Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Head Trip

Inception is an old-fashioned head-trip. The Leonardo DiCaprio character is an extractor and implanter of ideas who is haunted by the suicide of his own wife. Parenthetically, one wonders if the story doesn’t owe something to another futuristic work—Tarkovsky’s Solaris (based on the Stanislav Lem novel), in which the central character is also haunted by the death of his wife. In the case of Inception, the wife’s presence is an unholy reminder of the idea of the unreality the De Caprio character had so successfully and tragically implanted in her. But the greatest question about Inception is how and why the film has become such a major hit. Unlike a lot of blockbusters, Inception is not easy to understand, and its varying themes, running the gamut from corporate espionage to questions of solipsism, dream structure and dream life, are not exactly the stuff of commercial film. Hitchcock’s Spellbound has some wonderful dream sequences, which were in fact storyboarded by Salvador Dali, but Inception offers more than just simple fragments and off-the-cuff musings. The understanding and manipulation of dreams is the palette from which the narrative is fashioned, though it might be argued that the attention to dream structure is superficial, owing, in the end, more to video games than to concerns with the relationship between sleeping and waking consciousness. But the film is fundamentally unsettling in the way it paints the mind’s vulnerability to suggestion. The original John Frankenheimer version of The Manchurian Candidate had a similar effect. However, cold war politics and torture effectively grounded it, creating a reassuring feeling of causality. Are audiences relating to Inception director Christopher Nolan’s vision of a purely subjective universe, in which the world outside the self partakes of little, if any, verifiable reality?

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