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NEVER WAKE UP: THE MEANING AND SECRET OF INCEPTION

post #1 of 275
Thread Starter 
Devin analyzes Christopher Nolan's masterpiece.

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post #2 of 275
Perfectly summed up, especially about WHY the whole movie is a dream, something I could never quite reconcile until now.
post #3 of 275
I think the top is the ultimate proof at the end of the day.
post #4 of 275
Oh absolutely, which is why it hits audiences so hard everytime, but the meaning of why it's all a dream never made sense until now.

I especially like how you point out that to Nolan, Mal is a problem while other filmmakers would find her to be a positive force. I think this says a lot about Nolan and, more importantly, why so many people find his movies to be distancing.
post #5 of 275
Agree! At least on the metaphor for filmmaking angle. Nicely laid out. (And I was half joking when I said the movie is also Nolan's intricate defense of his trademark narrative plot holes.)
post #6 of 275
That's a very well-reasoned essay, with some solid details I hadn't even picked up on the second viewing.
post #7 of 275
I don't think the window being across the alleyway meant it was a separate suite. It could have been a U-shaped building. I thought of the apartment in TAKEN while watching the scene.

Still, I think the people that are debating whether that metaphorical gap is there due to it being a movie or a dream or the convenience of Watanabe showing up outside the narrow alleyway due to it being a movie or a dream are effectively doing what Nolan wanted them to do. I think you're spot on with the dreams vs movies analysis, and I think each side's views are potent enough to have people debating over it for years.

Great article. Been reading these INCEPTION articles like crack since I've seen it.
post #8 of 275
Great article Devin.
post #9 of 275
Very well-written piece.
Quote:
Originally Posted by devin
The problem here is that the top wasn't always Cobb's totem - he got it from his wife
Thanks for mentioning this. I figured it would have been brought up in the main thread but I must have missed it. I thought I was misremembering things(I was becoming a bit feverish at the time). For me this is the primary "hint" that it's all a dream.
Quote:
Originally Posted by Scott View Post
I don't think the window being across the alleyway meant it was a separate suite. It could have been a U-shaped building. I thought of the apartment in TAKEN while watching the scene.
Yeah that was the first thing I thought of too after I was initially like "wha?". Similarly, I figured the alleyway "closing in" was just poor city planning, with two buildings too close to one another at a slight angle.
post #10 of 275
After a night of thinking about it I basically came to the same conclusions Devin did, but could never state them so clearly or well. Great stuff.
post #11 of 275
I believe that there is something behind the lack of charcter development for everyone besides Cobb. We really don't know anything about Arthur, Ariadne, or the others, yet we get an intricate backstory for Cobb. I know he's the lead, but we get nothing about anyone else beyond names. They have no goals or wishes of their own. They are all there solely to accompany Cobb on the journey and facilitate his goals. He's pretty much a Mary Sue, with all of these people at his beck and call in some way, be it for a way home, emotional support, or firepower. It's a weird Wizard of Oz parallel with Cobb skipping down the yellow-dream road with some random companions who show up and join the trek. Here, Cobb is the center of attention, the leader, the one with the hero's journey home. More to the point, in the dream, he is the one in control of the job. If Mal represents the loss of control in his reality (through divorce, death, or whatever means by which she is lost to him), could we say that this entire film is about Cobb attempting to regain control of his emotional state from his wife?
post #12 of 275
Delightful read. Skol, sir.

I like what this theory does for the Mr. Charles element: Nolan saying that he can indeed pull the audience out, make them aware they're watching a movie, yet still hook them in the end.
post #13 of 275
Excellent article. The one thing I didn't notice was the walls closing in on Leo. I thought it was just a really narrow alley. Having said that, I'm more and more convinced that it's all a dream. It speaks volumes for Nolan's talent that he is able to make an intelligent, exciting movie out of the oldest cliche in the book.

Incidentally, in March last year Nolan's brother, Matthew, was arrested on charges of fraud, kidnapping and murder. He's still in jail awaiting trial. Apparently Chistopher and Jonathan were completely unaware of all this until he was arrested. I presume the INCEPTION script was completed by that time so I doubt any of their thoughts or experiences seeped into the movie but they might for any future films. Possibly subconciously.
post #14 of 275
Instead of a U-shaped building, she could have simply walked over to a building across the street. That way there's no chance of him reaching out the window to stop her.
post #15 of 275
Absolutely capitol article, Devin. I plan to see Inception again. And seeing it with the whole "filmmaking process" allegory in mind makes me even more anxious to buy another ticket.
post #16 of 275
Quote:
Originally Posted by Richard Dickson View Post
Instead of a U-shaped building, she could have simply walked over to a building across the street. That way there's no chance of him reaching out the window to stop her.
That's true, but like what was brought up in the movie thread he sends her mixed messages in that scene. He is asking her to come inside by basically beckoning her to come to him.
post #17 of 275
Great piece of work, Devin.
post #18 of 275
Let's put it this way: if Mal is in another building it's bad filmmaking. If the suite they're in is U shaped and she's in another room, it's bad filmmaking. The director's job is to create the geography and reason of scenes. Since Leo never says 'What are you doing over there' the movie never addresses it.

