One can’t help but be entranced by the film Inception – I fell in love with the trailer (which was teasingly short on detail). It appeals on many levels – one reviewer described it as the rare film that can be enjoyed on both a superficial and an intellectual basis. It is a thriller, a heist movie, an action movie, a psychological drama, a science-fiction futurist piece, and more. At times it is not exactly sure what it is. (David Denby, reviewing the film for the New Yorker, was unimpressed: "Summarizing the movie makes it sound saner than it is.") Inception requires a suspension of disbelief regarding the highly complicated plot which at times reveals rather gaping holes; one gets the feeling that at times even the actors in the dreams within dreams within dreams, etc. would not be able to explain exactly what is going on in either the dream or “real” worlds. Christopher Nolan took ten years to write the script, and I’m sure even he had to stop and retrace his mental steps a great deal of the time.
The film is gorgeously conceived and shot; the dreamscapes are all fabulously evocative. These worlds appeal not merely for the escapist element or the admittedly thrilling idea of dream adventures or the ability to control and manipulate the subconscious of one’s fellow human beings. And, let’s face it, putting “dream-extractor” as an occupation on immigration landing card would easily beat most other options. I have one observation of my own to add to the media mix analyzing the appeal of the film: the interesting interplay between technology and the science-fiction elements of Inception that enable the dream escapades. Nolan seems to have very carefully chosen how technology is displayed throughout the film in “real life” sequences. While technology is omnipresent – it clearly underpins the dream-extractor trade, which appears to be most often practiced on bullet trains and aboard 747s in mid-flight – the film seems to consciously eschew evidence of actual technology powering the dream adventures. There is little suggestion that computers are highly involved in the process -- the entire operation is contained in a metal suitcase, tethering the human subjects together with the lightness of cobwebs and operated at the push of a button. The extraction of information is interpreted through the literal opening of a safe and removal of documents in envelopes. The extractors therefore simultaneously benefit from the use of technology, but both the dream and “real life” worlds remain remote from it. Freed from the harsh edge of technology both world are softened, rendered more romantic, more desirable.
The initial scenes involving “the chemist” are particularly intriguing. Whereas they might well have taken place in the sterile clinical setting of a laboratory or research facility, Nolan has chosen to set the scene in a makeshift shop in East Africa where the chemist plies his trade. It is warm setting redolent of sea breezes and more akin to a nineteenth-century perfumerie or a medieval alchemist’s workshop. This suggests that, rather than crafting his compounds with cold mechanical precision, he is practicing some magical and transformative art. And do we not all long for some alchemy to elevate the baseness of ordinary lives to something more singular?
Read more reflections on history, idleness, and the art of living from the Idle Historian in To The Idler The Spoils