Saturday, July 24, 2010
INCEPTION and the doors of Perception
I realize that I have not just had a good ol’ fashioned throw-down of a writing session in a little over a year. To say I was busy would be an understatement. I’ve been deployed in Basrah, Iraq; working in a CSH (that’s Combat Support Hospital for those not in the know). I was deployed with the 204th ASMC out of Minnesota. These guys were a blessing to be deployed with and the unit is filled with a grand assortment of some of the most intelligent, most friendly, most awesomely evolved people I have meet in this long strange trip of a life that I have. Who, by the sheer crapshoot that is “Volunteering for a Deployment” I ended up serving with them; much to my good fortune! They are a high speed unit filled with geniuses, geeks, and visionaries. Men and Women who are as varied in occupation and temperament as the world is round, they have inspired me to better things and a year in “The Sandbox” with them was a blessing. If I had to go through 31 mortar-attacks with ANYONE I’m glad it was these people I will write more of them later, the people I met and the adventures I had in a separate work. It will be a black comedy; filled with gallows humor. In a CSH and perfect strangers are trying to blow you up: you do what it takes to get by. You find a coping skill.
My coping skill was to embrace the madness that surrounded me: laugh in the face of danger, fart in its general direction, and to touch, move and inspire as many people as I could. That and I played a LOT of Dungeons & Dragons (3.5 Edition…1: because I am old-school enough to remember 2nd edition which rocked. And 2: because 4th Edition sucks sweaty balls; 4th Edition takes the “High” out of “High Fantasy”…But I digress).
The great thing is that we all made it home.
Jesus! Almost as if on que, one of my favorite songs of all time pops up on my playlist as I write this; and my heart swells with joy and sentiment as I hear the opening piano of that old Motley Crue song “Home Sweet Home” . Classic; I love it when the Universe pulls one of its’ sweet kismets on me; lets me know I am “switched on” and in tune. I seem to have been blessed with an affinity for synchronicities and coincidences, a lot of the greatest thinkers and philosophers would say that there are no coincidences. I will not confirm or deny the phenomenon known as Synchronicity; but I do know what I know and what I have experienced. And I thank Lady Fortune for smiling on me.
The strangest and one of the most fascinating things I’ve experienced is the “Time Dilatation” that occurs on a trans-continental flight. No I’m not going into Einstein. But I think that its groovy to leave one country, fly to 4 different countries, and land in the U.S. on the same day you left. Pretty trippy, I guess that a Trans-Atlantic flight is the closest I’ll ever get to hyperspace travel; because if you are familiar with science fiction even a little it was like we were experiencing the effects of Hyperspace. I tend to think about stuff like that, I remember the first flight “across the pond”. On the way from the states to the Kuwait on July ‘09, they were playing the recent “Star Trek” Movie: I mused at the irony of watching a movie that was mainly about Hyperspace and time travel while experiencing the effects of hyperspace and time travel.
But time is relative to the observer; our lives are made up of our experiences and perceptions, which lead me to an interesting, thought provoking, jewel of a movie called INCEPTION.
“Inception” is a 007 movie on Acid. A thrilling heist movie in the tradition of Ocean’s 11, but the crime occurs in the dream state. The prize, the booty for these dream thieves is information, an idea, a pin number, a password, or in this case a random series of numbers that is the combination to a safe. It is a phenomenon that most people in the movie think is only a myth. It gives the term “Operation Mind Crime” a whole new meaning; who remembers the old album by Queensryche?
Christopher Nolan has outdone himself.
It begins with a disoriented man washed up on a distant shore. He is taken at gunpoint to a mansion. There he sees on old gentleman who seems to be just as confused as he is. Our waterlogged hero seems to be trying desperately to get the old man to remember something; and what is more slippery and gossamer than a dream? Meanwhile the old man is perusing the only item of importance that has captured his attention: a spinning top.
The top is a totem to let you know you are dreaming. We all have our totems. That piece of reality that we hold on to and it’s very important to the film.