I think a lot of literalist types will find lots of literalist reasons for things that don't make sense (and aren't meant to make sense) in the movie.
post #19 of 275
Wow... just wow.

I was breaking the movie down with a buddy of mine last night and we agreed that it all wasn't a dream. You have completely changed my mind and blown me away with this smart, astute and just down right brilliant analysis. I don't think I have ever formed an opinion about what a movie was about and had it so fundamentally changed by a really well thought out breakdown the next day.

If you ever wondered why people who seemingly always disagree with you still continually read and comment on your stuff. This is it right here, genius work sir.
post #20 of 275
One thing I want to say off the bat is I don't think the alley way was closing in. Some alley ways are like that. However, I don't think that is necessarily here nor there to Devin's overall idea. Wantabe being right there when Leo squeezes out is unlikely, silly and dreamlike. But it's also pretty conventional for a film. To me, it's not a deal breaker one way or the other.

My reaction to the top at the end was Nolan gets to have it both ways. In a way, the answer doesn't matter because we're all talking about it. I think *that's* what the point is. At least I think it's what Nolan was hoping for. That's not really addressing any theme of the film, just a nice directorial touch.
post #21 of 275
Fischer is the self-consciousness of the audience living out the action set-piece?
post #22 of 275
This is the kind of movie where a frame-by-frame study would help. I feel like there were a few poignant moments where DiCaprio's eye was looking towards the lens to bring it back to us.
post #23 of 275
Quote:
Originally Posted by bpvalentine View Post
My reaction to the top at the end was Nolan gets to have it both ways. In a way, the answer doesn't matter because we're all talking about it. I think *that's* what the point is. At least I think it's what Nolan was hoping for. That's not really addressing any theme of the film, just a nice directorial touch.
I mentioned this in the other thread, but that's the proper reading if it's not a kind of puzzle movie. But since it is, then I think a different reading is more appropriate. It's the filmmaker giving you all the clues to solve it, but forcing you to fill in the blank... to make that jump, as it were*. Which is the exact same realization Cobb is going to have to come to, if he ever wants out.

*Because the audience's initial reaction is going to be to try to resist the notion that what they were watching was only a dream (of course, it is regardless, which is part of the meta-point.)
post #24 of 275
I really hate the idea of having it both ways. I'm thinking part of the magic of the last shot is that you're tempted to think you can have it both ways, but really deep down you know this is a truly dark and punishing ending. And Cobb only comes to the conclusion he comes to as shown. Nolan seems to be making a statement on human consciousness and morality here.
post #25 of 275
I don't see what's so dark and punishing? Cobb makes peace with something deep inside himself. That's very happy.
post #26 of 275
Because it might (or might not) be at odds with the reality of what actually happened. It's all Cobb - a guy who has lost touch with reality. On a personal level, I find that deeply frightening.
post #27 of 275
Why at any point would it be at odds with the reality of what happened? He can't bring himself to see the faces of his children - literally or metaphorically. At the end of the movie he has managed to get to a place where he CAN. He has put some hard issues behind him. Whether he's awake or dreaming in the last shot, he has moved on from the pain he feels about Mal, and he's ready to move forward.

It feels endlessly uplifting to me. Just as Fischer has a moment where he makes his personal peace, so does Cobb. They're both going to be okay.
post #28 of 275
Yeah, when Cobb wakes up in the real world of the movie he will be able to face his children because he came to terms with his guilt in his dream.

We've all had dreams that reflect our real life fears and problems - hell, I had a horrible one last night! - so if you feel it's pointless if the entire movie is a dream then just imagine Cobb finding peace with himself in the real world. If it IS all a dream then the real world is obviously not shown, but you can still imagine it and empathise with Cobb.
post #29 of 275
Fascinating points all around. I thought it was strange seeing his father in law in LA when he was in Morocco? earlier in the film. The fact that Cobb's mother in law was nowhere to be found when he arrived home, but he got a call from them earlier in the film. Then Saito's conversations with Cobb over regret and the fact he's the one with the gun, not Cobb, and the experience not only makes him older but bitter.

