"IT WAS ALL DREAM," thought Cobb as he woke up in the shower.
May 30, 2012 2:38 AM   Subscribe

"The question of whether or not Cobb's top falls doesn't really matter." Kyle Johnson, Assistant Professor of Philosophy, gives a detailed, multi-layered analysis of Inception as part of Authors@Google talks. Very insightful and interesting, even if you think he's dead wrong.
posted by litleozy (85 comments total) 36 users marked this as a favorite

 
The presenter is very excitable. The first 10-15 minutes cover a lot of information that's been discussed a lot, such as Inception being about movie making. It gets a bit deeper after that.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 3:11 AM on May 30, 2012


Is the PowerPoint available anywhere? I'd rather look at it than watch the video.
posted by sonic meat machine at 3:20 AM on May 30, 2012


Download the presentation here, via David Kyle Johnson's website.
posted by litleozy at 3:23 AM on May 30, 2012


It's always great to hear from someone who has researched an individual piece of work with such depth and enthusiasm. Whilst he is neither correct nor incorrect regarding his premise, he has spent a lot of time assembling a narrative and relating it to a broader context. That is really enjoyable.

If you're wondering what the answer is in less than 42 minutes, Michael Caine is here for you:

“The top drops at the end, that’s when I come back on. If I’m there it’s real, because I’m never in the dream." – Michael Caine.
posted by nickrussell at 3:35 AM on May 30, 2012


Johnson is bit annoying with the "Inception was much better than the King's Speech and should have one for Best Picture". He doesn't make a good case and probably can't, as the subject is , well, subjective.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 3:39 AM on May 30, 2012


Okay, having read the PowerPoint: it's a good theory, but Johnson is not making a good argument for his case that Inception is a great movie. An enjoyable movie, yes. A good movie, yes. Better than The King's Speech? Eh. Both of them were good movies, neither great.

Also, I feel that he should probably watch Last Year at Marienbad, which I think deals with ambiguity of memory and event much better than Inception.
posted by sonic meat machine at 3:46 AM on May 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


I had this same thing happen to me with The Prestige. I thought I had it all figured out, then made the mistake of reading some forums and found I was still one level down.

Bloody Nolan dreams - I'd go back to reality but I'm having too much fun in this one...
posted by arzakh at 3:57 AM on May 30, 2012


Better than The King's Speech? Eh.

Seriously? The King's Speech was as formulaic and forgettable as they come. In 25 years, will people still talk about Inception or The King's Speech? Yes, you have to choose just one.
posted by zardoz at 3:59 AM on May 30, 2012 [4 favorites]


I don't think people will talk about either film in 25 years, zardoz.
posted by sonic meat machine at 4:07 AM on May 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


The King's Speech was as formulaic and forgettable as they come.

Sometimes life is formulaic and forgettable as they come. Thus the appeal.

posted by Brandon Blatcher at 4:10 AM on May 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


Just to clarify, there is a science fiction veneer to the dreaming i.e. there is a 'contraption' needed to generate the dream world and link all the participants in a shared environment, right? So there aren't any dreams within dreams. Either you're dreaming or you're awake. The deeper dreams are simply discontinuities in one's dream i.e. shift in environment/narrative. There's only one physically potent dream generator, and that's in the real world. The machines within a dream are just symbolic or maybe a signalling signpost for the real world generator. This is probably the wrong aspect to nit-pick over, but it just struck me as incoherent.
posted by Gyan at 4:18 AM on May 30, 2012 [6 favorites]


In Dreams...

The guy's manner, for me, is off-putting as all get out but it's an interesting thing to listen to.

Also I thought the whole point of The King's Speech was Geoffrey Rush.
posted by From Bklyn at 4:21 AM on May 30, 2012


Nolan admitted in some interview that the scifi dream contraption that enabled the shared dreaming was problematic, so he didn't dwell on it in at all.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 4:22 AM on May 30, 2012


Either he's trying to sell his book, or making a philosophical case. Or it's intentionally ambiguous. I think he's selling the book, though. Not the most charitable assumption, perhaps.
posted by Obscure Reference at 5:33 AM on May 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


I don't think people will talk about either film in 25 years, zardoz.

well one thing is sure, people are still talking about zardoz 38 years later.
posted by jonbro at 5:34 AM on May 30, 2012 [22 favorites]


"Excelerated"? Really? Ugh.

