Jul 19 2010 5:36pm

Review: Inception

The previews before a movie can be telling: they reveal what sort of audience marketers expect the movie to attract, and are ideal for plugging upcoming movies in a similar vein to the feature presentation.

The previews before Inception seemed as if they’d been chosen at random, since there’s no movie this year that’s enough like Inception to promote alongside it. (Maybe you’d enjoy a Robert Downey, Jr. road-trip comedy? No? Here, we’re remaking Tron!)

And at times, Inception, while it wholeheartedly subscribes to the theory of Go Big or Go Home, isn’t quite sure what it wants to be. It is by turns a character drama, a science-fiction exposition-fest, and a heist. At some of these things it’s better than at others, but there’s no denying that the movie is largely gripping, often interesting, and occasionally awesome.

One of the necessary evils with Inception is that its premise is so complicated that the characters spend the first hour on dream-within-a-dream auditions and gotchas, banging their shins on exposition. Unfortunately, this means that much of the dialogue in the first act is uncharacteristically clunky for Nolan, though it does what’s necessary in laying out the stakes and freeing up the second and third acts for visual overload.

In short, the setup goes like this: extraction—the accessing of secrets from someone’s mind—is a lucrative underground business which has spawned the usual shady corporations and needs for private security for the rich. There are a squillion rules about how it works, many of which are discussed at length, and many more which aren’t discussed until they’re immediately relevant (and usually over the sound of gunfire).

Master extractor Cobb is offered One Last Job planting an idea in someone’s mind: inception. It requires going several levels deep into someone’s mind (with each level slowing down time a little more and making it that much harder to wake), implanting an idea simple and organic enough to grow on its own, and timing the “drop” to wake everyone out of all the levels at once. Inception is incredibly dangerous, exceptionally illegal, and probably doomed to failure. Sign up the character actors!

And Nolan has chosen them well. Ellen Page’s exceptionally astute architect makes you forget how much of her early dialogue is exposition; Tom Hardy has a rakish charm as forger/impersonator Eames; Ken Watanabe is smoothly arch; Joseph Gordon-Levitt throws himself into his wire-work with aplomb, even though most of his lines are delivered in a lowest-vocal-register reserve reminiscent of Nolan’s other dark knight.

Acting-wise, Cillian Murphy deftly steals the show as Robert Fischer, a billionaire businessman’s son who is the group’s mark, and whose tortured relationship with his father provides a striking emotional urgency as the heist (for a heist Inception is at heart) ramps up.

The same can’t be said of Cobb, who never rises to the linchpin role laid out for him, or his subconscious relationship with his wife, which dutifully raises stakes without ever really becoming compelling or mysterious. (Hint: Cobb has performed inception before, keeps a prison full of idyllic memories of his dead wife, and is wracked with guilt-powered booby-traps that prevent him from building in people’s minds. You have five seconds to tell me how those fit together; the movie draws it out for two hours.) I found myself wondering if this was just a casualty of a thankless job that would have been clunky in anyone’s hands, or if Leonardo DiCaprio was simply miscast. (The latter is definite; the former is moot.)

That’s not to say that this subplot doesn’t do what it came to do; Nolan’s craft is sound, and Cobb’s haunting by his wife builds up in tiny moments that explode inconveniently all over the current job and provide the setup for what will become the most talked-about movie ending of the year. (More on that in a moment.)

However, it is once the exposition is over, the team goes under, and the heist gets rolling that Inception becomes one of the most visually captivating films in years.

Nolan does action scenes like few others in Hollywood, and some of the set pieces in the film’s second half are absolutely outstanding, as he takes full advantage of his dreamscapes. There are some plot holes, but they get largely swept away in the sheer tension of the moment. (They will appear afterwards, when you wonder how they planned to wake up Fischer while keeping the illusion that the kidnapping wasn’t real, but are usually forgivable.)

But even amidst the breakneck action, deft character touches make all the difference in elevating this from an action film to a drama: a dangerous gambit in the second layer of dreaming makes Fischer complicit in his own inception, which speeds up the plot and gives his narrative new urgency. (That the team is providing Fischer some subconscious closure on his father’s death helpfully ameliorates the highly-morally-suspect aspect of the whole thing.)

But of course, the moment people are talking about is the ending, which leaves the movie’s big question (What’s real?) unanswered. It’s the sort of ending that makes you wonder if this is just a thematic coda, or if the movie was built on markers you didn’t know to look for.

I don’t know if there’s an answer to the question; a film like Inception benefits from keeping the ending ambiguous. I don’t know if, given the fluidity with which people move between dreaming and waking, getting an answer even matters.

I do know that, warts and all, this is a visually-stunning sci-fi thriller that wants its audience to do a little thinking. That’s a rare bird in Hollywood, and one well worth your time.

Genevieve is actually going to go see this again, on purpose, which hardly ever happens with movies she reviews. She gushes about other movies on her blog.

1. Tevin
"(They will appear afterwards, when you wonder how they planned to wake up Fischer while keeping the illusion that the kidnapping was real, but are usually forgivable.)"

I think the idea was to have Eames, still disguised as Browning, help Fischer escape from the van, though if I remember correctly it was Fischer that helped Browning escape.

Either way, I think they had that covered.

