Salon – Everything you wanted to know about “Inception”

by InceptionEnding

in Inception Ending

So if it’s not about dreams, what is it about?

I’m glad you asked. The critic Glenn Kenny has posited that “Inception” is really a movie about video gaming, which certainly provides the inspiration for some of its dopier action sequences. But for me, it makes most sense as a movie about the shared dream of movies, those half-created, half-imagined worlds that are always co-creations of the filmmaker and her audience.

Consider Cobb’s advice to Ariadne about drawing from life without replicating it, which could double as a warning to a budding screenwriter too literally wed to “write what you know.” Or the notion that, in order for the incepted idea to take root in Fischer’s mind, it has to be stripped down to its emotional core, the way an actor will ground his performance by rooting it in his character’s most elemental needs. Eames uses the word “catharsis” to describe the desired result of the inception, a term that whose dramatic lineage goes back to Aristotle.

Cobb and Fischer’s parallel journeys both involve reconciling themselves with their past, coming to terms with it but also freeing themselves from it. If you read “Inception” as an analogue for filmmaking, then Fischer’s journey represents the artist breaking free from the influence of his artistic forbears, taking them apart and building something new from their component parts, and Cobb’s represents the creator freeing himself from the shackles of his own experience, gaining the ability to incorporate pieces of his personal history without being defined by it….

All right, enough waiting. Was it all a dream or not?

Here’s why it matters. If you can’t fall asleep within your own dream, then what seems to be the real world at the end of the movie must, in fact, be reality. We see Cobb dreaming his own dreams twice: First in Yusuf’s opium den, and second in the workshop when Ariadne sneaks into his dreams. If, on the other hand, Nolan only leaves one dreamer behind at each level to prevent us from getting too confused, then the jury is still out. He deliberately toys with our perceptions, repeating key phrases like “leap of faith” at all levels of reality, and filming Cobb’s flight through the streets of Mombasa from an overhead angle that makes the city look like a labyrinth — just like those his team manufactures in dreams.

Here’s why it doesn’t matter. The last shot isn’t directed at Cobb. It’s directed at us. Cobb isn’t watching the top. He spins it and leaves it behind. If this is a dream, he doesn’t want to know. The decision of whether he finally finds happiness or whether he has merely retreated once and for all into his own memories is ours to make. Nolan builds the structure, but he leaves us to fill in the details, the same way the subjects elaborate on the dreamers’ skeletal architecture. We can’t share dreams in real life, but movies bring us close. They tell us a story, or a piece of it, but the characters live on inside our heads after the lights have come up. What happens next is up to us.”

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