Wednesday, August 25, 2010

I rather liked Inception

Over at Philosophy in a Time of Error, I suggested that Peter should read Neal Stephenson's The Baroque Cycle. It seems that several people are not particularly fond of those novels. Anyway, in that conversation Mikhail wrote:
I’ve only read The Baroque Cycle, so maybe I’m wrong on Stephenson as a whole, but I found the narrative to be oh-so-dull and I’m not even sure why I kept on reading. I think it was the same reason for why people keep on watching Inception for 2.5 hours trying to see if there’s a twist or something…

Okay, before we go any further, I plan to talk about the movie Inception as if you have already seen it. That means there are going to be spoilers. You are warned.
I rather liked Inception (I've seen it twice), so maybe Makhail is onto some sort of connection here. What he seems to be missing is that my enjoyment of that movie had nothing whatsoever to do with some sort of twist at the end (Christopher Nolan is not some sort of M. Night Shyamalan). First of all, I just thought it was a fun movie. Some of the fight scenes were a little long, and it isn't my favorite Nolan movie, but I thoroughly enjoyed the experience of watching the movie. Maybe Makhail just didn't enjoy watching it, nothing wrong with that. But there seems to be a push to want to say that the movie failed as an intellectual force by some of the reviewers I read (what a weird way to judge a movie). Many of them have compared it to the Matrix. They are wrong, and that wrongness is connected to the way that there was no twist at the end.
Any number of people have (rather smugly) declared that they figured out the ending before it ever happened. Good for you, you've seen a movie before. I think the ending of the movie was suppose to be foreseen, predicted. Think of it like a good joke. There are two ways (well, at least) of telling a joke. One is to tell someone a joke with an unexpected punchline, the surprise of the punchline is what causes laughter. But, that makes re-telling the joke problematic. Some of the best jokes are when the audience knows what is coming, and the comic manages to stretch things out. Nervous chuckles escape from the audiences lips as the tension builds. The climax's humor comes from fulfilling expectations, from releasing tension done through good timing. Inception was a bit like the second joke for me, where it seems many other people saw it and felt it was like a joke they had heard before.
This brings us to the ending. Everyone foresaw that the totem would not fall, that all of this was still just a dream. The movie isn't anything like Matrix, which argued that there was a real world and a fake world, and you get to the real world (and moreover, that the real world was the world that mattered). Inception, on the other hand, lives in ambiguity. It thrives on the fact that we can never really be sure which world is real or fake. That realness is never something we can sure of, and that indeed it becomes hard to tell if the real world is the world that matters. This explains the constant refrain of leaps of faith. The film doesn't deal with, "What if this isn't the real world?". but rather, "Never being able to be sure of something even as basic of reality, of love, of people, of self; how are to act and exist?" For me, the perfection of the ending isn't the fact that the totem hasn't fallen (and therefore, aha, it is a still a dream) but the wobble of the totem as the film ends. The fact that a measure of this ambiguity is preserved.