I'm sorry that's was regurgitation from Friday. Ripoli your take was interesting and make me think over the entire film all over again and even then I'm still thinking about it. The fact that it was all a dream from the word go sheds light but I'm still in the dark on so much. I'll still say it was an awesome ride. It almost reminds me of Brothers Bloom in how they say playing a long time grift is like putting on a play... Interesting.
post #30 of 275
But yeah, Devin, you have a strong point and thanks for it. Cobb comes to terms with his demons. It's probably a personal thing () but the concept of getting lost within worlds within yourself is extremely frightening to me. This is probably why I tensed up a lot while watching this - also a testament to the filmmaking on display here.
post #31 of 275
Devin, how would you compare Cobb's ending with Leonard Shelby's? Where the catharsis is reached over and over again, in a kind of vicious circle where he never truly progresses? Related? Polar opposite? One has nothing to do with the other?

I mean, they're both lying to make themselves happy, but, with Cobb, there is this idea of progress. But is he just retreating deeper into the dream? Does that even matter?
post #32 of 275
Quote:
Originally Posted by devincf View Post
I don't see what's so dark and punishing? Cobb makes peace with something deep inside himself. That's very happy.
Yeah, no matter how you interpret the movie I think it ends in a very positive place.

I actually mentioned to my buddy after watching the film that it was refreshing to see a big and popular film that had no real bad guy, no characters with insidious motivations, no character that you grow attached to dies, everyone at the end of the film is better off. Its actually an extremely positive film.
post #33 of 275
Quote:
Originally Posted by stump View Post
But yeah, Devin, you have a strong point and thanks for it. Cobb comes to terms with his demons. It's probably a personal thing () but the concept of getting lost within worlds within yourself is extremely frightening to me. This is probably why I tensed up a lot while watching this - also a testament to the filmmaking on display here.
I hear what you're saying, but consider that a lot of the dream concepts (the time curve, Limbo) aren't necessarily real either. Hell, the whole movie could be one real time dream Cobb has over the course of one night. Maybe Cobb actually is Christopher Nolan.

This was a terrific write up. No axe to grind, just pure love and craft, and I enjoyed reading it immensely. I was already going back to Inception, but you probably moved that time frame up.
post #34 of 275
The time frame has some basis in reality. I've often fallen asleep and woken up 5 minutes later. The dream I had lasted a lot longer. At least it seemed that way while I was dreaming.
post #35 of 275
Quote:
Originally Posted by Bluelouboyle View Post
The time frame has some basis in reality. I've often fallen asleep and woken up 5 minutes later. The dream I had lasted a lot longer. At least it seemed that way while I was dreaming.
When I sleep I tend feel like very little time has passed compared to how long I actually slept, but I have experienced the opposite on occasion too.
post #36 of 275
The Ethan Hawke/Julie Delpy scene in Waking Life addresses the concept of 'dream time' in terms of what you might experience in the moments you die.

Great piece, Devin.
post #37 of 275
Good piece, though it says more about Devin than about the movie, as does actual dream interpretation. Which is essentially what Devin is doing here.

He's telling us what he thinks his dream meant. "His dream" being his experience of the movie, with all the emotional/psychological elements he brings to it. Others will watch the same arrangement of film frames and have an entirely different "dream" based on what it triggers for them. Dreams of falling don't mean the same thing for every dreamer, and so on.

Question is, do we go at the dream (the film) from a Freudian or Jungian perspective, or from one of the many subsequent and less famous thinkers in the field? It all depends on the weird mix of meat and wiring between one's ears.

Point is, the film is too large and complex a machine — perhaps even moreso than Nolan intended — to insist upon one interpretation of it, or to say that "this will become the accepted reading of the film, and differing interpretations will have to be skillfully argued to be even remotely considered." That's like Freud saying "Yep, dreams are all about unfulfilled wishes; you can all go home now, it's settled," and then Jung saying "Hold on a sec, brah."
post #38 of 275
Yea I agree with the read as well. I think another part potentially points to it all being a dream. When Cobb tells Mal they did grow old together, she just doesn't remember it. This must've happened in reality since they are shown young when laying down on the rail tracks.
post #39 of 275
That shot standing in the middle of the street is a total tech scout. Really, all they are missing are some cameras and notebooks and you have a location/tech scout going on right there.

Great piece Devin. This is one of those movies which leads to lots of great criticism and reading and writing.
post #40 of 275
Using the making-a-film analogy, would it be pushing it too far to posit that Caine as the mentor represents the great directors who have come before?
post #41 of 275
The biggest problem I can see with it all being a dream is that it would be the goofiest dream anyone has ever had in known history. Five layers of dreams-within-dreams, with other dead-end offshoot dreams and some of the dreams lasting decades... You seem to need the idea of Extractors to make reasonable the disconnect between the dream world we see and the one which we experience in our lives.
post #42 of 275
Devin,

Who is Mal in the filmmaking process? Is she you, the critic?

