Friday, August 13, 2010

Inception and Leonardo DiCaprio's Scary Ideas

Warning: the following post contains significant spoilers about the movie Inception. Those still interested in seeing this film should consider themselves forewarned.

Then again, the movie's been out for a month. If you were planning to see it, you proably would have seen it by now. So quit bitching.

The trailers for Inception portray it as a typical summer blockbuster.

In the film, Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaptrio) is an extractor. By entering other people's minds as they dream, Cobb is able to steal their secrets from them. Along with his partner-in-crime Aurthur (Gordon Joseph-Levitt), Cobb is the best there is at what he does.

As the film opens, Cobb has infiltrated the mind of Saito (Ken Watanabe), a Japanese business man in search of a skilled extractor to attempt a very dangerous mission.

He wants Cobb and Aurthur to break into the mind of Robert Fischer (Killian Murphy) and perform a different act -- that of inception.

Simply explained, inception involves implanting an idea in the mind of another human being. The idea is ultimately meant to make that individual act in a manner the implanter desires.

Fischer's father, Maurice Fischer (Pete Postlethwaite) is dying of a terminal disease, and will soon inherit the family energy conglomerate. Saito explains that Fischer's conglomerate will soon put all of its competitors out of business, leaving them with a complete monopoly on the global energy market.

Aurthur is immediately skeptical about inception. He insists it cannot be done.

But Cobb knows differently. He did it once before to his wife Mal (Marion Cotillard). After having spent 50 years with her in a limbo dream state, Mal convinces her to wake up from the dream by implanting an idea in her subconscious mind -- the idea that the world in which she lives isn't real.

Of course, Cobb only wants her to doubt the reality of the limbo dream state. But upon waking she cannot shake the belief that she is still dreaming, and kills herself believing she'll wake up -- but not before telling the police that Cobb has threatened her life, hoping that he'll choose to kill himself as well.

At face value, Inception seems to be a typical summer blockbuster, with an atypically complex plot.

With the assistance of Aurther, Saito and the rest of his team, Cobb leads Fischer through three separate levels of dreaming -- a dream within a dream within a dream -- to confront his father. Fischer has been led to believe that a safe in the dream will contain a will that would break up his father's company.

When Fischer opens the safe, it contains the will -- and also contains a child's windmill. Clearly, the windmill alludes to renewable energy, and may have been inserted into the script upon DiCaprio's influence (DiCaprio is widely known as a proponent of renewable energy).

In order to understand how this particular details colours the ideas of Inception in a sinister manner, one has to go back to The 11th Hour, a documentary film DiCaprio produced.

The ideas contained in The 11th Hour -- hinging around reconceptualizing human design to be less wasteful -- are, on their own, less than threatening. But when one weighs that idea using the ideas of Inception as a counter-balance, they become rather alarming.

Reconceptualizing human design is a perfectly and remarkable unthreatening idea, so long as it's done voluntarily.

However, the ideas implanted in Fischer's mind violates his free will. He may break up his father's energy conglomerate willingly, but only because his mind has been violated and twisted to someone else's ends.

Saito insists that the world depends on Fischer deciding to break up his company. But he has an ulterior motive: if Fischer doesn't agree to break up the company, Saito will lose his own company, and lose his own wealth and power.

Saito dresses up his self-interest in benign platitudes, but his self-interest cannot be denied. And it's in serving is own self-interest that he ultimately violates the sanctity of Fischer's mind in order to compel him to act against his own self-interest.

Cobb has his own self-interest at heart -- his desire to return home. He dresses that self-interest in his children's need to have their father in their lives, but his self-interest is undeniable. In order to puruse his own self interest Cobb, too, violates the security of Fisher's mind and compels him to act against his self-interest.

Moreover, while the film explores the moral dilemma as it pertains to Cobb implanting the idea that ultimately led to Mal's suicide, it never addresses that moral dilemma as it pertains to the manipulation of Fischer.

In fact, in the film's closing moments, Fischer is seen smiling contentedly. The implicit suggestion is that the act of inception waged against him by Cobb and Saito has helped him make peace (however artificial it may be) with his father.

In a real-world situation, this would all be purely hypothetical. The rational impulse is to suggest that acts such as inception cannot actually be done.

However, the truth is that they very much can be done. Moreover, they can be done to broad portions of society. Enterprising leftists have long found the means to commit subtle acts of inception -- a matter that will be discussed in a post in the near future.


  1. "Clearly, the windmill alludes to renewable energy..."

    Well, that's certainly an imaginative interpretation.

    The object was a pinwheel, not a "windmill". The symbolism was on two levels. The pinwheel was linked to a specific, rare memory of Fischer's of a happy moment with his father. The pinwheel represented a son's surprising realization that his feared father actually loved him, and cherished warm memories of him. More broadly, I think wind represents the malleability of existence and the constancy of change.

  2. Pinwheel!

    I was actually trying to put that exact word to that thing when I wrote this last night, but just kept drawing a blank.

    All the same, Balbulican, you can't honestly sit there and claim that this is just a coincidence.

    I'm not going to say that I don't believe in coincidence -- merely that I believe such occurances are extremely rare. I don't believe this is one of those times.

    Let's take a walk back through the film again to look at a few details -- some mentioned here, some not.

    -The photo of Fischer with a pinwheel -- I believe at a baseball game, but I could be reading too much into the image -- was not placed at the senior Fischer's bedside by himself, but by Robert.
    -There is actually no indication in the film that the senior Fischer rally cared about his son. He makes no real attempt to reconcile before his passing, leaving his son filled with doubt following his passing.
    -The idea that his father actually loved him was artificially implanted by Cobb and his team.

    That, of course, is moerely the dramatic details related to the relationship between Fischer and his father. Let's take a look at the more alarming portion of this:

    -Saito declares that the Fischer energy conglomerate will soon dominate the global energy market.
    -Saito hires Cobb to give Fischer the idea to break up his father's company, allegedly for the good of the world.

    I'm sure it would be nice to compartmentalize that particular detail from the choice of a windmill as a symbol at the end of the film.

    One could argue that Christopher Nolan could have chosen nearly anything to use. If he'd wanted to use the wind as a symbol for "the maleability of existence and the constancy of change", he could have used something such as, say... a kite.

    The objective fact is taht we are not talking about the use of a kite as a symbol, we're talking about the use of a pinwheel -- which, you cannot deny, functions very similarly to the windmills that Leo DiCaprio continually goes to bat for, even though their track record in many climates is extremely questionable.

    Given the amount of influence wielded by many Hollywood stars in the projects they work on, it isnt' at all unthinkable to suspect that DiCaprio had a hand in writing this particular element of the plot into the film.

    It certainly uas DiCaprio-style "utopianism for the better of the world" stamped all over it.

    I would caution you not to mistake an exploration of DiCaprio's scary ideas as a denunciation of the film. I clearly enjoyed it enough to see it -- to date -- four times.

    I just think it's important that one be aware of the ideas being peddled by the film.

  3. I disagree, but it's certainly an inventive interpretation.

  4. To be honest with you, I don't think it's inventive at all. I think the seeds of that interpretation are firm;y implanted in the film.

    But, that's precisely what it is -- an interpretation. It can be interpreted quite differently, and those interpretations are just as valid.


Post your comments, and join the discussion!

Be aware that spam posts and purile nonsense will not be tolerated, although purility within constructive commentary is encouraged.

All comments made by Kevron are deleted without being read. Also, if you begin your comment by saying "I know you'll just delete this", it will be deleted. Guaranteed. So don't be a dumbass.