Just like people would get addicted to the holodeck.) Especially if it was presented like the movie, and I could have my friends and family with me, and I could be godlike and do whatever I wanted; yes, absolutely.

  25. @Chasmosaur: Because I told the scientist part of me to sit down, shut up, and enjoy the yummy Joseph Gordon Levitt in his awesome anti-gravity fight scenes

    I have nothing else to add. I loved the movie and HOLY MOTHER OF BOB Joseph Gordon Levitt got hot! (I still remember him from Angels in the Outfield *sniff*)

    That anti-gravity scene was kick ass!

  26. @BlackCat: Especially if it was presented like the movie, and I could have my friends and family with me, and I could be godlike and do whatever I wanted; yes, absolutely.

    I wanted to add something regarding this. I can agree. While I love my life now, if I could exist in a dream world with my actual friends and family with the knowledge that I was safe and not responsible for neglecting children, etc. I would totally do it.

    This isn’t the same scenerio as The Matrix — in that situation I would want to be woken up but if there aren’t any pressing matters that need attended to in the real world, what does it matter if the world you life in is real or not as long as your experiences are enjoyed?

  27. There was one thing early on that wrecked my suspension of disbelief, and made the whole thing more a logic exercise than an enjoyable movie, time dilation. Sadly this played a key role in the plot.

    Differences in time perception in dreams versus real life is expected, but the idea of a fixed ratio that you could set your clock by strained my disbelief. The straw that broke the camels back was when they said that this applied to dreams within dreams as well, which meant an exponential in the perception of time.

    After that, nothing seemed particularly dreamlike except the bottommost dream.

  28. SPOILERS.

    I enjoyed the movie and thought it was unusually smart for a summer blockbuster. William Gibson tweeted that he was reminded of Fritz Leiber, and I have to agree: something about the combination of the tragic marriage with multiple levels of reality with characters who are really pawns caught up in a much bigger corporate game. Good stuff.

    Here’s where Inception fails for me, though. At no point did any of the dreamers find themselves flying naked over fields of corn being harvested by clowns and then suddenly wake up with wood. (Painfully hard wood.)

    Perhaps this was covered in the technobabble portions of the exposition, and I just missed it. I remember the bits about sedatives and drugs and architecture, but for a movie that claims to be about dreaming, Inception completely lacked an investigation of the surreal and the vulnerabilities of the subconscious and of identity. Instead it offered us a mindscape that’s little more than a Half-Life mod.

    Plus, the spinning (wait, is it about to falter?) top at the end was pretty cheesy.

  29. @Chasmosaur: “Knowing that Velociraptors weren’t that big …”

    I personally would have found a large flock of five foot velociraptors much more frightening than the big baddies Spielberg made.

    I like summer pulp and pap at the movies and have many flicks on my fav’s list that are just pure big spectacle fun, and if you get something more on top of that all the better. And as much as I don’t like rain in the summer, I’ve no interest in seeing any snow falling on cedars until I’m wearing a warm coat to the theatre.

  30. I’ve talked to a few friends, because it looked like it could easily be set up for an ending where you can’t tell if its a dream or not. I hate those endings, I think they are lame, and it makes me feel like I’ve wasted 2hrs and $10. They’ve all told me I wouldn’t like Inception because of that.

  31. Corporate espionage in dreams. A heist movie in someone’s subconscious. If that’s a cliche to you, might I suggest going into some kind of suspended animation for a couple thousand years? I don’t mean to disappoint, but you’re never going to see anything created by humans that lives up to your expectations. The creative talent of our species really has nothing more to offer you. We’re just tapped out. Short of SETI making a major breakthrough, you’re literally never going to be entertained again by anything we do.

  32. @Chasmosaur: My 5 year old nephew, who is much cuter than Pierce Brosnan (he’s in serious contention for the cutest human being in the Southern Hemisphere) told me “When I grow up, I’m going to be a Volcano Scientist!” (Emphasis his.)

    So you just became a volcanologist in the wrong time period.

  33. @jes3ica: Sorry I’m a little late to the party, but

    *spoilers*

    I seem to remember a brief moment, near the end of the film, in which Cobb states to Mal that they had grown old together, in limbo. There seems to be a quick flash of the train tracks again. Neither the tracks nor the faces are actually visible, but it’s clear two people are clutching hands. However, the hands in this shot are quite wrinkled and aged. My guess is that when we see the first time, we see how Ariadne imagined it as Cobb described it. The second shot is how Cobb remembers it.

    My only real problem with this film is that, whenever I read a discussion about it, it sounds like Captain Reynolds is having a fight with Jayne.

  34. *SPOILER*

    My big problem was the weakness of Cobb’s (DiCaprio) whole motivation for doing what he does. He’s built up to be some amazing person with uncanny abilities – but he can’t get past custom officials to see his kids?? He can pull a world class team together, dodging bullets along the way, to delve into the dreamworld, but the fear of getting arrested by state cops gives him the chills. Right. Got it.

    Throughout the movie, we see glimpses of Cobb’s children – a little boy and girl. These are his last memory of them, giving him no end of guilt. The last scene of the movie, we see the kids again. They haven’t aged and they’re wearing the same clothes. Was that a continuity error on part of the director? Or is the sudden, fade-to-black ending more ominous?

    Zero-g combat rules! Arranging floating sleepers into a hot-dog pack is silly. This whole scene was beautiful to watch but Arthur’s (Gordon-Levitt) reasoning is suspect. I think I need to rewatch it again. But the whole idea of creating artificial gravity with explosives attached to an elevator, so that you can give the characters a ‘kick’ when the gravity is taken away…whew. Who was in the writers’ room that day?

    15% Brain. So I heard this growing up – we only use a fraction of our brain. Then I became a skeptic. We really use ALL of our brain. Then I listened to the BrainScience podcast about glial cells and found out that the neurons comprise only 15% of the brain – so we really do only use a fraction of our brain. The rest is just supporting structure. But wait – there’s more. The glial cells, which form the vast structure of the brain, have been found to be involved in communication between neurons, albeit at a vastly slower rate (100 times slower). As yet, we don’t have a complete understanding of these interactions, but this chemical communication seems to be integral to proper brain functioning, so we do indeed use more than just the neuronal structure. How much more is open to debate. So next time someone asks you how much of your brain do you use, ask them “what do you mean by ‘use'” and “what do you mean by ‘brain'”.

  35. I actually saw it a second time since I commented. Still loved it. About the “is-he-or-isn’t-he” ending (oh, SPOILER ALERT I guess) – I think BrieCS hit on something my partner and I talked about this time around too. An ending like this would usually be more trite, but it works here because the point is that it doesn’t MATTER whether or not he’s dreaming. He has a choice of two or more realities and he chooses this one, whether or not it is “real reality.”

    This is the first movie I’ve been to in a long time where groups of people stayed in the theater past the credits talking about what they saw and arguing different points instead of just accepting what they just saw and walking out without having to think.

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