Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Dreams, Madness and Obsession

Inception is an amazing spectacle. It is the most impressive, visually arresting experience Hollywood has produced since The Matrix. Cities warp, bend and crumble into the ocean. Bullets fly and cars chase only to be outclassed by runaway freight trains. An elevator rises and descends through the tormented echoes of a man's sundered family life. The roles and performances are palpably calculated, but convincing and at moments, genuinely moving. It is the stuff dreams are made of, but Inception is not a movie about dreams. Dreams are the set-up, the backdrop, the pretense, but as Stephen Totillo suggests in his review of the film, Inception is about virtual realities; virtual realities so immersive and convincing, that ‘video games should be jealous.’ This is both a good and a bad thing.

The issues associated with virtual realities, particularly those realities that are so convincing that they can be considered alternate realities, need to be addressed. People are already getting lost in fantasy worlds, obsessing over virtual possessions and personas. This movie will help people understand how we get lost and why we don’t want to be found. More importantly, this film will help people appreciate the profound, if tragic beauty, in surrendering oneself to another world. As Totillo suggests in his review, this film is a clear representation of the joys of virtual reality: wondrous new frontiers to explore with strange new rules to master. God help us all if we actually learn how to develop this tech. That would be the end of it for me, I can promise you.

At the same time, dreams have a hell of a lot more to offer than the rigidly ruled framework of Nolan’s film allows, as anyone who read Sandman well-knows. My subconscious hosts far greater horrors than throngs of orderly, humanoid projections. The idea that peoples’ intellectual property conveniently congeals in safes and vaults is also a missed opportunity; ideas themselves can be labyrinthine dungeons that people wade through. Secrets can be monsters themselves, as the film half-illustrates through Mal. Everything is a bit too clear-cut for the movie to actually be about dreams. But it’s perfect for obsession.

On Facebook I butted into a friend’s discussion about the movie, chiefly, whether it was about madness or not. Again, I would argue that the film is too organized for most manners of madness, but it is perfect for obsession; a madness forged from focus and getting lost in relentless routine. Leonardo Decaprio’s Tom Cobb is an obsessed man. His presentation of ideas as parasites is compelling, but the sort of cancerous ever-growing idea he describes specifically pertains to the ideas we obsess over, like stories, memories and what could have been or what may yet be.

I suspect that Nolan obsessed over Inception himself. The complexity of the final job sequence feels like something that was tweaked, adjusted and edited endlessly. Little logistic issues haunt the film in hindsight. Why do we end up in the dream world Cobb created if we’re in another person’s dream? If base-dreamer is ‘kicked’ out of one level, why don’t the others automatically join him or get lost in subconscious limbo permanently? None of these little questions amount to an actual hole in the plot, but the degree of engineering involved with the exposition leaves the whole film feeling a bit more mechanical than it should.

In many ways, Inception feels like it was meant for something bigger than a single movie. I wanted more time to digest the ideas in play. I wanted to see more of this technology and its possibilities. I wanted to see more of the characters as well. It would be fun to explore the thieves’ various histories, or even see if there's an actual relationship behind that kiss between Joseph Gordon Levitt and Ellen Paige. That said, I do not want to see Inception 2 in theatres three summers hence. There is no way to follow up from the film’s ending without destroying it.

In closing, I’d like to leave you with anecdote about how obsession. After seeing the movie, my friends and I were hanging out in the theater lobby, discussing the intricacies of the plot when this guy walked up to our circle and started standing there in a way that screamed "I have an opinion about the movie that I need to share." He asked what we liked about the movie. I applauded the effects, the plotting and it's use of rules. He politely acknowledged my praise and proceeded to tell us that the film stole his intellectual property, citing it's use of the number 528 in relation to music. He was Doctor Horowitz of 528love.com. Never heard of him? He promises you will (though I left his site unlinked for a reason).

Apparently, 528 is the magical musical frequency of love, one of the nine cardinal frequencies of the universe. He went on to claim that Inception was a brilliant piece of propaganda by multinational corporations owned by evil tyrants like Rupert Murdock (an evil tyrant to be sure, but one who is completely unrelated to Inception). All this from three numbers which appeared in the movie three times at most. Horowitz was so utterly taken with this concept that it completely totalized the movie. He couldn't see anything else but his frequency and its conspiracies. It was an unsettling experience. Maybe it's because I was so close to grasping the truth that those evil multinationals have been repressing all these years, but I suspect it was because I was confronted with raw fanaticism. Not the sort that has been has been cultivated throughout the years by dogma and religion, but the kind that springs up unbidden.

It was a surreal ending to an already surreal experience, and oddly ironic that an obsessed man should decry intellectual property theft in a movie about an obsessed intellectual property thief.

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