I love this movie, and I think it is pretty awesome, but this guy is a bit cloying.
posted by King Bee at 6:11 AM on May 30, 2012


"It is clever because it tricked you into thinking that it was a clever cliffhanger, when it isn’t a cliff hanger at all! You should have already suspected that he was still dreaming and realized that the top is a red herring!

Nolan misdirected you! At first you were confused, then you thought you had it figured out…but when you start to think about it, everything you thought you had figured out, you actually misunderstood!

Are you convinced it was better than The King’s Speech yet? We have only scratched the surface!"


I saw this on the PPT first and couldn't help reading the lines in my head as Vizzini from The Princess Bride (see: the wine in front of me). Then I listened to part of the video and OMG, he sounds just like he writes!
posted by iamkimiam at 6:19 AM on May 30, 2012 [11 favorites]


All of this dream or not a dream puzzle construction is kind of orthogonal to whether it's a good movie or not, and it's not particularly innovative, no matter how deep it goes.
posted by empath at 6:21 AM on May 30, 2012


Also, if you watch the video to the end, there's a reference to MeFi's own The Last Psychiatrist.
posted by Obscure Reference at 6:23 AM on May 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


I had this same thing happen to me with The Prestige.

That's because The Prestige is a perfect film. They don't come along very often, and they aren't always good films (however, The Prestige most certainly is a good film), but they are perfect in that there is nothing out of place. Not one off note. There is no point in the movie where I thought, huh, they could have left this out. It doesn't pander, and although one part of the movie is predictable, it is predictable in a way that makes you, the viewer, feel smart for having figured out the big, horrific reveal (which is, indeed, a bigger and more horrific reveal than most movies can dream of), only to be gut punched by the second, more stunning moment.

And if you're having trouble getting your friends to watch it, tell them it's Batman vs. Wolverine, with David Bowie as Tesla. That usually works.
posted by Ghidorah at 6:48 AM on May 30, 2012 [21 favorites]


It's a bit silly to look for the level of forensic rigour that is proper to a philosophical paper, in a film (I'm not sure it would be a good thing for a film to have at all, let alone that it would be an award-winning quality), but I must admit the resulting analysis was quite amusing.
posted by Segundus at 6:48 AM on May 30, 2012


In 25 years, will people still talk about Inception or The King's Speech? Yes, you have to choose just one.

Out of those two, I pick Scott Pilgrim vs. the World.
posted by shakespeherian at 6:57 AM on May 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


Just for a point of comparison: 25 years ago, Best Picture (along with eight other Oscars) went to The Last Emperor. Other movies released the same year include: Fatal Attraction, Moonstruck, The Untouchables, Lethal Weapon, Dirty Dancing, Predator, and Robocop.

Hands up, when is the last time anyone has watched The Last Emperor?
posted by griphus at 7:12 AM on May 30, 2012 [6 favorites]


Inception was all right, but Nolan forgot that films are supposed to show, not tell. It could have been named "Exposition." If you added up all the scenes where the characters explain what's going on to each other (and by extension the audience)...well, it still wouldn't add up to the same length as similar scenes in old noirs like The Maltese Falcon and The Big Sleep. But my point stands.
posted by The Card Cheat at 7:12 AM on May 30, 2012 [4 favorites]


I think my favorite part of the new Casino Royale movie was when, right before the climactic poker game, one character takes the time to explain to another character how poker is played. If that scene was any more shoehorned-in, it would've taken place in a loafer.
posted by griphus at 7:15 AM on May 30, 2012 [6 favorites]


He so angry.
posted by Zerowensboring at 7:16 AM on May 30, 2012


Hands up, when is the last time anyone has watched The Last Emperor?

/raises hand, but concedes point. It's been on cable here a lot, and it's really freaking good (though it's no Farewell My Concubine, which takes the dull sad ache of Last Emporer and turns it into a sobbing melancholy that will never heal).