I'm really anxious to watch this again, though, and see if I missed anything. It reminds me of Shutter Island, a sort of impulse to go back and see if it's as good as you want it to be or just a lot of smoke and mirrors.
Brit Mandelo
2. BritMandelo
I've watched it twice now, and I can say I genuinely enjoyed this movie. It's been some while since I've felt that a big blockbuster actually had a competent story and smart themes. "Inception" is also so gorgeous that it's worth the ticket price to see it on the big screen.
3. N. Mamatas
Acting-wise, Cillian Murphy deftly steals the show

Is this an example of "damning with faint praise"?
4. Dan Lewis
I told my dad as we left that this was the kind of thing PKD would have made.

There was nothing like hearing hundreds of people in the theater groaning simultaneously at the end. Except for me, I started clapping.

From the start of the movie I was obsessed with the idea that we didn't really know if the "top" level was also a dream. So this was perfect to me. His wife could have been right after all.

What became more interesting to me was reflecting on why this dream was constructed for Cobb, if as the ending suggests, the "top" is really another dream and the inception we have been seeing all along is the inception of an idea in Cobb. What is the motivating idea he needed to grow for himself? Something about fatherhood, maybe, or about his wife (or both). He ends the movie having reconciled himself to the loss of his wife and with a dramatic love for his children. And that means the who might be his loving father (-in-law, I missed this while I was watching), the dream-master orchestrating this experience (as in The Game) to help Cobb grow and change.

And you can take it a step further. What idea is Nolan trying to plant in his audience's mind? Why was this dream constructed for us?

I also tried to find the chronological beginning of the movie, after all of the "can you remember how you got here". I think it is actually two levels down from the "top" in the first dream with Saito.
6. TheAdlerian
48 hours after I watched the flim, I found I hated it.

Firstly, I enjoyed the film and appreciated the attempt. I think the story has potential as a fantastic series. You don't even need the same actors because new people could be operatives on other cases.

Personally, I'd like to see a story where agents break into the dreams of a person like in the film American Psycho. A guy who looks like a calm and cool corporate type, who's really totally insane. You could get very creative with science fiction themes, bizarre horror, and so on.

With that being said, I don't know why filmmakers and studios don't have a "logic check" for plots. The plot holes in this film sucked the tension out of the story for me. Many complain about superheroes who are too strong because there's no sense that they're in danger, and I felt that way when watching this.

Major Plot Hole:

Wait, I'm not sure it's a plot "hole" so much as it is a plot stopper!

1. Nolan did a lot of make sure that he built his world and explained to us the rules of if, which is great, but maybe he shouldn't have. He had Cobb explain to the girl that if you wake up the dream is over. If you dead you certainly wake up.

That rule ruined the drama in the film. Yes, there was drama because they had a mission to complete and it would be frustrating if then didn't, but only frustrating, not life and death. A frustrating failure isn't drama.

The limbo thing where time can stretch on forever is also just another frustration. In the real world limbo is lasting hours or minutes and you will wake up. You don't go into a coma or die, you just wake up. In that state Cobb accidentally placed an idea in his wife's head that led to disaster, but that's not going to happen to most people in limbo. Most will wake up, after an exhausting dream, then continue with life.

I'm puzzled as to why Nolan included this rule of "just waking up" because it ruined the tension. In the Matrix they used the old idea that if you die in a dream, you die in reality, and that created tension. Had inception used the idea that you wake up crazy or something, then there would be stakes in the game, but there wasn't.

Bad Story:

People are allowed to move to Europe.

Cobb will do anything to get back to the US to see his kids. Well, Cobb, why not move them to Europe? Mom was French, grandma on the phone is French, and Grandpa is English. One does not have to brainwash billionaires to relocate children.

Bad Character:

I've been working in psychology for twenty-one years, and it's no picnic. You have to really, really know what you're talking about, after years of study, to be able to analyze another person. Meanwhile, a young girl who's not out of college yet, INSTANTLY, has Cobb's number and can figure him out in a blink. She's never heard of this dream technology before, but she gets it, gets how Mal is rooted in his psyche, etc and constantly talks about it in the middle of a mission. She was like a psychology idiot savant who just knows everything, which is way over used. It's the young girl who can "kick ass" better than anyone, and is annoying to me.

Frankly, she played the part Michael Caine usually plays, which is the insightful old teacher kind of guy. Had he played the girl's part, it would have made more sense as he knows Cobb and is supposed to be an intelligent older person.

Bag Guys = Drama Destruction:

Normally, I like antiheroes. They're good guys who used bad methods to achieve a good end. I love to read and many book reviews will say, I didn't have sympathy for any of the characters because they were all bad. I hate that.

However, in Inception, I didn't have sympathy for any of the characters because they were all bad! I can't believe I'm saying it.

The agents were all like rapists. They drug you, then *beep* you while you're sleeping! The the rich guy played by Murphy had done nothing wrong. We saw in the movie that he was a pretty sweet person. He was unhappy that his dad didn't love him and he was very loyal to his uncle or whoever the older man was. He thought he was being tortured and then he was ready to give it all up to save the guy. He was also brave when he needed to be. When he saw the Japanese guy suffering, he was all ready to help and carry him along. He wasn't your typical evil capitalist from the movies.

The agents raped him in several ways.

1. They convinced him that his uncle was actually out to betray him. It was clear that he thought of the guy as his real father, and so that's extra awful.