Also, her jump scene, could it be Cobb folding the physics of the area to make a mirror image like Ariadne did in the street scene?

And from the main thread where the movie as filmmaking was briefly mentioned I immediately thought if that was the case then this and Inglorious Basterds would be a dynamite double feature.

*EDIT* Ahhh, just re-read the article and saw you say she is the personal aspects of the director.
post #43 of 275
I love this interpretation of INCEPTION. Goes beyond what I thought the movie was doing. Kind of kicking myself for not seeing it earlier.
post #44 of 275
I'm curious who Browning (Tom Berenger) represents in the filmmaking theory. Is it the audience's expectations? Or am I reaching too far looking for someone to represent everything?
post #45 of 275
thank you for the article Devin, I couldn't agree more with everything you said. Like i said in the Inception Post-Release thread, I felt like there wasn't many people seeing the 800lb gorilla in the room.
post #46 of 275
Quote:
Originally Posted by Devin Faraci
It doesn't matter that the movie you're watching isn't a real story, that it's just highly paid people putting on a show - when a movie moves you, it truly moves you. The tears you cry during Up are totally real, even if absolutely nothing that you see on screen has ever existed in the physical world.
This encapsulates every reason why I'm a film geek.
post #47 of 275
Quote:
Originally Posted by Farsight View Post
The biggest problem I can see with it all being a dream is that it would be the goofiest dream anyone has ever had in known history.
How often do stories that take place in dreams function like actual dreams? Never.
post #48 of 275
I agree that Devin's reading of the film is a good one, but as has been pointed out elsewhere (cogently enough by Massawyrm at Ain't it Cool) one of the coolest things about Inception is that it is narratively ambiguous enough to allow for a multitude of readings that are more or less equally valid. That's what will make for such excellent discussion fodder over the coming years as people revisit the movie and their thoughts on it change.

The clearly intentional ambiguity in Inception makes me think it might be the purest filmic expression of the attitude expressed by Alan Moore in the introduction to Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow: "This is an imaginary story... aren't they all?"
post #49 of 275
Quote:
Originally Posted by Alan "Nordling" Cerny View Post
I'm curious who Browning (Tom Berenger) represents in the filmmaking theory. Is it the audience's expectations? Or am I reaching too far looking for someone to represent everything?
As far as the filmmaking theory, it's one that I accept and agree with fully, but I think it's more than that. It's also a heist film; a film about guilt, regret and forgiveness; a film about the very nature of dreams as psychotherapy and an examination on how our subconscious uses our dreams to manifest our deep-seated raw emotions into narratives in which certain resolutions can be played out. And underneath all of that it's ALSO a film about filmmaking. So certain elements (i.e. Tom Berenger) may lend themselves more to one thematic strand than another.

Another thing I'm curious about, on a narrative level (as opposed to a meta one), is who the various characters represent in terms of his subconscious. They way it looks to me is that Mal* represents his guilt, Ariadne represents his rationality and that little voice in his head telling him it's going to be okay, Fischer is a projection of himself and represents his own catharsis - his vessel, so to speak, but what (if anything) do the other main players represent?

* - The way they pronounced it throughout the movie led me to think it was short for Molly, so seeing it spelled with an A is still tripping me up. That's neither here nor there, though.
post #50 of 275
I'm really confused by Devin's statement that Mal's "jump scene" being reality would be bad film-making. It makes perfect sense (to me) for a suicidal person to rent a hotel suite across the road from Cobb's; in fact I thought it was probably the most moving scene in the whole film.

I loved the movie, but if it had any bad film-making, it was the long stretches of almost faceless action scenes used to pad the second half of the film. If those were part of some larger statement about the nature of dreams or movies, it didn't make them any easier to sit through.

I think Devin's spot on with the metaphors to movie directing / writing / production, but those metaphors still work perfectly fine when you take the basic story as being real. Saying "the whole film was a dream" seems weirdly redundant. All films are "dreams" of the writer or director, this film just calls more attention to that.

At the end, I get more enjoyment out of the movie, and more things make sense if I take the fiction presented at face value. The metaphors still work, and I think the final shot of the spinning top is more of a joke than a clue.


Edit: It seems like all the evidence used to claim that Dom was always in the dream are simply the same narrative leaps and minor plot-holes we have to accept in all movies. It's sometimes very difficult to separate cinematic shorthand from dream logic (which I guess is part of the joke!).
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