Why Inception Has Nothing Interesting To Say

inception_lg.jpgThe past week or so has seen me obsessively read and listen to various film critics’ Films of 2010. One of the films that is appearing on almost everyone’s list is Inception. However, my belief is that it is not the best film of 2010, not by a long way.

Perhaps it goes without saying, but Spoilers for Inception ahead:

To start out, it’s important to say Inception is a film flawless in its execution of its world. The way it introduces us to the rules and intricacies of its universe was incredibly clever, and forced the audience to really pay attention to everything going on around them.

However, the film has nothing interesting to say.

It’s been six months since its release and having considered everything that happens in the film, this is the conclusion I’ve come to.

Inception has nothing interesting to say about dreams. A film like Science of Sleep was a much better reflection on dreams, the way we dream, and how they influence the way we see reality. Inception’s dreams merely change gravity or landscapes. As such, the film is a pale reflection on the way we dream or what we dream about.

It has nothing interesting to say about our relationship with dreams. The film’s central character, Cobb, was at one point lost in a dreamworld with his wife. He escapes and goes back to reality, but his wife still believes she is dreaming. What the film seems to say is that believing in dreams too hard is bad, we need to live in reality. Really?

The film has nothing interesting to say about ‘inception’. The idea of changing someone’s mind without them realising it is interesting. However, what the central characters actually do to Cillian Murphy is not. Changing his mind regarding something very specific and morally inconsequential (breaking up his family business).

Inception has nothing interesting to say about reality. What annoyed me most about the movie, and is ultimately my main issue with it, is the ending. The decision to make the reality we saw a possible dreamworld was stupid, pointless and only there to make the audience gasp before the credits rolled.

The problem is that everything in the film that happens is so far-fetched and dreamlike (whether in reality or dreamworlds) that trying to figure out whether the whole film is a dream or not is an entirely pointless endeavour.

Now, some of you will point out I’m being a little harsh. And I would fully take that criticism aboard. However, what Inception represents is a recent shift in American cinema towards these films with very intricate, clever plots but with little to no message under-riding them.

It started with films like The Usual Suspects and The Sixth Sense in the nineties, and has continued with films like The Departed and Inception since then.

These films undoubtedly impress audiences with their ability to weave intricate, complex plots. However, the experience of watching them is rather like solving a Rubik’s Cube or Sudoku puzzle. You feel smart and awesome for having figured everything out, but learn little about life or what it means to be human.

What does the film actually say about relationships, the human psyche, or philosophy? It’s important we don’t mistake the creation of an intricate puzzle for actually saying something interesting. That is what I fear many critics and audience members have done with Inception.


6 responses to “Why Inception Has Nothing Interesting To Say

  1. Whoa, whoa, whoa: What they do to Robert Fischer is “not consequential”? He’s an innocent man against whom Cobb’s team of ghouls commit an act of mental violation (I would go so far as to call it “brain rape”) that could well lead to the destruction of a major global corporation, thereby disrupting the lives and livelihoods of thousands of people. In this age of rampant unemployment, if nothing else, that makes the actions of Cobb and his gang consequential, as well as downright despicable. But Nolan is such a coldhearted (read: poor) storyteller that he can’t be bothered to examine the moral consequences of what happens to Fischer. Nonetheless, you have my agreement: this is a great big movie that has very little to say.

  2. The reason I said changing Robert Fischer’s mind about selling his family business was “morally inconsequential” is that if he had the freedom to do it himself, you would not consider it an immoral act for him to make the same choice. Neither are we given any reason to suggest keeping the business as it is would be immoral.

    The act of changing Fischer’s mind is undoubtedly an immoral thing to do. The fact Cobb’s team and his client will gain from it is immoral. However, the moral arguments surrounding the changing of someone’s mind about something so specific are boring to the point of being inconsequential.

    What I was getting at with that statement is it would be much more interesting if they were to, say, change a politician’s mind about going to war. Anything which would allow the viewer to think “Is it ever right to commit inception?” In choosing the scenario Nolan did, he denied the film and the viewer the opportunity to explore these themes.

  3. I disappointed to agree with much of your criticism here. However, the aspects I thought were interesting was the idea that any decision is simply the cascade of an original realisation through many layers of ones subconcious. I found it interesting to consider the idea that fairly major changes in my life could have changed radically had I had something trivially different occur to me at some point in the past. However, I do agree that the films you highlight don’t provide any real moral wrestling or force reexamination of much in our lives.

    Great post as usual!

  4. I think one important aspect that you neglect to mention here is the other act of inception we learn about in the film – when Cobb and his wife are trapped in their dream world, it is because she begins to believe it is real. So he plants the idea in her subconscious that the world she knows is a dream. This allows them to wake themselves up, but the idea comes with her and grows and consumes her.

    The key thing I took away from the film on second viewing was the thought that ideas can be like a virus, consuming our minds and can either “define or destroy” us.

    The idea that reality was not real destroyed Cobb’s wife, forcing her to commit suicide in an attempt to “wake up”. And the guilt from the idea that this was his fault defined Cobb. We see the projection of his wife invading his dreams against his will. We see him escaping into his subconscious where he has locked away various memories of key moments with his wife, moments that he regrets, that he would like to re-live but can’t.

    This is the interesting part to me. The Fischer story then mainly becomes a device to allow us to travel into levels of Cobb’s subconscious and explore the deep effect of his love for his wife and the decisions they made, and how he attempts to confront these and move on.

  5. I’ll concede that the principle idea of Cobb’s inception destroying his wife is an interesting one. However, when we try to tie it to the real world, what are we left with? That ideas can have unforeseen consequences? Yes, but the problem is that the ‘idea’ here is too clear-cut to become interesting.

    Cobb implies ‘everything is a dream’, and once his wife wakes up she can’t help but believe it. So what? If you’re going to explore that theme, why not do it with more interesting ideas about changing people’s morality?

    Also Nolan’s implication that one idea can either ‘destroy or define’ us is far too simplistic. The human mind is made up of many ideas, all of which we must balance and explore before making the choices we do.

    My feeling is that Nolan bottled out on these more interesting ideas because the world he created was already so complex and layered. In doing so, he failed to create characters and raise themes that were just as complex and layered as his world.

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