I'd go with 1995 as a year of fantastic film that had a stunningly boring best picture race. I mean, Babe was up for best picture. Out that year? Heat, Seven, Twelve Monkeys, and a whole raft of movies that are still utterly watchable.
posted by Ghidorah at 7:16 AM on May 30, 2012


That's because The Prestige is a perfect film.

Parts of it were really good, but anything dealing with the women in it was, to put it mildly, imperfect. (This is a Nolan problem and half of why I'm dreading the new Batman movie, the other half being that I hate most of the stories he picks from the Batman canon.)

As for the powerpoint, this guy should hit up some Inception fanfic because I've seen these ideas (e.g., "Mal is right) better and more lovingly explored in fic than in this explanation of why Inception is so confusing and so great. Although he's dead right that insisting on a definitive answer is sort of missing the point, which is the same way I feel about Blade Runner, and why I'm not looking forward to that sequel.
posted by immlass at 7:39 AM on May 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


"i can't believe i watched the whole thing"
posted by Zerowensboring at 7:42 AM on May 30, 2012


And if you're having trouble getting your friends to watch it, tell them it's Batman vs. Wolverine, with David Bowie as Tesla.

If it were Batman vs. Wolverine, Batman would fool people with clever disguises and Wolverine would come back from seemingly fatal situations over and over and over again.
posted by straight at 7:45 AM on May 30, 2012 [11 favorites]


I really wanted to like Inception, but it fell flat for me. A lot of action, not a lot of thought, and all in all kind of stale and predictable. I wanted to find the kind of richness, complexity and depth I found in The Prestige, and it just wasn't there. Other movies have done the alternate reality thing much, much, much better.

I can see how the premise is exciting and worth taking apart, but it wouldn't be my first choice of films to obsess over.
posted by Stagger Lee at 7:57 AM on May 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


Just for a point of comparison: 25 years ago, Best Picture (along with eight other Oscars) went to The Last Emperor. Other movies released the same year include: Fatal Attraction, Moonstruck, The Untouchables, Lethal Weapon, Dirty Dancing, Predator, and Robocop.

Hands up, when is the last time anyone has watched The Last Emperor?


I know at least one person who needs to (re)watch The Last Emperor. Sure, it's no The Conformist, but it's still Bertolucci operating at a pretty high level. It seems to me to be incomparably better than most of the other films you list here.
posted by yoink at 8:32 AM on May 30, 2012


That's because The Prestige is a perfect film. They don't come along very often, and they aren't always good films (however, The Prestige most certainly is a good film), but they are perfect in that there is nothing out of place. Not one off note.

I don't know, the abrupt introduction of (for all intents and purposes) real magic about two thirds of the way into the movie seems like a major structural flaw to me. I had a real hard time suspending disbelief after that.
posted by invitapriore at 8:38 AM on May 30, 2012 [4 favorites]


As for Inception, it was entertaining enough, but I'm not sure why it is that people seem so desperate to find deeper philosophical meaning in it. The same thing happened with The Matrix back in the day--a film which might, at best, hope to strike an eight-year-old as presenting a novel philosophical postulate. Luckily the sheer, indescribable silliness of the sequels seems to have taken the bloom permanently off that rose. But for a while there many serious academic friends of mine would try to convince me that that The Matrix was a profound meditation on the human condition.
posted by yoink at 8:39 AM on May 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'm surprised he hadn't noticed that the fact that he can see his children's faces at the end is a Freudian dream-joke - he's been avoiding home because he can't face his children after the death of their mother (which he feels responsible for). Now he's got closure on that, he can (literally) face them again.

Bit shouty, though, yes.
posted by Grangousier at 8:40 AM on May 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


If there are people in this thread who haven't seen The Prestige please eave now and remedy that fact.
posted by The Whelk at 8:56 AM on May 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


I spent many tedious hours with people like this guy back in high school -- geeks who argue and postulate way too intensely for the subject matter, and who are desperate to get you to understand the "really cool thing" about something that ultimately doesn't really matter at all. And they're clueless about that fact.