2. They tricked him into breaking up his massive wealth.

The only positive is that maybe they "helped" him in the end by making him think that his father did love him, but that's a lie. In my opinion, it's better to suffer and grow from reality, than to live a happy lie.

Cheat Mysterious Dramatic Ending:

The top spinning at the end was cheap mystery. It was so because Cobb would reenter the room after the movie cut to black. So, what was going on with his life wouldn't be a mystery to him, just us. Plus, if he was in a dream, then he would just wake up at some point anyway, so who cares.

It's All a Dream:

At the end, I had a feeling that the whole movie was a dream. I say that based on a few points, but the main one is the scene with his wife about to commit suicide.

Frequently in dreams things are disjointed, as Cobb mentioned, one minute you're here, then the next, there. The wife was supposed to be in the hotel room, but somehow, she's on the ledge of a building across the way. How does one, and why does one, in real life, leave the room they're in and travel across the street, gain access to the room exactly across the street, then climb out the window, etc. It seemed so bizarre and unlikely, that there's no reason a writer would include that unless it was on purpose. It had a dreamlike quality that made me believe it wasn't happening.

If the whole thing was a dream then the film was a complete mystery since we have no idea what the premise of the story was, which is bizarre and stupid.

7. Veronica Schanoes
"Had inception used the idea that you wake up crazy or something, then there would be stakes in the game, but there wasn't. "

You may have missed it in all the gunfire, but they did, in fact, use this idea--Cobb went on and on about how being plunged into limbo for even a few minutes in Real Time would "scramble your brain" forever because of the long experiential time spent in raw subconscious. That's why Cobb won't let Eames put Seito out of his misery when he's first shot--he won't wake up, he'll just be plunged into limbo. Where they then go wrong is in having Cobb and Seito come out of limbo none the worse for wear with no explanation, really, unless you're going to go with the explanation that the whole ending is a dream, and since I think the purpose of the movie is to render the ending ambiguous, I thing it's a plot-hole more than anything else.

"The wife was supposed to be in the hotel room, but somehow, she's on the ledge of a building across the way."

I wondered that too, but kind of assumed that the hotel room was a suite with a bedroom (there's no bed in the wrecked room Cobb enters) around the corner with a facing window. That may be a bit of hand-waving on my part, but I don't think it's so very unlikely that I'm unwilling to grant it.

I thought the bit where Robert Fischer is fooled into believing in a posthumous reconciliation with his father was quite poignant--it raises the question of whether it's better to be happy or right, and what the difference is, really. Personally, I'd rather be right, but that's because I'm a know-it-all. I think Aldous Huxley's _Brave New World_ is largely based on the idea that most people would rather be happy. I actually think that's not a plot hole or a mistake--I think it's one of the questions the movie is raising. Was this an OK thing to do to Fischer? I admire the way the writer made that complicated by raising the emotional stakes for him and kind of suckered you into rooting for the successful completion of the psychological heist in such a way, rather than taking the easy way out of making Fischer a complete bastard who kicks puppies and beats children so we think he deserves it.

"The top spinning at the end was cheap mystery. It was so because Cobb would reenter the room after the movie cut to black. So, what was going on with his life wouldn't be a mystery to him, just us. "

I just disagree with this one. I'm the one who matters, not Cobb. Cobb isn't going to re-enter any room; he only exists insofar as the movie creates and depicts him, and that creation and depiction is ended before the question is resolved. If I don't know whether it's reality or a dream, then the question is completely unresolved, and I like that kind of ambiguity--it goes back to the happy or right question. Cobb is happy in this experience; does it matter if his happiness is based on a genuine life or a dream, especially if he never wakes, a strong possibility if he is still trapped in limbo rather than in a regular dream state--and we never see how he and Seito get out of limbo.

"She was like a psychology idiot savant who just knows everything, which is way over used."

Meh. It's a bit of clunky exposition, sure, but it doesn't really disrupt the movie, in my opinion. Remember, unlike real therapists or psychiatrists, Ariadne had actually been inside Cobb's subconscious and experienced it. I would expect that to provide rather better insights than psychological training and therapy sessions, or brain imagery.

"They will appear afterwards, when you wonder how they planned to wake up Fischer while keeping the illusion that the kidnapping was real, but are usually forgivable."

This one's for Ms. Valentine. I don't think Fischer is intended to think the kidnapping was real once he wakes up. Remember how much is made of the fact that most often, we barely remember our dreams? He's not meant to wake up and say "Ah, yes, I found the magic pinwheel in my father's safe during the kidnapping, and I shall now break up the company." He's meant to wake up with a nebulous feeling of peace and goodwill toward his father and the internal but inexplicable conviction that his father would want him to be his own man, which will eventually develop into the idea that he should break up the company, and perhaps some mild flashbacks to a dream that encapsulated a van, a hotel, snow, and an explosion.
9. N. Mamatas
I thought the movie was a glacial wreck and am amazed at the great positive reviews its getting. The criticisms above are mostly right on track.

Cobb went on and on about how being plunged into limbo for even a few minutes in Real Time would "scramble your brain" forever because of the long experiential time spent in raw subconscious.

...except that this was introduced more than an hour into the film, and we get to see Saito in limbo—and it's not raw subconscious after all, but the same dream scenario from the beginning of the film.

