Now that INCEPTION is no longer in the weekend top ten, it may be safe to talk about it without worrying too much about spoilers.
Oh, SPOILER ALERT. You’ve been warned.
The movie is about a lot of things (as most good stories are), most of which has been hashed out around town (or at least around the web) – everything from the nature of reality to the nature of making a film.
One idea that has been incepted into my brain, which has had a lingering impact is one that the movie itself seems to toss aside (“seems to” being operative), and that is the idea of inception itself – planting an idea that the target then takes on as his/her own.
Just as Leo’s team distracts Fischer inside the dreamscape to prevent him from realizing what is really going on, so too does director/writer Nolan distract us from the real heart of this theme.
Not so much to prevent us from understanding, but rather to let the theme be lived out in action rather than in character debate.
What are the distractions? First, the main conceit: we are told that inception, planting an idea, can not be done. The characters all claim this, except of course for Cobb. It is so rare, as to be nearly impossible…
Out in our world, there is no such debate – Madison Avenue thrives on its ability to make consumers think that they can’t live without diet cherry cola with teeth whitener.
Politicians, preachers, and salesmen plant such ideas all the time; and they don’t need to enter dreams to do so.
I have a computer programming friend who, every time he wants to introduce a new system or programming style at work, starts by telling his boss: “I ran with that great idea you had a while back…” Of course his boss never had that great idea, but soon enough remembers giving the idea to the programmer. And as the original idea (the boss’) was so good, of course the programmer’s running with it is good as well…
We are all planting ideas, whether we want someone to think we are cool, or think that our new i-toy is cool, or think that our taste in wives is cool (“Don’t you think she’s a babe?” The answer by the way is, “Yes, I do.”)
The second distraction was sweeping aside a major question with a brush off answer: Why not plant a negative idea?
No, says Cobb, because a negative idea won’t stick. Only a positive idea will stick. We can’t tell Fischer to break up his father’s empire; we must tell him instead that his father loved him. Everyone in the room nods in agreement, and moves on.
Yet the entire movie hinges on the fact that THIS IS NOT TRUE. Cobb has only incepted an idea once before, and it was a negative idea (this world is not real). Cobb’s entire existence is defined by the fact that he was able to plant a negative idea.
Therefore, the whole movie becomes a test, a trial of that question: what kind of ideas do we plant – positives or negative? And what are the consequences of that choice?
To be continued…