Kinda a lot like Metafilter, actually.
posted by crunchland at 9:03 AM on May 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


Rough day, crunchy?
posted by entropicamericana at 9:04 AM on May 30, 2012


Both 528491, and 2053, are primes.
posted by carter at 9:08 AM on May 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


Oops, I meant to say, BOTH 528491 AND 2053 ARE PRIMES!!!
posted by carter at 9:12 AM on May 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


Inception is one of the few movies that I liked less the more times I saw it. It hit me why a while back, I don't care about the characters at. all. Is Cobb still dreaming? Does he return home? Who the fuck cares he's boring and squinty! Same for the other dream thieves who are reduced to a series of ticks and those ticks are boring. Everyone is so removed and interior that I never understood why the hell I should bother figuring out their metaphoric mind puzzle.

Oh well I got to gaze longingly at JGL, Tom Hardy AND Cillian Murphy so it's not a total loss.
posted by The Whelk at 9:21 AM on May 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


From glancing at the link text, I thought this post was going to be about a racist baseball player showing his tits.

(I'm still just a bit disappointed each time I read it again and remember what could have been...)
posted by mer2113 at 9:22 AM on May 30, 2012 [4 favorites]


Just to explain a little about why I found this interesting: this guy did a good job of explaining how Nolan crafted his dream world and created the possibility of ambiguous interpretation of the film's reality.

- There's the use of patterning (like you have in dreamscapes) throughout the movie, with the totems, the number 528491, the music and the children reappearing in the same pose.

- There's a sense of distrusting what you see because of the use of unreliable narrators (Cobb mainly, but also Mal), incomplete pieces of information and the uneasy cuts between scenes.

- There's the repositioning of typical film 'lies', so that you're not sure whether Ames stealing the guy's wallet unseen is just a Hollywood contrivance, or proof of irreality.

- And importantly, there's the manipulation of both the viewer's gaze and expectations in the final scene: we want to know if all this is real and typically what the final shot closes in on provides the answer. Not only does it not provide an answer, just a spinning top that may or may not fall, but we're also not even meant to be looking for the answer here and we should in fact be paying attention to the background.

Johnson's presentation is off and he has an unfortunate excited geek vibe, but I learned something from this.
posted by litleozy at 9:23 AM on May 30, 2012


I don't care about the characters at. all.

The one part where JGL kisses Juno is the best part in the movie because it is the only vaguely human thing that is done.
posted by shakespeherian at 9:26 AM on May 30, 2012 [4 favorites]


I find all the Inception hate hilarious. If memory serves, when the film came out all but a small handful of MeFites took a collective dump on the naysayers.
posted by You Should See the Other Guy at 9:38 AM on May 30, 2012


Let's never use "small handful" and "collective dump" in the same sentence again.
posted by griphus at 9:53 AM on May 30, 2012 [5 favorites]


by all, means, let "generous portion" and "majestic pile" be our watchwords.
posted by mwhybark at 10:06 AM on May 30, 2012 [6 favorites]


zardoz: "Better than The King's Speech? Eh.

Seriously? The King's Speech was as formulaic and forgettable as they come. In 25 years, will people still talk about Inception or The King's Speech? Yes, you have to choose just one
"

I was the perfect target audience for Inception, but it took until just last month before I finally watched it. My poor friends over the last two years have had to put up with me saying "No no no no spoilers! Shhh! I need to watch it!"

So I watched it. And ... huh. Yeah. Well, it was a movie. And the train bit was neat. But otherwise, it seemed like a glossy wannabe-philosophical gunplay film.

In other words, it was this decade's The Matrix. Except at the end of this film, DiCaprio didn't turn into superman and fly off into the sunset.
posted by barnacles at 10:26 AM on May 30, 2012


Blade Runner is to Neuromancer as Inception is to Pale Fire.
posted by digitalprimate at 10:33 AM on May 30, 2012


DiCaprio didn't turn into superman and fly off into the sunset.

Although he did do that at the end of J. Edgar.
posted by The Whelk at 10:35 AM on May 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


created the possibility of ambiguous interpretation

Why is this seen as a good thing and not a flaw? It's trivial to tell stories and omit enough information that people can't make sense of them.

