The Inception Files

The Inception Files by Kelly Bulkeley

It’s reasonable to expect a dream researcher would have a clear, informed opinion about the movie Inception.  Unfortunately I don’t.  Instead I’m caught between conflicting impressions, some favorable, mostly critical. Three factors inclining my thumb in an upward direction:

1. Christopher Nolan.  It’s great to see a brilliant director at the top of his game deciding to do a film entirely about the multiple realities of dreaming.

2. Intellectual daring.  As good dreams often do, Inception pushed its audience to think new thoughts and question their epistemological certainties.

3. Accurate portrayal of the “realness” of dreaming: When Ariadne (Ellen Page) is sitting at the sidewalk cafe she suddenly realizes she can’t say how she got there—and in that moment understands she is dreaming.  This is true for many people whose dreams start in media res and who simply accept their dreaming experiences as real while they’re happening.

Five problems drawing my thumb downward:

1.  Lack of dreaminess.  This was the biggest disappointment.  For a film supposedly about dreaming, it lacked the visceral power and alluring weirdness of actual dreams.  Everything fit together too neatly; every detail in the dream worlds had a direct explanatory cause, whether because of the emotional repression of Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio), or because of actions in outer reality.  It seemed a very cerebral take on dreams.

2. Heavy heavy heavy.  The press of gravity seemed to drag everything in the movie down, from the fantastic buildings crumbling into the sea to the elevator down to Cobb’s unconscious basement, from the suicidal plunge of his wife Mal (Marion Cotillard) to endlessly falling passenger van.  There was virtually no humor in the movie, no romance, no lighthearted playfulness.  Falling is indeed a common experience in dreaming, but that gravity-bound vibe took over the movie.

3. Loud, noisy, and filled with unnecessary action.  This may have been necessary to attract teenage boys, but it helped extinguish any kind of truly dreamy atmosphere.  On the contrary, all the Bond-esque mayhem and derring-do merely reminded me it was summer and I was in a movie theater paying $10 for a popcorn spectacle.

4. Lame motivation.  If I understood correctly after two viewings, Cobb and his crew were risking life and limb to help one mega-corporation stop another mega-corporation from getting too much money and power, so the first mega-corporation could…get more money and power?  Of course Cobb has the personal goal of getting back to his kids, but the murky corporate espionage theme made it hard to care about his team and their mission.

5. Didn’t make me forget The Matrix. I re-watched that film with my kids a few nights ago, and we loved every single scene of it–as soon as it was over we wanted to watch it again.  I don’t think Inception will generate that kind of long-term reverence and delight.

9 Replies to “The Inception Files”

  1. Leave it up to Hollywood to change something as wonderful as Lucid Dreaming into a nightmare!
    It’s hard to tell from the trailer if there are some good qualities about the movie. I’ll go see it just to know.

  2. There is no question that lucid dreaming happens.

    Laboratory studies show that during lucid dreams, parts of the brain that are normally unactive when people are asleep remain active.

  3. Inception was a complicated, mulit-layered movie worth seeing again. The fact that it has many stars and a fascinating topic will inspire audiences to view the movie. This alone is valuable … even if, perhaps, they skew the lucid dreaming and shared dreaming experiences, making them seem so much darker and drug-dependent. However, I believe anything that gets the general public to think more about their dreams and expanding their dream possibilities is great. Thank you IASD for putting out more sound information about lucid dreaming, and giving others the opportunity to share their experiences and ask questions.

    1. A big-budget movie like Inception can get lots of people thinking anew about dreaming and its possibilities. Good point about the emphasis on drugs as part of the dream-sharing process in Inception. In the 1985 movie Dreamscape, the trajectory of the main character (Dennis Quaid) was from using technology to using his own innate psychic powers to enter other people’s dreams.

  4. Inception was a futuristic movie that held true to real lucidity for the most part. The technology they used and extra logic they added made the movie really good and into a movie. Without the extra stuff they prolly couldn’t make a movie let alone a good one.

  5. I thought inception was mind blowing and incredible. It has definitely opened my mind to the lucid dream state and has made me explore the whole concept of astral projection. If we can astral project and others can as well why couldn’t we meet on the astral plane and therefore enter the world of dream sharing? I’ve watched inception a handful of times and i catch something new that i hadn’t seen the previous time watching. So for the people who said it was horrible didn’t take it for what it was. Breaking it down and criticizing every detail is not what the movie was originally made for. It was to open our minds to the dream state and opening our minds to wonder if extraction and inception are actually possible when are guards are lowered. The subconcous is a wonderful and powerful thing, and we must not underestimate the possiblities of our dreams!

  6. Your first problem – if they were in a dream and Saito got shot, he could just say “there is no bullet in my chest and I wont be bleeding anymore” and there wouldn’t have been, because they are in a dream. And the place where Saito first understands they are in a dream because Mal told him and they are threatening Arthur, Cobb could just have used “telekynesis” (which i always do when i understand when i am in a dream) with his mind to take away their gun… BUT if they would have done these things, people would have expected to do these kind of obvious things in every situation and that would have made the movie too… too easy? wouldn’t it?

    Second – they were in a dream within a dream within a dream, and in dreams the law of physics don’t aplly and this really can happen, when you are sleeping in car and the car is falling off of a cliff…

    Third – to me it didn’t seem too much action, I know when it is too much action and I don’t like action… but yeah, the film could have been more deep into the mysterious world of dreaming

    Four – motivation wasn’t lame. As Saito said: When Cobol Energy gets him out of the way, the will become a new superpower. And they could like rule the world or smth. Lame? No. One man couldn’t have so much power ower the world, right? Still lame? And to Cobb yes, it was just a last job and to see his children, very intrigueing.

    Five – I have watched Inception four times. People are different, so, this is YOUR problem, so sorry.

  7. I honestly havenever watched the film, but always heard that its about lucid dreaming. I always was scared to lucid dream after i watched that movie but i want to face my fears and actually do it. Could someone tell me how i reach that state?.

    1. I’d recommend you go to Ryan Hurd’s website, dreamstudies.org, where he has a lot of good resources about lucid dreaming.

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