Inception: When Dreaming is Bad for You

inception-filmDear Reader, I regretfully must inform you that Christopher Nolan's bombastic Inception has enough startling footage with which to edit 30 exquisitely enticing trailers, but not enough to compose one comprehensible movie from.

So what is the most anticipated film of the summer like? If you recall the scene in Dahmer (2002) where Jeremy Renner as the deranged killer drills holes into his victims' heads, you'll know what watching this Freudian claptrap of a thriller is like.

You'll sit in your seat, possibly with overly salted popcorn, and immediately become bewildered. But then you'll tell yourself the creative force behind Following (1998) and Memento (2000) is always in control. Of course you'll soon know what's happening. But a half hour later exasperation will start settling in over you like a cup of cherry Jell-o firming up in your fridge. Then another 20 minutes will pass, and you'll start feeling like Timothy Leary's severed, cryogenically preserved head. Will there be any relief arriving at all?

Suddenly you'll realize there is no hope when one character asks, "Whose subconscious are we going into?" and another admits she doesn't know what's going on either.

Inception's plot, you see, is about the possibility of remolding a person's mind by subverting his dreams. And sometimes to execute this task, you must enter a dream within a dream that is within another dream. And within this dream within a dream within a dream, you can bring a gang of friends along with you. And on this nightmare journey, people who don't really exist will attack you and your pals because they know you all don’t belong in this other person's dream. And as these folks turn on you, there are a lot of guns blasting away, speedy car races, and buildings disintegrating, but little sex. No sex in a dream?

What's more confusing is that Leonardo DiCaprio’s character, Dom Cobb, seems to be an extension of his deranged Teddy Daniels of Shutter Island (2010). You see, his "deceased" wife keeps popping up and his faceless children are not within his reach, and certain people think he’s a murderer, and . . .

Then there's the great Japanese actor Ken Watanabe as Saito, an ambitious executive, whom we first meet as an old man, then as a much younger man. But whatever age he is, you can’t make out 90% of what he is saying.

As for Joseph Gordon-Levitt, one of American greatest young actors, here as Arthur, Dom Cobb's sidekick, a piece of cardboard could have nearly given the same performance.

And Oscar-winner Marion Cotillard? She walks about to Piaf music. Mr. Nolan, please don’t remind us of better films.

Only Ellen Page, Tom Hardy, and Michael Caine survive Lee Smith’s breakneck editing. Unlike with Christopher Rouse's brilliantly seamless, razor-sharp cutting about for The Bourne Ultimatum (2007), the splicing here is haphazard and exasperating.

All of which brings us to an anonymous quote: "The best thing about dreams is that fleeting moment, when you are between asleep and awake, when you don't know the difference between reality and fantasy, when for just that one moment you feel with your entire soul that the dream is reality, and it really happened."

The main problem with Inception is that it’s soulless. - Brandon Judell


Mr. Judell is featured in the forthcoming documentary Activist: The Times of Vito Russo and has been edited out of Rosa von Praunheim's New York Memories. In the fall, he'll be teaching "American Jewish Theater" and "Theater into Film" at The City College of New York. He has written on film for The Village Voice,, The New York Daily News, and The Advocate, and is anthologized in Cynthia Fuchs's Spike Lee Interviews (University Press of Mississippi).

The biggest criticism from

The biggest criticism from people regarding this film is simply that 'it's not dreamlike enough - where are the purple whales floating in the sky, or why can't they conjure up shields or wasps or whatever'.

You're entirely missing the point. The dreams have to be as real as possible so that the intended target of extraction or inception is convincingly deceived. All the special effects occur to simply show the viewer the potential of the human mind within a dreamscape, to go off with something completely weird is out of character and wandering off from an already complex plot.

I posted this earlier a

I posted this earlier a little deeper in the thread, hopefully this helps explain my concerns a bit better:

"I also do not appreciate the ability for all of the ground rules laid out in the first half of the film to be broken without repercussion. Yeah, the dreamer needs to be unaware they are dreaming, which is only accomplished by creating a realistic world for them to inhabit. The movie makes that very clear and it makes sense. Unfortunately, the downtown train, human shape shifting, gun evoking, and stairwell manipulation clearly demonstrate that these rules can be broken without alerting the dreamer OR the subconscious. If this is the case, every scene of danger that occurs out of the direct line of vision of the dreamer could have benefited from manipulation by the divers. So, perhaps Leo asked the other divers to not do that. Bummer. How long did that take the screenwriter to write that one sentence to cover that huge hole in his world's logic?"