Arguing over which must the correct ending of an incomplete story is like trying to answer a rhetorical question.

The film has been presented as a stand-alone film, is presented as if it is a complete story, so at a deep level we assume there is sufficient information hidden in the story to make sense of it, so we analyse and argue. But if it is intentionally incomplete, then we are just wrong - our instinct to find the clues is a red herring that will never make progress.

So it's a cute cognitive hack (present an incomplete story in a format that suggests otherwise, and watch people's brains melt as they try to reconcile that), but it's a trivial trick in a slick high-budget wrapper.
posted by -harlequin- at 10:51 AM on May 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


The characters are totemic dream ticks, duh! They don't need characterizations because they are tropes!

I want to make two points 1. It was a giant action blockbuster that was coherent, and genuinely smart. The exposition was clearly driven by studio notes to Nolan to make sure that no one was left behind. That this movie got made at all is a triumph, a magic studio unicorn.

2. I tried watching the film along with the rifftrax joke thingy, and I kept tuning out the jokes and getting drawn into the movie. The story envelops.
posted by stratastar at 11:29 AM on May 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


-barnacles-

I felt exactly the same, except I ended up really liking the first Matrix, and that was a movie I nearly walked out of after 20 minutes. I’ve really liked Nolan’s movies, until Inception, and there honestly wasn’t a single thing I liked about it, even though on paper it’s so up my alley…it’s really in there. It wasn’t even particularly entertaining in a dumb way.
posted by bongo_x at 11:32 AM on May 30, 2012


I just watched half of the speech waiting for the payoff, but couldn’t take any more. It was sort of like watching the British version of The Office, I was cringing so hard it hurt. This was a painfully embarrassing "Dude, think about it" rant, from a grown man. Classic in that he’s sure that no one "got" all the really cool things that he did, when in fact many people thought they were pretty obvious and just weren’t that impressed.

I give the movie credit for trying, but it was a broken mess.
posted by bongo_x at 11:56 AM on May 30, 2012


I spent many tedious hours with people like this guy back in high school -- geeks who argue and postulate way too intensely for the subject matter, and who are desperate to get you to understand the "really cool thing" about something that ultimately doesn't really matter at all. And they're clueless about that fact.

Kinda a lot like Metafilter, actually.


Please tell us, oh great one, of your interests which "ultimately really matter". On tenterhooks, to be sure.
posted by adamdschneider at 12:01 PM on May 30, 2012


The top falls.

Everybody (who gives a damn about this question) tries to look frame by frame and question whether it looks like it's going to fall or not. Not the point. The point is that you can hear it start to wobble. That had to be intentionally designed in there. The top falls.
posted by Navelgazer at 12:20 PM on May 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


Seriously? The King's Speech was as formulaic and forgettable as they come. In 25 years, will people still talk about Inception or The King's Speech? Yes, you have to choose just one.
posted by zardoz at 3:59 AM on May 30 [2 favorites +] [!]

"And I have looked into the face of the force that put the idea in your mind. You are bred, and led, yourself."
posted by Revvy at 12:28 PM on May 30, 2012


The exposition was clearly driven by studio notes to Nolan 

Couldn't disagree more. Nolan had just comeoff the billion dollar dark knight. He could do what he wanted and he wanted to treat his audience like idiots. He succeeded.
posted by You Should See the Other Guy at 12:47 PM on May 30, 2012


On tenterhooks, to be sure. -- I think we can all agree that compared to peace in the middle east, issues regarding world hunger and poverty, global warming, or Tibetan independence for example, being this passionate about the intricacies of plot devices used in a 2-year-old movie are a little lightweight by comparison.
posted by crunchland at 12:49 PM on May 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


Why is this seen as a good thing and not a flaw? It's trivial to tell stories and omit enough information that people can't make sense of them.