I admire the way the writer made that complicated by raising the emotional stakes for him and kind of suckered you into rooting for the successful completion of the psychological heist in such a way

I was left entirely cold by the film. I had no reason to root for Saito over Fischer, and none of the action pieces were all that thrilling because there were actually zero stakes. The only exciting bit was the zero-G hallway fight, which was more of a technical achievement than anything else. I kept thinking how I couldn't wait to see similar choreography in a better movie, and I think the scene worked mainly because neither Cobb nor Fischer nor Saito were anywhere near it.

Ariadne had actually been inside Cobb's subconscious and experienced it. I would expect that to provide rather better insights

Why? We saw what Ariadne did—an exploding France and Mal with a knife. Later, a bland patchwork cityscape. Not really much to work with there.

The real plot hole is this: Cobb always fails. He fails with Saito at the beginning, and we're also told that a previous attempt at playing "Mr Charles" failed too. Mal's presence is implicated in at least some of these failures—the first Saito one certainly. Also, Cobb has no real role on the team: he's not the architect, not the forger, not the problem-solver, not the chemist, etc etc. He's a vague leader of some sort, but not very good at it, and he carries the seeds of his own destruction within him. So why let him continue going on these missions? Why would everyone else endanger themselves in this way, when they had a better chance of succeeding with him reading magazines during the plane ride?

The last scene got groans at my screening, and I've heard several other people report the same thing—it's pretty clear that the ending isn't ambiguous. The top falls right over most of the time; only in the last scene does it stay spinning so long as to imply that it will spin forever and that thus the last scene is also a dream. It's audacious to pull out such an old cliché, but it just confirms that the question I had in my head during the whole movie, "Why should I care about any of this?" was "You shouldn't. Ha ha, fuck you! I'm getting a pass on this movie because it wasn't a sequel or fodder for Happy Meal toys and a whole bunch of people are gonna love it just for that!"
10. TheAdlerian
I'm responding to Veronica, but of course anyone can jump in.


Weren't the rules defined by the story of Cobb and his wife? They go to Limbo, Cobb knows it's a dream, they're having fun using "god like powers" and everything's ok. Then, he notices that his wife has stopped thinking it's a dream, and he's concerned. He discovers the reason why and attempts to wake her up.

He's successful and they simply wake up in their living room. The problem is that the strategy he used to wake her implanted a fatal idea in her core level of thought.

Other than that risk, which is rare, it seemed to me that Limbo is simply a super long (seemingly)dream state. So, you suffer, or not, because you seem to be trapped there for years when minutes are going by on Earth. Where's the brain scrambling?

I thought the risk was because they were on sedatives, you could not force yourself awake, so you'd be trapped in Limbo until you were awoken?


Basically, they raped this guy.

I've worked in psych for over twenty years and know a lot about sex offenders. In a nutshell, they hate their type of victims and want to "ruin" them by implanting thoughts in their minds.

A pedo wants to ruin a childhood, and mostly they will harangue their victims by calling the kid names implying they liked it, etc. The same goes for adult sex offenders. The sexual part is minor and it's really a psychological crime. They want to "rock a woman's world" and make her feel unsafe, weak, and "like a whore" if they can, because it confirms their world view.

That was some heavy reality stuff, but this film reflected the same intent by the characters. I'm all for hating the capitalist, but Fischer was a nice guy. When he thought his uncle (correct?) was being tortured, he instantly wanted to stop it. He cared that the Japanese guy was injured, in a dream, and he was brave. What's not to like there?

The characters took his nice relationship with the uncle and made him think he was a traitor! Then, as I've said, they stole reality from him and made him love a guy who hated him, his dad, who was no dad. That's like the Stockholm Syndrome where your captors make you love them because you're scared to death (which can happen in rape abduction cases).

Cobb did all of this to "see his kids" well, by most ethical standards one does not use rape as an excuse to see children. Said children would be better off not seeing you. So, the main character and his friends were all extremely evil and selfish.

After all of that, I've ruined the movie for myself. But, it's either "me" or the movie has a perverted theme, and I'm just right. Being a huge Nolan fan, I'm blowing a circuit!


When I'm reading a story, I want the mystery, etc to be "in the story" not in the format of the medium. I'm sure all books could be transformed into mysteries by not printing the last page, but that wouldn't be too satisfying.

Again, Nolan made a rule, with the totem and Cobb will easily answer his own fate within seconds of coming back in the door. That's not a mystery, in the story, only through the medium of film, by cutting off the film.
11. cranscape
I am a little confused why people are upset this was a movie about criminals and that the mark was not really a bad guy. Why would that make it a bad movie? The film was pretty up front with it all and certainly not the first story where that is the case. If Dexter, The Wire, and Damages are any indication ambiguity like this is something an audience can handle. Would people have been happier if Fischer was a bad person and the criminals had god and country on their side instead of one guys desire to go home? Maybe it should have come out closer to the fall so people wouldn't be looking for a feel good summer blockbuster.
Marcus W
12. toryx
I liked it. I agree that there are certainly some issues with the film if they're dwelt on over much but these days, it's so rare for a large film to have any sort of story worth pondering on that I'm more than willing to extend my willing suspension of disbelief a little further to enjoy the entire effect.

I actually appreciated the mass of indrawn breath and release in mingled disappointment, disbelief and satisfaction at the final scene. Where I saw the film most of the people liked the ambiguity, judging from what they were saying as they walked out. It was fun to see the reaction.
13. Veronica Schanoes
"Where's the brain scrambling?"

