Monday, July 26, 2010

Review: "Inception" Limited Science, Spectacular Fiction

If all dreams were like “Inception” I would never sleep.
Every dream in the film seems to end unpleasantly. Try going to sleep knowing you’ll likely get mauled by a mob of angry rioters or stabbed in the chest by a beautiful French woman. It doesn’t sound pleasant.

Not to give away the film’s convoluted plot, but the dream world is a violent place where everything happens for a reason. In that sense Christopher Nolan’s vision is more “The Matrix” than the ICSD-2.

That isn’t to say “Inception” is a bad movie, it’s actually fantastic. Just don’t expect it to be an educational experience. The film has its own rules Nolan reportedly came up with well before he reinvented the Batman franchise.

“Inception” is a heist movie at its core. Only instead of breaking into a money vault ala “Ocean’s 13” the protagonists try to crack companies’ deepest secrets. A fugitive Leonardo DiCaprio assembles a global team of highly skilled specialists for one last job. His roster includes a dream architect (Ellen Page), a master of disguise (Tom Hardy) and a chemist/ anesthesiologist (Dileep Rao).

The squad infiltrates dreams by drugging their target and hooking themselves up to a special suitcase. Once inside, the dreamer’s subconscious, or the dream world’s citizens, tries violently to drive them out. Die in the dream and you wake up. Except for that aforementioned one last job where the stakes are higher. Die there and you go to dream limbo where you’ll spend agonizing many decades alone waiting to wake up.

Alternatively, falling or waiting for time to run out also wakes up the dreamer. But minutes in the real world can last hours or days inside dreams within dreams within dreams. Each level of the dream hierarchy is more difficult to penetrate, with a more advanced subconscious security system.

And there are still more rules, involving “dream totems” and gravity. It’s all complicated but if you suspend your disbelief you’re in for some incredible set pieces.

There is some real-life basis to this science fiction. “Inception” was inspired by Nolan’s lucid dream experiences.

Lucid dreaming involves being aware that you are dreaming while you’re still asleep. Most people are unable to have lucid dreams unless they train themselves using pre-sleep “autosuggestion.”

The process is somewhat like how the Ellen Page character designs dreams. You can prepare yourself to see certain images and recognize the bizarre events of the dream. The same sort of rehearsal process can be used to improve learning or treat recurring nightmares.

Some of the rules inside of the dreams also apply. Most of us have woken from the “kick effect” of falling dreams. It doesn’t happen for most people but death can occur in the dreams of the elderly or terminally ill. Multilayered dreams can also occur outside of “Inception.”

The rest of the concepts of “Inception” fall well into the realm of psychobabble. It doesn’t take a clinical sleep specialist to know you can’t dive into someone else’s dreams and steal their secrets. But you can influence them by suggestion. A lifetime in dream limbo is also ridiculous, though it works well as a plot device within the film.

“Inception” is a wildly original movie in a summer movie sea of sequels and remakes. Go see “Inception” right away, or better yet see it twice. Don’t wait for it to come out on DVD.
Photo by Warner Bros. Pictures

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