The buzz around Inception is enough of a hint that people are and will continue to be talking about this film for some time; luckily, there are particular reasons why and it is important to elucidate them. Not only does Inception have a cast that is attractive, a director whose previous films (specifically Memento and The Dark Knight) have near-cult followings, and a presence in the summer box-office that allows moviegoers something beyond horror and humor to enjoy, but it also tampers with something unavoidably palpable in one’s day-to-day life: dreams. Whether or not you are the type who hates to hear about another’s dreams, or if you are the type who loves to analyze dreams, or even if you are the type who talks about dreams as much as some people talk about their astrological signs these days, everyone dreams and thus must be a part of the film and its context from the beginning.
Even if you claim to not dream, chances are likely that you do but, due to either a poor sleeping record or any other numerous and scientifically un/available reasons, you do not recall the details of dreaming. So, before we get lodged in this territory of dreams, let’s get past the dreaming part, for this is what I believe to be one of the reasons audiences are leaving the theatre too perplexed.
At the end of Inception, while seated in a sold-out theatre near Midtown in NYC, a booming ding of disappointment rang as the credits rolled; less a disappointment and more of a communal and quite audible sighing form of you’ve-got-to-be-fucken-kidding-me! However, this auditory reaction is derived mostly from audience members wanting to answer the question “did Cobb (Leo’s character) end up in reality or a dream?” What is important to note is that the reason this becomes a question is based on a token/totem Cobb carries continuing to spin on a table, the film cutting out as it starts to slow down a bit. What is fascinating is that this is a purposeful trick and I think one that is meant to get audiences in to see a movie a second time. It worked with films like Fight Club and Memento, yet these films had simpler but quite hidden answers to the dilemmas presented—in Fight Club, the flicker seen when one pauses to see Norton and Pitt is similar to the flicker in Memento that bombards the viewer and sites them as an idiot at the film’s end. Inception, on the other hand, does not, at lease upon first glance, and I may be wrong here, hide anything via flickers but more in the comments that the characters make. Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who plays Arthur, has a moment early in the film where he speaks about these “tokenss” and that touching other’s defeats the purpose or makes them unworkable—I need the exact quote here. Simply enough, if this rings true, the thimble that Cobb holds was Mal’s (Marion Cotillard) and therefore it makes no sense as the central form of value and understanding in the film.
What the film ends up being more about, although the majority of viewers do in fact obsess about what is reality and what is dreaming, is memory. Cobb carries Mal’s thimble not as the item he can use to determine his own dreams and reality but perhaps because he cannot let go of his memories. In the end, it’s not whether the topspin token thimble falls or keeps on but that Cobb spun it and left it, thus leaving the burden of memory and the unnecessary guilt finally behind enough to live his life without relying on dreams. What is hard to sit with is that there actually is emotion and turmoil and memory going on in the film, yet it is so overrun by the action and rather unnecessary hooks that noise and movement become the most commented-on elements of the film. And, am I alone in thinking that Ellen Page is devoid of chops? I mean, sure, if she was any bit enthralling it might draw away from the film too much but her performance is flat and young, not ready for such screen time. Additionally, and I tend to like Joseph Gordon-Levitt, he seemed an unwise choice here, not enough quirk or intrigue, too much drab is-he-faking-a-deep-voice moments. Overall, I left thinking about how amazing two or three scenes were and how memory affects us all deeply; we cannot control it even if someone could architect our dreams.