It most certainly is not trivial to craft a story and then edit it to the point that leaves just the right amount of ambiguity to allow all of the different possible meanings to balance out and co-exist like Schrodinger's Cat. You can tell a story and cut out enough random bits that it no longer makes rational sense, sure, but most likely it's going to suck. But to make all of the different interpretations dance around each other and co-exist in the same text like a quantum wave function is really, really hard. Done poorly, it's a parlor trick. Done perfectly, it's magic.
posted by vibrotronica at 1:24 PM on May 30, 2012 [6 favorites]


That's because The Prestige is a perfect film. They don't come along very often, and they aren't always good films (however, The Prestige most certainly is a good film), but they are perfect in that there is nothing out of place. Not one off note.

I enjoyed Inception, The King's Speech, and The Prestige, but I wouldn't call any of them perfect.

Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, on the other hand...
posted by Benny Andajetz at 1:25 PM on May 30, 2012


Blade Runner is to Neuromancer as Inception is to Pale Fire.

And as Citizen Kane is to Fear of Flying; Battlefield Earth is to Remembrance of Things Past; and as The Hunger Games the movie is to The Hunger Games the book?
posted by straight at 1:55 PM on May 30, 2012


: : : :: :: : ::
posted by griphus at 1:58 PM on May 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


It seems completely obvious that the entire movie is a dream in which Cobb is being incepted. The plan for incepting Cillian Murphy is pretty much an exact description of everything that happens to Cobb. And it's the only explanation for the surreal scene where he's fleeing through an alley and the walls are closing in on him.
posted by straight at 2:01 PM on May 30, 2012


I'll completely grant the perfection of Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels. Snatch failed for me because the casualness of the violence took me out of the movie several times and made me question the violent movies I'd liked in the past.

Mentioned upthread, Inception is incredibly slick, but at the end, I thought, hey, that was amazing. I doubt I'll ever watch it again. I can't think of many movies I was deeply impressed by, but have absolutely no desire to see again. At this point, I've probably watched The Prestige a dozen or more times, and Dark Knight at least as many. Inception was really interesting, and the visuals were great. I guess I just really, really can't get interested in movies with Leonardo Dicaprio.
posted by Ghidorah at 2:09 PM on May 30, 2012


Not even Gilbert Grape?
posted by shakespeherian at 2:11 PM on May 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


But to make all of the different interpretations dance around each other and co-exist in the same text like a quantum wave function is really, really hard.

Inception fails to do this. The wave hasn't collapsed yet because the information just isn't there. It's a cheap trick to have enough crap in there that people assume the information must be amongst it, so they keep trying to figure it out, like the lion trying to eat the child through the glass zoo window the other week. Like the lion, eventually you either figure out that the prize isn't accessible, or you don't, but the calories remain at zero.
posted by -harlequin- at 2:31 PM on May 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


Are people here actually ticked off at the very notion of close reading as a way to approach art? Nice. FYI, university campuses are filled with grown-ass adults who get embarrassingly hyper about their clever close readings of literature and film. It's not world hunger, but it is mental exercise and a creative act and a means of philosophical reflection.

I enjoyed this presentation more than I enjoyed Inception (which I wasn't that fond of, though I saw it twice). I'm usually not the biggest fan of socially clueless nerds yelling and hawking their book at me, but I enjoyed the content. The "it's all a dream" interpretation is most satisfying to me, but I realized that I still don't enjoy Inception, I guess because I fail to see the interesting ramifications one way or another-- there's just not enough emotional content for me to feel it's a particularly human vision of a "troubled mind fighting itself."

Also, what is his book actually about? Besides an interesting reading of Inception, which I can read for free on the internet. It sounds like he just developed a close reading of a movie and tacked on some accessible thought experiments and decided to sell it? I guess that's a thing people do though? That makes me both happy that people are interested and sad that that's one of the few places they can turn.
posted by stoneandstar at 2:41 PM on May 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


And can anyone account for the most confounding of loose ends, Leonardo Dicaprio? As in, WHY PEOPLE KEEP CASTING HIM IN MOVIES.
posted by stoneandstar at 2:46 PM on May 30, 2012 [4 favorites]


He has to angrily squint s'more.
posted by The Whelk at 3:04 PM on May 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


That this movie got made at all is a triumph, a magic studio unicorn.

Inception actually makes me sort of depressed because I realized it might be decades before I see another big budget blockbuster film even half as engaging as Inception is (to me).