As I said, this was a threat that was not carried through, but it was made much of when Seito was first shot. The fact that it was not carried through is why it's a plot hole. With respect to this particular point, I'm just reporting the news. Cobb said it would scramble your brain. Then it turns out limbo is just a beach somewhere. That was not consistent writing.

I am not claiming that the characters are not doing a hateful thing; I'm not arguing with your rape-understanding credentials. What I am saying is that it's a clever bit of manipulative writing to get the audience to think, however briefly but for the life of the film, that the hateful thing they're doing is good for the mark, and I enjoyed and admired that--also, I do think we're meant to experience cognitive dissonance about it and that it's one of the questions the film is raising. When it comes to enjoying the movie, I just don't mind that the characters are doing a hateful thing, so we'll have to agree to disagree on that one; same with the ending. I don't think it's the same as not printing the last page of a mystery novel. It's similar to ending a mystery novel after the identity of the murderer is revealed (the main source of tension not being, after all, whether Cobb gets home but whether the heist succeeds) but before his/her fate is decided, which I think is a legitimate device to use, if done well. In my opinion, this ending is done well--the wobbling which indicates it's about to fall, but the cut which prevents us from seeing if it does. Obviously, your mileage varies on this one.

I never got that Fischer had a significant relationship one way or the other with whatever Browning was supposed to be--Fischer Sr.'s second in command, right? There was that bit about how Fischer Sr.'s death increases Browning's power. It is, of course, possible that I missed some indication that they had a father-son relationship, but the only actual interaction we see between them is Browning wanting to talk about Power of Attorney--a power-grab if ever I've seen one--and Fischer Jr. refusing.

"We saw what Ariadne did—an exploding France and Mal with a knife."

I don't think it's too much of the movie to ask that we assume that the experience of being in somebody else's subconscious is immersive, not merely the plot events that we see. I agree that Ariadne was clunky exposition, but it wasn't so clunky as to be a plot-hole, in my opinion. I kind of think the major bit of unbelievability with respect to her character is that she would agree to do this ridiculous thing to begin with, but I'm not a risk-taker, so I may just be projecting.

I do agree, Nick, that Cobb was the major weak point of the movie. I didn't care about his relationship with his wife, I thought the major issues of that relationship were pretty obvious and uninteresting, I didn't even particularly care if he got to see his kids again, because he's kind of a shit. I found everyone and everything else about the movie interesting, which is also how I feel about _Hamlet_. I can't stand the Prince of Denmark, I just want him to fall down a well, which would, it is to be hoped, shut him up. But I find everything and everyone else in the play fascinating.
14. Veronica Schanoes
One thing I did like about the film which hasn't come up is the treatment of Ariadne. I liked that there was a significant female character who wasn't a sex-bomb, and who didn't have to hook up with anybody (there is that tiny implication that she and Arthur might have an interest in each other, but that is so slight as not to bug me). It made me come out of the movie wondering why _more_ of those Men in Suits weren't women; it wouldn't have affected the story, and it would have been nice if this movie had passed the Bechdel test.
15. Veronica Schanoes
Yet another follow-up thought.

I find the concept of dream invasion and inception resonant not with rape, as does TheAdlerian, but with advertising, which also seeks to implant messages and desires in both our conscious and subconscious thoughts in order to sway our actions, and does so without permission. I did not give permission for my thoughts and field of vision to be invaded by posters in the subway system about the new Target store in Harlem, but they have been, clearly, since although I have no intention of going there, I know about its existence and location. I certainly did not give permission for my subconscious to be taken over by the Mr. Softee song on infinite loop in my head, but there it is, annoying the hell out of me. One could argue that some advertising is good for me--I want to know about movies coming out that I might like to see, for instance, and the ads in the subway for Geico reminded me to get renters' insurance when I moved a couple weeks ago--just like one could argue that the inception was good for Fischer, but does that affect the morality of the action itself? I would argue that this movie is not raising questions about the morality of rape so much as it is raising questions about the morality of advertising.

If _I_ had been writing this flick, I would have made it about companies seeking to do product placement or advertising in people's dreams. And I would have cut all that bullshit about Cobb's wife.
16. TheAdlerian

I agree, I thought of advertising as a larger theme of the story. Advertising, for products that people really don't need, a kind of negative psychotherapy is used to sell them. For instance, a therapist will try to reduce anxiety and increase self esteem, whereas an ad will try to induce anxiety and transfer esteem to a material object, and so forth.

If the ad has been successful it has broken you down and made you a "slave" to their ideas and products, then it's a distant shade to a rape.

Note to Tor: I think books are awesome, so sell away!

To Others:

Cranscape mentioned that the characters are bad guys, and so what. I agree to a degree, but think that if the film as washed of its SF subject matter and put into urban reality, it would be different.

I've known rapists who will target "hot girls" as a way to show them "You ain't shit" and destroy their belief that they're attractive. Terrible, but true, especially in brutal urban areas. It's sort of where the term "rock your world" comes from in that the person attacking you is destroying the foundations of your life (belief in personal power, value, etc).

So, this film could be turned into a movie about that.

Jealous guy (Japanese businessman)asks a group of known rapists in hiding for a rape-murder to rape and humiliate this woman who is out of his league. They proceed to isolate the woman in a comfortable setting, drug her drink, then rape her violently until her resolve is broken and she becomes a different less guarded and ennobled person. The moral of the film is that this is ultimately good because her narcissism was the best for her to begin with.

