It's been barely an hour since I've stepped out of the movie theatre and it's nearly 1am. But I enjoyed Inception so much and there's so many burning questions that I have, I figured that it was perhaps best that I pen my thoughts down before heading to bed, since I might possibly spend an enternity or at least become an old man in my dream before waking up.
Inception is one of those movies which in my opinion possess the criterea to be labeled as an instant classic. It has a great cast, a well reputed director, and most of all a very well thought out plot which is both ingenius and thought provoking. Personally, it's been a long time since I've watched any movie which made me thing so hard. Comparisons to The Matrix, another cult classic, reflect how much impact the film has made on reviewers and critics alike. While I'm loving how much the movie has made me think, I'm also inclined to list of some of the theories which may or may not contradict some of the logic or laws which the director/writer Christoper Nolan had originally intended. While the questions are still very much open ended since the possibilities are countless and subjective, it is also very interesting and fun to raise questions on something as complex and intricate as the sub-concious mind.
If you haven't seen the movie yet, I highly recommend that you stop reading now and go book your tickets immediately. What I'm going to discuss on will directly reference scenes from the movie, and it's already hard to comprehend the different levels of the dream sequences even if you have already watched the movie. I would also like to put a disclaimer that all my comments are from my own perspective, and there will unquestionably be differences in opinions when it comes down to logic, be it fictional or otherwise. With this disclaimer made, I'll share my personal reflections gained from the movie and perhaps use this as a platform to highlight my hyhothesis on certain issues pertaining to the plot.
Basic information and recap from wiki: Leonardo DiCaprio plays Cobb, an extractor who enters the dreams of others to obtain information which is otherwise inaccessible. His abilities have cost him his family and his nationality, but a chance at redemption and regaining his old life is promised when Cobb and his team of specialists are hired to plant an idea in a target's subconscious. This process of planting of an idea, known as "inception", is less familiar and far more difficult than Cobb's usual job of "extraction".
The concept of “extraction” and “inception” was explained pretty well by Cobb in the scene where he tries to recuit Ariadne as the team's new architect. The main idea behind these 2 terms are that certain professional hackers have the ability to tap into an individual's subconcious through a pre-determined dreamscape, specifically designed for the individual to project his or her own memories and perceived images. The intent is for this individual to lock up important information within this dreamscape, and by doing so allowing the hacker to access this information. Inception simply means the reverse: instead of extracting information, a new thought is planted onto the individual, with the intent of making him or her think that the thought is a pure self conceived idea or creation. In other words, extraction can be referred to as a form of hypnotism, while inception shares similar concepts as brain washing.
In other for the hackers to achieve this, they have to share the dream with the target. This is achieved through a device which resembles a steel brief case. The device fulfills two roles. One to sedate the target long enough for the hackers to accomplish their objective, and the other to connect all members of the team within the same dreamscape. Certain roles within the team has to be fulfilled as well. One of them will “host” the dream. In other words, the dream belongs to him and he is the creator of the dreamscape. Next is the Architect. His or her role is to re-create specific set pieces of the environment in the dream, with the purpose to either deceive the target or to create complex mazes to disrupt the natural activation of the defence mechanisms present in the mind to repel foreign projections. Another role, a more interesting one, is the Forger. His main role is to take up different identities within the dreamscape, likewise for the reason to deceive the target. The Extractor, played by DiCaprio, is the main talker, and is responsible for direct confrontations with the target in order to obtain the information. On a side note, I really enjoyed his performance here and it reminded me a lot of his role in “Catch me if you can”, where he played Frank Abagnale. The Chemist is the one who formulates the drugs needed to enter the dream world. Other not so distinct roles include the Pointman and the Tourist. Not too exciting so I'll not talk too much about them.
The plot doesn't seem too complex if everything remains on a single level of a dream. However, the pillars supporting this structure start to disappear and it starts to get mind boggling when the movie brings up the possibilities of dreams within dreams. As if it is not enough, multiple levels can be achieved through proper synchronisation between the team members within each level. Death, or a “kick” within the dreamscape would return the member back to the higher level. However, in the main operation where the team's objective was to implant the idea of splitting up his father's assets in Fischer, death was not an option since it would send the member into a state of limbo, in which where they are unable to establish the difference between reality and the dream, and so are trapped.