I guess it's fun to analyze all the stuff in the movie but I for one am really happy with the ambiguity. And Nolan is just masterful at this multilayered stuff, whether you consider it genuinely inventive or just filmmaking tricks. I wish the Batman films didn't bore me though.
posted by palidor at 4:53 PM on May 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


The taking-itself-very-seriouslyness of the presentation can be alleviated by reading "totem" as "bottom" each time – "You are never supposed to let anyone else touch your bottom because they might figure out how it works."

Reading slides 9-11 of the PPT this way is quite a hoot.
posted by numes with an s at 5:16 PM on May 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


created the possibility of ambiguous interpretation

Harlequin: Why is this seen as a good thing and not a flaw? It's trivial to tell stories and omit enough information that people can't make sense of them.

Arguing over which must the correct ending of an incomplete story is like trying to answer a rhetorical question.

The film has been presented as a stand-alone film, is presented as if it is a complete story, so at a deep level we assume there is sufficient information hidden in the story to make sense of it


While I understand the point you are making, harlequin, I don't think it is as 'trivial' as you think to leave enough ambiguity to keep people guessing, especially while keeping the audience engaged.

Agatha Christie used to be able to do this with her mysteries. You HAD to keep reading because
you could come to the end of, for example, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd or And Then There Were None and still not know who the killer was.

But think of how many mysteries fail, out of poor writing or heavy-handedness. How many times have you thrown aside a poorly-written book, or been disappointed because the script clued you in too early to how the movie was going to end? If you're like me, too many. I enjoyed Men in Black III, just to pull up a very recent (and not particularly complex) example, but I had the Major Plot Point figured out early on, as I'm sure a lot of other viewers did. Thankfully, the movie was engaging enough that didn't ruin the experience for me.

When I don't figure out a mystery these days, though, it's generally because some absurdly nonsensical Big Plot Twist has just been added on, which is INCREDIBLY frustrating. Either the Big Plot Twist is not in keeping with the characters' actions right up until that very moment, or it calls for such an obvious disconnect in the plot's continuity that I feel like I have wasted my time watching everything leading up to the BPT anyway.

Audiences are more sophisticated (or jaded) these days, too. We EXPECT a surprise ending. Nothing new under the sun, and all that.

But Inception did an excellent job messing with us, BECAUSE we have been conditioned to believe EVERYTHING all comes down to that final scene. The whole movie, then, should be decided by that whole wobbly-top endscene, right?

Nope.

If, like me, you saw Inception right when it came out, you could have some fun /proving that point to other people who saw the film later--especially anyone who claimed to KNOW definitively whether, at the end, it was, or wasn't, all just a product of a sedated Cobb's dream state.

Really, you figured it out?!" I'd ask, no matter which position the person had taken on the Real vs Dream issue, "so you caught the clue in the opening credits?"

And when they hastily agreed that, oh, yes, remembering the opening credits sealed the deal for them, I'd smile and point out that, actually? there were no opening credits.

Which is why what Nolan did with Inception was so fabulous--he throws us right into the action, like we have become used to in the movies, but also confounds us early on, so that we are so busy catching up with the exposition in the middle of the film we never realize those opening credits never rolled. The entire film is just a great big loop.

Which I actually learned here in Metafilter, not catching that in the theater, myself.

And that's why I say Inception IS an intelligent film, and the sleight-of-hand that creates the ambiguity is not "trivial" at all.
posted by misha at 5:48 PM on May 30, 2012 [5 favorites]


The wave hasn't collapsed yet because the information just isn't there. It's a cheap trick to have enough crap in there that people assume the information must be amongst it, so they keep trying to figure it out,

I think more The Lady and the Tiger, and less schrodinger's cat.
posted by empath at 6:15 PM on May 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


[...]I'd smile and point out that, actually? there were no opening credits.

Wait -- is your point that the movie is so mindbending that it causes viewers to imagine opening credits when there were none? (Isn't the simpler answer that your friends just didn't want to admit they had missed something you had supposedly noticed?)