Wham! That would be my psycho film noir version of this monster.

Now, as a viewer, would you want to go see that film? If so, then I don't want to be friends anymore.
17. N. Mamatas
I don't think it's too much of the movie to ask that we assume that the experience of being in somebody else's subconscious is immersive, not merely the plot events that we see.

I agree in principle, except that the other characters have spent a lot more time in Cobb's head than Ariadne did, and they were all rather blasé about his personal problems, even when it leads to Mal attempting to "kill" them in Saito's first dream. That tells me that we're not to assume a special perception based on being in someone else's dream, but rather that (at best) Nolan thinks women are the people who talk about feelings and emotions, and all men do is strut around in sharp suits doing stuff. More likely is that Nolan didn't even think about it, and just stuck the information in some random person's mouth, which is what happens a lot when someone has been working on a script since he was a teenager.
James Hogan
18. Sonofthunder
I enjoyed Inception immensely. Both as a work of art and an enjoyable story! The camerawork was gorgeous, the action scenes were yummy, and the actors played to their roles extremely well(I thought). I especially liked the actor that played Mal. She might have been my favorite character in the movie, so I'm definitely glad(unlike Veronica@15, sorry!) that the movie revolved so much around Cobb and Mal. It was much more of a emotional movie than I expected(the balcony scene was tough for me) and that was a good thing. I definitely wouldn't agree that Cobb and company were white knights for what they did(seems to be a pretty blackmarket line of work), but at the same time, I found myself rooting for them anyway. Good work by Nolan making both sides sympathetic(and not good/evil).

While the ideas tossed around in the last couple posts are interesting(for an critique-on-advertising movie, I'd humbly suggest a movie based off Anderson's Feed; that would be amazing - the rape movie would not be a preference, although I think your point was well taken, Adlerian), I enjoyed the movie just the way it was. Honestly, we can all think of ways we'd like to alter Inception or tweak it to pound home points we're particuarly fond of. But I think Nolan did a fantastic job making such a gorgeous film - it's one movie I wouldn't mind seeing again in theatres and I've only done that for three other movies in my life. Not a perfect movie, but the best movie I've seen in theatres for quite some time.

Beautiful, heartrending, thought-provoking and most enjoyable movie. And of course, the ending was almost expected. I wondered where he was going throughout the movie("How will he end this?"), but once the screen went to black and we all groaned, I knew it was the only way the movie could have ended. Fantastic.

EDITed for clarity.
19. cranscape

I'm not following you. If you are saying that inception is a non-consensual and disturbing thing then I think the movie was saying the same thing. More than once it was pretty much openly stated as such. Any violence to a person, mental or otherwise, tends to be both things. That is a far cry from your example though. The movie seemed to link it to interrogation (a whole other can of worms) more than anything. Maybe I've watched Dateline too often, but our own police have gotten people to believe things about themselves that are not true through some pretty horrible techniques. In Inception they linked it to military training too. Trying to get soldiers to learn things about themselves in a "safe" environment. A parallel to the video game training they get in real life and techniques used to lower walls and rewire someone to do a somewhat unnatural task which has been around forever. If you are reading rape from all of that fair enough I guess, but to me it calls for a broader context.
20. legionseagle
Actually, and I may be reading this wrong, TheAdlerian seems to me to be saying - here, specifically: Now, as a viewer, would you want to go see that film? If so, then I don't want to be friends anymore. that people (including me; unashamedly, I loved it) who liked Inception are the sort of scumbags who regard rape (not rape fantasies, which trip up in literature all the time, from Wuthering Heights onwards, but actual rape) as acceptable entertainment. And s/he wants to guilt-trip anyone who would otherwise confess to liking Inception by inferentially calling them a rapist-lover.

Me, personal, I think mind-games are just ducky in the cinema - in the review space, not so much.
21. Dan Lewis
I notice that the only way people survive Limbo is if they're with someone else. So maybe the risk is that you'll be all alone down there in solitary confinement.

I do think Seito really should have gone crazy after so many years alone. If you've ever seen Papillon you know what I'm talking about.
22. legionseagle
Perhaps Seito had faith that someone would come for him and, as a result, his sub-conscious created substitutes until they did. I found one of the most life-affirming things about the film was its unassuming decency; fathers do not abandon their kids; team members do not give up on their fellows.
23. TheAdlerian

As they say in the ghetto, "Don't flip the script homey!" I decided to write what I did because it's the way the film content made me react. I didn't watch it and then decide to invent a way for people to feel guilty. After I thought about the content, I realized that I was being show a "rape film" with a pretty facade.


I see what you're saying. However, what I described in the film is "rape like" and many things are. The aim of torture only gets so complicated and sexual rape is usually some kind of torture. Much like another form, the goal is to hurt someone physically and leave a lasting impression on their mind.

When I broke the Inception down into my urban rape film, it was a very close translation. Other than something like a drug induced rape, I can't think of a better analogue. The common date rape drugs are called "hypnotics" because they can put you into such a state. Thus, you're aware you're being raped but unable to respond. Being subjected to advertising, police questioning, etc has an element where you can maintain control.

A famous Greek stoic said that you never have to give in because you can always kill yourself or be killed. But,when someone drugs your drink and then proceeds to bind and torture you, then you're forced to take it and deal with the results.

That's what these characters did to an innocent person. Again, that's what we were watching, but just dressed up.

