Inception is movie unlike we’ve seen in a long time. And, it is a movie worth taking an analytical and critical look at Christopher Nolan’s marvel of a filmWithout a doubt, Inception is a movie that will have lasting appeal long after it finally leaves theaters and becomes available for home purchase. But, questions will always linger about the meaning of the movie and how much of the movie is actually a dream.
Several distinct schools of thought about the movie have developed, varying on how much of the movie was a dream. In my opinion, the movie, except for the parts clearly named as dreams, took place in the real world.
One popular argument that the whole movie was a dream stemmed from Nolan’s vagueness of several parts of the movie, most notably the dream-sharing machine. Arguing that Nolan wanted a surreal feeling, he didn’t elaborate on how the machine worked. But, did he need to? When you saw the movie, the purpose of the machine was apparent.
Had Nolan taken the time to explain the hardware, he would have wasted time in an already long movie.
The role of Cobb’s totem is often cited as proof that the whole movie occurs within Cobb’s dreams. Primarily, people argue that Cobb took his totem from Mal, thus not being the only person to have touched the top. But, logically, we have to assume that all the totems had been touched by other people at some point, in some form. The metal used to make the top had to be mined and thus touched by the miner. So, just because the characters had a rule about not touching the totems of others, doesn’t mean there are special rules surrounding them.
We can see that even after other people touch the top, it behaves accordingly to the state of Cobb. When he is dreaming with Mal and successfully commits Inception the first time, the top spins flawlessly unending. But, at the finale of the movie, the top has a clearly flawed spin.
The next argument for the total dream theory is stated best in a question: Why didn’t Cobb have Miles travel to America and bring his children to France? It sounds simple, but as shown in the film there is tension between the grandmother and Cobb. Not to mention, Cobb is a man on the run, if his children came to another country, someone from the American legal system would not be too far behind.
More importantly, if we look into our own history, we find another strong argument for the reality theory.
As humans we must rely on our experiences of the past for learning in the future. As a child, you touch the stove and you quickly learn that fire is hot. We need to take our past experiences with movies and use them when looking at Inception. So, without Nolan coming forward and saying that the movie was a dream we must assume that it takes place in the real world.
As such, in my opinion, for the reasons I laid out, I think Inception occurs in reality. We have to look at Inception through the lens of our own experiences. No one would say Platoon or The Hurt Locker takes place in a dream, so why this movie? We can’t assume it was all a dream because of the subject matter of Inception.
The best counter-argument I have heard thus far is that the movie takes place in neither dreams nor the real world. This notion stems from the theoretical experiement of Erwin Schrdinger. He displayed a paradox by postulating if you put a cat in a box with a device that should release a poison, you cannot assume the cat is dead until you open the box. The poison mechanism could have failed and you wouldn’t know until you opened the box. This applies to the movie because we lack hard evidence from Nolan upholding the dream or reality theory.
I still believe the movie is not a dream but either way, my head hurts now.