In any case, I saw the movie very late. The one thing I liked about it -- and I'm sure this has been talked about elsewhere, possibly even alluded to upthread -- is how it points toward the mechanism of a cut between two scenes as always operating under a sort of dream logic, jumping directly from one salient, dramatic moment to another. So it invites the possibility of taking all these regular editing conventions literally, as though there really were no lived time between, say, discussing heading over to place X and [cut to...] finding oneself there. (Likewise for the sorts of shortcuts that, by convention, take place internal to a scene.)

But I'm sort of ambivalent about whether I think the movie is very good or not. It seems my favorite thing about it would be automatically successfully performed by any movie about dreams, since that's just how movies work.

On preview, maybe whether or not it's very good is like The Lady and the Tiger.
posted by nobody at 6:28 PM on May 30, 2012


(Is she riding the tiger? Or is she a butterfly dreaming of the goat behind the third door?)

Interesting link, it makes me want to watch Inception again (sometime). Maybe this will help me get through the boring and disappointing snow fortress crap. Also, suicidal Marion Cotillard makes me sad. I think Inception rises above Conspiracy Keanu, I just wish it was more watchable.
posted by fleacircus at 11:57 PM on May 30, 2012


BWAAAAAAAAAAAARP
posted by obiwanwasabi at 12:40 AM on May 31, 2012 [2 favorites]


I still think that whether the top falls or not doesn't matter, because the point is that Cobb sets it spinning then walks away. He doesn't care anymore if he's in Mal's dream (or Saito's, which I hadn't considered until this post)... he just wants to see his kids. And since I think the whole thing is a metaphor for storytelling, maybe that's just Nolan's way of saying that the difference between fiction and reality is blurry and not as important a distinction as some people want to make it. Hence, the proof on both sides that the whole thing is a dream, or it isn't.
posted by harriet vane at 5:50 AM on May 31, 2012 [3 favorites]


Yeah, I think Cobb walking away is definitely the point. And one of the things it's pointing to is this really bizarre phenomenon that our enjoyment of a story that we know is completely fictional could change depending on whether or not the whole story was "really a dream" or it "really happened."
posted by straight at 9:24 AM on May 31, 2012


The murder mystery example makes my point. In a murder mystery, the information needed to figure it out is supposed to be present in the story, and so yes - it is a challenge to find the right balance of how to present the necessary information without having it too obvious. But if you're simply not going to include the necessary information, (like Inception) then by contrast it's trivial to keep people guessing - because guessing is the only thing anyone can do when the mystery is missing some of its critical pages.

If a murder mystery cops out by not providing the necessary information, but gives you an answer at the end anyway - when the story doesn't support that answer (ie the story fails to have any reason why it must have been that one person instead of one of the others), then it fails the most basic test and people will (rightly) think poorly of it as a murder mystery.
posted by -harlequin- at 10:24 AM on May 31, 2012


That's genre bullshit, though. There have been plenty of literary mysteries that do not have solutions.
posted by empath at 10:29 AM on May 31, 2012


And Then There Were None is pretty much unsolvable without the explanation at the end, and I'm okay with it.
posted by shakespeherian at 10:32 AM on May 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


think poorly of it as a murder mystery --- I'm reminded of the most recent episode of newest iteration of the Sherlock Holmes mysteries on PBS, and they have a little mini murder mystery in it ... a man is standing in the middle of a field, alone. Another man, some distance away, is having car trouble. He tries to start his car, and it backfires, and when he looks back at the man in the middle of the field, he's on the ground, dead, with his head bashed in. It's not important to the plot of the episode, but they reveal how it happened, and though Sherlock supposedly figured it out without even going to the scene, there was no way he could have figured it out with the clues given.
posted by crunchland at 11:11 AM on May 31, 2012


Yeah, I think Cobb walking away is definitely the point.

100% for sure.

I think all of the overanalyzing trying to determine the reality of the story might ignore some of the other ways in which the film shines, too.

Like, it's a story about a man who is haunted and defined by the death of his wife. And that melancholy really shades the whole movie. An action movie. I just don't know if I've seen another big budget film that manages to pull together such an interesting mix of emotions.
posted by palidor at 3:26 PM on May 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


Je ne regrette rien.
posted by homunculus at 4:05 PM on May 31, 2012


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