I believe that every work of fiction speaks to the mind of the writer, because how can it not? Anyway, I wonder where Nolan's head was at when he wrote this thing.
24. Veronica Schanoes
That's a fair point, Nick, about the others having been inside of Cobb's head more extensively than Ariadne. I hadn't thought of that. In that case, fuck it. It's exposition for what in my opinion was the least interesting part of the movie anyway.


I take your point about the plausibility of reading rape as a subtext in this movie; I'm just not so convinced that it's the only, or even the most accurate, subtext. It's clearly one that's on your mind, and the one that is most evident to you. I don't think that means that it's objectively the most evident or relevant one. I also am very wary of calling things rape that aren't rape. I would not call even the most successful and slimeball-y advertisement, for example, a distant shade of rape. I don't find it helpful or enlightening to assimilate all types of coercion and manipulation into the model of rape; the experience of being brain-wormed by the Mr. Softee theme song is nothing like the experience of being raped. Parents manipulate and coerce their children; teachers their students; not all such use and abuse of power is rape. That doesn't make it ducky, of course, but in my opinion, degree does matter, and can completely change the import of an action or experience.

Further, I don't think there's an element of choice to advertising. The only way I could avoid advertisements would be to never leave my home, which is not only no way to live, but also would prevent me from earning a living. So by economic necessity as well as simple human necessity, I am bombarded by advertisements every single day without my consent. Are these to be likened to rape attempts? I think doing so devalues the experience of rape victims.

I would suggest that the translated-into-real-life version of this movie would be a flick about a bunch of advertising executives being hired to gaslight some guy. That doesn't make them good people, but it doesn't make them rapists, either, in my opinion.
25. YetiStomper
Why were Cobb and his wife young when the laid down on the train tracks but it is later revealed that they grew old together in the limbo state before they woke up?
26. TheAdlerian

It's been my experience that many terrible things get swept under the rug in favor of euphemisms. It's a popular thing to do in the US. For instance, poorly taught children with family problems went from that to having "ADHD" and poorly socialized people now have "Asperger's". Applying illness diagnosis to people who don't actually have them means that the actual source of the problems don't have to be addressed. That's great for the sinister and the lazy. So, it's silly to call everything that's a violation "rape" but, it may be far worse to call something that is a virtual rape a pleasant name.

If we want to talk about the subconscious, then that has to filter in.


One can learn critical thinking sills to combat advertizing. I can watch an ad and flay it like a fish, not that I've ever done that, but still. You can learn to deal with any product invented by another person as long as you have an average or above IQ.

Meanwhile, some products are good! I was biking the other day and zoomed past a Mr.Fosty, and almost stopped! Nothing wrong with a little bit of that kind of thing. Such companies equate fun with eating, which ice cream covers, and they don't try to make you feel like a loser if you don't buy.

It's just like science fiction, the stories are fun, interesting, etc and allow a nice break in life. Unless you're insane the product is harmless.
27. TrinityVixen
@Veronica: It's so funny you should see a missed opportunity to make the film about subconscious advertising when this is the first film I can remember in ages that DIDN'T have logos pasted over everything. I don't remember seeing a single sponsor--there were no branded cars or laptops, no lingering shots on bottles of soda or on restaurant signs. Personally, I found that to be a golden opportunity to escape the ubiquitous presence of advertising that daily assaults me--indeed, that, right before the movie began, was trotted out in the form of theater-sponsored ads and trailers.

But if you must have fictional dream adverts, there's an episode of Futurama that deals with that.
eva culajay
28. emct912
I'm dying to see this movie, Ive heard so many comments on how good it is or how bad the ending was, i really want to create my own opinion about it. But for right now i stay in the dark.
29. Veronica Schanoes

I must! I must have dream adverts! My life will not be complete otherwise!

But, yes, I did notice the absence of product placement too, and I appreciated it. I find myself getting more and more resentful of that sort of thing.

The Adlerian,

Leaving aside your thoughts on ADHD etc., I think that here we come to the root of our disagreement. I just don't agree that inception is a euphemism for rape. I think that's flattening out its potential meanings. I think that like most imagined concepts, it's a permeable metaphor for any number of things; you've made a convincing case that rape is among them, but I just don't agree that it's the only, or even the dominant, one.

And sure, some advertising is good. And the inception was good for Fischer, psychologically. Does that change the morality of the act?
30. TheAdlerian

Check out what you're saying. "The movie was a metaphor for rape, and a bunch of other realted things too, though!" That's not an appealing topic to me.

I'm the last person for censorship, but I am for discussion and illuminating what may be propaganda. I consider propaganda to be a sinister message covered with an appealing shell. That can be a comedy show that pushes a certain agenda as a subtext or a CGI movie about dreams. I have no idea if Nolan was purposely pushing rapish ideas or are they accidently slipping out, but they did. He would be wise to review the subject.

You dislike ads, as I do, but books, movies, etc are "ads" for the mind of the creator. I'm not buying what he's selling in this film. I want others to consider the same, that's why I wrote here, and other places.


No, the inception didn't benefit him. Learning to cope with the troubles of reality are best. The reason is because life is filled with troubles and living in a false reality does nothing to help you.

For someone like Feisher he would be best served to review his life with dad, noted how it made him feel, then do the exact opposite to others. There's plenty of abused people who gain that insight and become better people. Feischer, after the inception, now thinks his dad's methods were an act of love to help him improve. Now, he's a virus who will spread his dad's techniques.