Yeah, a movie that makes 60

Yeah, a movie that makes 60 million in it's opening weekend came from a script that "should have never been turned into a movie."

Re: yeah a movie . . .

I say that not as a business man, but an artist. I could play guitar in some horrible pop band created by a corporation to please 13 year old girls and make hundreds of thousands of dollars a year, but I would never be able to live with myself because creating music is a very personal process to me. If I was writing this screenplay, I would have stopped the moment I realized I wouldn't be able to make this movie make sense without cheating in the ways this movie does.


The whole of your post can basically be summed up by the fact that you feel crazier things should have been brought about by the dreamer or the "dream divers" to help protect themselves from invasion/attack. The film describes why the dream is based in reality. If the person knows they are dreaming, the game is over. This film isn't a depiction of dreaming so much as it is a look into the subconscious (of Leo).

The dreams we are seeing are the "fake" dreams built by the architects. They are based in reality to give the dreamer less chance of realizing he is dreaming. The fact that the dreamer is not aware of the fact he is dreaming is reason enough for him not to be able to change anything in his "dream." You can't control a dream until you know you're dreaming, and even then, you can't always control it. This is why the dream divers can change things but not the dreamer. The dreamer has to rely on the defenses he was taught (which were never really explained, except by an "army" in his subconscious). Sure, that is an excuse to get more action into the movie, but seriously, who cares. It is an entertaining fun way to explain why his subconscious was seemingly "trained" to deal with invaders. They were armed and coordinated, whereas somebody without that training would have had to rely on lesser tools.

I think the thing that seems to be hanging you up the most about this movies is the basic premise. You aren't seeing anybody's dreams. You are seeing the created dreams of the divers. Even in Leo's dream with the elevator. That isn't a real dream, he created that (as his own architect) as an easy means to relive his most tragic memories. We would never have a dream like that because we can't design our own dreams. In this movie, they can. They even have a 5 minute scene describing this type of "dreaming" as the only true dreams some people can have anymore. Maybe you missed it on your pee break?

Anyway, nobody is forcing you to like this movie. Anyone can take apart any movie by saying "if this was real it would be over in 10 minutes." I do that all the time to movies I hate, but skip that line of thinking when I am sucked in. I guess this movie just didn't grab you, for whatever reason, and that's fine. This movie certainly isn't as confused or bad as you want to make it sound though. You seem to have a lot of misconceptions of the movie, so maybe you might want to rewatch to get a better grasp on it?

I'm starting to get a little

I'm starting to get a little frustrated by the assumption I wasn't paying attention. The movie itself explicity showed that "crazier" things could have and did happen without alerting the dreamer or subconscious. It's seriously a poorly thought out rule set, I'm not missing anything. Thank you for taking the time to respond.

You're a complete moron

You're a complete moron. The old man introduced at the beginning is not the watanabe as an old man, it is dicaprio as an old man. If you had bothered to pay any attention to this movie, you would have realized it's many different levels of meaning. Watch it again.

I'll expect we'll see a lot

I'll expect we'll see a lot of suckers calling the fans of cohesion and narrative "morons." Step down, son -- this review is a bull's-eye.

I understand if you disagree

I understand if you disagree with this man's review, but to call him an idiot, tell him he is wrong, or turn his statement into something "moronic" is purely impolite. A man is entitled to his views, and if he wants, he can share it with the world. People who disagree should tell you, Brandon, why they disagree. But to call you a moron is just unfair. You are targeting no one with this review. if you do not harm anyone, then how are you an idiot? Oh well... I know this comment will get some backfire.

p.s. i just saw inception against your reviewing critique, and I did enjoy it. I did not think it was a good movie, but i thought it was intriguing enough to get my mind off of reality.

Thank you for your kind defense

Please note that my opening sentence states Inception has much engaging footage. It's a visual power house. I just feel the technical wonders do not add up to anything of equal intellectual power.