Attached is a picture (click to enlarge if you're visiting from my blog and not facebook) which I found on the net depicting the various information on the different levels of the dreams. Do note that this is not official, and is still currently a topic of debate. Some have agreed that it shows the most logical explaination, while others have completely disagreed and instead argued based on their own assumptions.
From here, I'll jump to the areas which I have questions or doubts with regards to the movie's various logic of the characters jumping up and down the different levels.
1) Role of the Architect. While I can believe that the Architect actually comes up with the blue prints for the differerent structures in the dreamscapes, it's hard to perceive that so much information can be manipulated by a single individual. Although Cobb did explain that the details are filled in by the dreamer, there lays the question of how the equipment actually gets pre-dumped into the different scenes. Specifics include the weapons, bombs, and even the steel brief case found in level 3. A little hard to swallow, but I'll take the answer given, which is you don't need to know the specifics and anyway, you can't remember how you got there in the first place.
2) Mal. During the scene where we first saw her in the hotel room, where she confronted Ariadne and Cobb, I actually believed that she was alive and real, albeit trapped in a dream. Of course, as the movie progressed it seemed absurd, since we all got to know that she actually commited suicide from the very next window. She's the most interesting character in the movie to me, since she isn't real and is a projection based on Cobb's memories. Her history of being the first person to be incepted was a good twist to me. Although it was foreshadowed through various conversations by Cobb, I didn't realise that the idea he planted was to commit suicide (in order to return to reality). A thought which she brought forward into level 1, and eventually drove her mad and to her own demise. One question I have is, if they did grow old 50 years in limbo, why was the flashback of them being ran over by the train still showed them in their younger years? Was that just another dream sequence, or was it meant as a metaphor?
3) Limbo. Many have argued that while limbo is a shared level, it is not level 5. Instead, it is a level only accessed by death within the dreamscape when it does not return you to reality. Based on this assumption, some believe that level 5 is actually Cobb's dream instead, and he actually modelled it after his original creations in limbo with his wife Mal. From there, Cobb drowned in the submerged bus, and that took him to limbo where he eventually found Saito. In summary, Saito died in level 2 while he was in level 4, went to limbo where he created his own fortress and evil Japanese Yakuza henchmen. Cobb died of drowning in level 2, and went to limbo to retrive Saito. This gap between the 2 deaths created a time gap of decades between the levels, hence the old and aged Saito. He was clearly lost, and had forgotten how to return to reality till Cobb showed up. However, this theory is only true if Cobb had already anticipated that he was going to die in one of the levels and head for limbo. This can be either 5 or 2. Take note that if this theory is correct, then the picture shown is wrong.
4) Kicking. To return to a higher dream level, the kick must be done in that level which you want to return to. Thus, the problem with the picture is: if Ariadne and Fischer were to return to level 4, won't it need to be triggered at level 4 instead of level 5? This might mean 2 possibilities. First, they were not at limbo: the fall resulted in a kick, which sent them 1 level higher. Second, they were in limbo: they actually died from their fall and the death sent them up. I would like to go with the first option, but then again they violate the notion that the kick needs to be triggered one level up. Additionally, I've got no clue how to can make use of the music to simultaneously kick everyone across all the various levels. They must have amazing syncronisation skills.
5) So, was it a dream? Of course, the final scene indicated thru Cobb's totem that it was all a dream. But the question which begets all the confusion and chaotic theories is: so whose dream was it? What level was it, and when did it start? Personally, I see everything up till level 2 as “real”. Reason being the totem Cobb used was constantly shown prior the airplane scene. It indicated that he wasn't dreaming, at least according to rules which were spelled out to the viewers. So, either Cobb and Saito missed the timing to get back to the plane with the rest of the team and instead, entered another level of limbo, I guess we will never find out. At least he got what he wanted. So even if it wasn't real, chances are that he would have gave in and acknowledge it as his own reality.
Well, this short review sums up my views on the movie. I love the questions invoked through the well thought out plot, and also applaud the cast, director, as well as the music in the movie. It was a great movie experience, and I'll definitely be reading more about how others felt about the movie for the next few days. I enjoyed it very much and it is one of those movies which I won't mind going for a second round to tie up the loose ends which I have and perhaps to get another perspective now that I can comprehend the plot and logic a little better. :)