This film is filled with heinous "F-ed up" messages.
31. Veronica Schanoes
"Now, he's a virus who will spread his dad's techniques. "

There's no evidence for that at all. That's pure speculation. And in real life, plenty of people who know their parents love(d) them still disagree with many of their actions and do things differently from them.

As I said before, in my opinion, the movie intends to raise the question of whether it is better to be happy than right. You have made a decision about that question already; it happens to be the same decision I've made. That doesn't mean it's not a relevant question to ask for others, or that asking it is somehow "heinous." Further, I doubt you could show me a single human being whose life does not rest on any illusions or inaccurate assumptions at all.

Believe it or not, I did check what I was saying. As I said, I _disagree_ with you.

I don't know why the discussion of censorship or propaganda and analysis of same came in. I never said that one shouldn't analyze a film, or that because I disagree with you, your analysis isn't worthwhile or shouldn't be discussed. Analyzing texts is what I do for a living. Of course I think it's a worthwhile thing to do. However, analysis and discussion means that there will be disagreement. Pushing one's analysis to the exclusion of all others and demanding that others to the same is problematic, in my view.
32. a-j
Veronica Schanoes @ 31
Your disapproval of the film is based on your reading that inception equals rape. That analysis is not given and I, for one, disagree with it. For the record, this does not mean that I approve of rape or hiding complex social ills under pat medical labels.
Jon Evans
33. rezendi
This spoiler-laden blog post on the real (and not-so-secret) meaning(s) of Inception is very worth reading, if and only if you've already seen it.
34. a-j
rezendi @ 33
Thanks for that link. imo and fwiw I think it's on the ball.
35. dmg
Hey, rezendi

Only Dark Places done and down; nonetheless, even this early on in my travels through your oeuvre, thank you.

You have correct all the details: the Annapurna Circuit at the beginning... all the way to book's end. Really truly enjoyable -- for something so gruesome, if you know what I mean. :-)

Thank you again.
Jon Evans
36. rezendi
dmg @35

You're very welcome! Glad you liked it.
37. littlerasco
The real inception they were pulling was to get us to the theater more than once!!!
38. Joeseppi
The film was nothing short of brilliant.

And by the way, since when was '' an authority on film critique? :S
39. From Alissos
On the whole, I found it brilliant - with one major problem as far as verisimilitude is concerned:
we keep going deeper and deeper into a person's subconscious, where censorship should almost disappear and harldy come across the slightest sexual allusion...
Not that I regret it.
But still. I guess I must be a Freudian at heart because that's the only thing that started bothering me after I'd seen the movie.
Plus, how can you believe in the story of the young couple building a dream world and just nicely building a sand castle (even if it's a dream- megapolis?) and playing naughty-naughty games of trying-to-convince-the-other-this-is-not-the-real world?
Indeed, it doesn't seem real.

This said by someone who's aware her mind is being "raped" daily by commercials... and finds them far more dangerous than Inception - which is a fiction. Or is it? :-)

@Veronica: by the way, I do love your fiction!
40. From Alissos
@ the Adlerian - from what I understand, you like Fisher, the sweet boy who spent his life cowering before his father's authority , trying to imitate him and had never dreamt he could try to be himself before somebody forcefully implanted the idea into his mind?

Granted : Adler is not Nietzsche.
But surely, I must have missed something.
Robert Evans
41. bobsandiego
I've read all the rape symbolism post on Inception today and I am not convinced that the symbols is there for everyone.
Extraction is certainly theft. This is why Miles (Michael Caine) disapproves of Cobb using the technique he taught him for slimy purposes.
Fisher is not an innocent in this plot. Saito makes it clear that if Fisher's company is not broken up it will end up controlling an absurd amount of the world's energy. (I don't remember the percentage, it was something like 50%) An a new superpower will be born. One controlled by one man or a small select of men wholly unresponsive to the citizenry. Nolan made the break-up of the company a moral good vs Saito just getting richer.
To add even another layer of acceptability to the plot, Cobb will only entertain ideas that stress positive emotions that lead to the break-up. In story the reason is that positive is stronger than negative, not sure psych theory holds that to be true, but certainly as a consumer of the film I can feel better know that They are not going to leave fisher a vegetive lump to achieve this break-up.
As to Fisher sr, We really do not know what he was like as a father. We have Eames tell us the relationship was complicated and we get Fisher jr's point of view, but in this matter he may be an unreliable narrator. So I am not sold that Fisher sr was a bad man as much as a man who revealed too little of what he felt. For all we know -- and that is very little about old man Fisher -- he loved his son very much and would want him to go his own way in this manner. But we simply do not know..
42. Narmitaj
I like the idea that Ariadne (the woman who gave Theseus the twine so he cold escape from the Minotaur's labyrinth) was some kind of therapist hired by Michael Caine, and in fact they were all trying to plant an inception in Cobb's mind. But I need to see the film again.

Someone somewhere pointed out that Fischer Jr's name, Robert, meant he was essentially Bobby Fischer, one time chess champ and, iirc, paranoid. I wonder if Ariadne's token being a chess piece was relevant. Or just a bit of fun.
44. inception leather jacket
this movie-you have to see it at least twice because og his action and to see Leonardo DiCaprio iam the big fan of him

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