Enter Cobb. (Leonardo DiCaprio) is what is known as an Extractor; someone who enters your dreams and extracts information. Due to unfortunate circumstances he is on the run from the United States and can never go home again. Unless he can find a way to make all of his alleged transgressions in the U.S. “go away”. That is his main concern as he and his “Point-Man” Arthur (Joseph Gordon- Levitt) begin the tale by trying to con a powerful man named Saito (Ken Watanabe). This gets screwed up royally by the appearance of a beautiful projection named Mal. Mal (Marion Cotillard) is the physical representation of his guilt; and the fact that Mal just happens to be his ex- wife really doesn’t help his case.
When a person realizes that there is a foreign mind invading their psychic space their subconscious mind attacks the invader(s) much like antibodies attack a sickness. Projections are the people you always see in the background in your dreams, mostly in populated areas: dream cities if you will. When things go to shit in a dream the only way to wake up is a bullet to the brain (in the dreamscape) it’s one of the many things called a “Kick” or a way to wake up. This can also be activated by the sensation of falling, which we have all experienced in dreamtime.
You would think Saito would be pissed, But instead he tries to hire them implant an idea into the head of a young industrialist Fischer; played by Cillian Murphy. Cobb has to impose his mind; his will upon Fisher’s and make him believe whatever idea they wish. In this instance, the idea is for Fischer to bust up his dying father’s company. Do this and Saito will make it so that he can go back to the states with a clean slate.
It is indeed an offer he can’t refuse. But first he has to assemble a team. He already has his partner Arthur. He needs an Architect to “design” the dream world that Fischer; the “Mark” as any victim of a con-game is called, to move and act in. The Mark is stuck in this controlled mental maze created by the Architect. He seeks help from his father in law and mentor (Michael Caine) who introduces him to Ariadne; played by Ellen Page. Ariadne’s name is a direct homage to the Ariadne from the Greek Myth of the Minotaur: She helps Theseus navigate the maze to slay the Minotaur. The Minotaur is a beast of Cobb’s own making.
Ariadne is the only person who after sneaking into Cobb’s dreams, knows how deep the rabbit hole goes and just how wounded he is: wounds, pain and madness all personified in the mysterious of Mal and the children that he may never see again. She knows the ugly truth. No….Cobb did not kill his wife… (That would be too conventional for this film and a cop-out) Cobb did something much worse to her. Something she can never forgive him for and he won’t forgive himself for. If Cobb cannot keep his subconscious under control the whole mission is screwed.
Cobb also needs a “Forger”; someone who can change his or her form to any image they wish. In this case he plays Fischer’s Godfather; someone they know Fischer can trust unconditionally and will listen to. He also has one of the simplest, yet coolest lines in the movie that sums up the human condition today:
…”you dream too small”.
Cobb also enlists the help of the “Chemist” Yusuf: (Dileep Rao) to concoct the drugs to put the team under and in the dream state; something a little more powerful than mushrooms and Disco Lemonade. With the band all together, totems in hand Cobb and company track down and isolate Fischer. The best way to do this you ask? Trans-continental flight. On an airline that Saito, just happens to own. The “Dream Team” seats themselves on the same flight, they dose Fischer, and the fun begins.
So you have Batman’s Alfred, The false Ra’s al Ghul, Cobra Commander, the Guy from Titanic, and the Girl from “Juno” trying to mind-fuck The Scarecrow.
There are different levels of dreaming. The reality we know the real world (or…is it)? Beyond that is dream; which in Christopher Nolan’s beautifully crafted film occurs in layers. Once they all enter Fischer’s dream it’s a rainy city. The populace almost immediately attacks them; Fischer’s mind is “militarized”: he is trained in the art of psychic self defense: I guess that being rich and powerful makes education in such matters easily accessed. When in doubt, improvise: during a car chase right out of “The French Connection” Cobb and crew decide to take him deeper into sleep. On this lower level; which appears to be a posh hotel, Cobb comes to Fischer and tells him that he is with the security company that trained him. He also attempts to convince him that his Godfather betrayed him. He realizes that after many failed tries to get him to break into his own subconscious to get the information they need. To do this they even have to go deeper. But the deeper they go, the more dangerous it is gets because they are closer to Limbo: a shared state of consciousness….Where Mal just happens to hang out.
Fischer’s mind on this level is a fortress in the snow; Cobb and crew have to literally storm the castle of Fischer’s mind …with his help. Fischer is then taken; rather painfully by Mal. Cobb knows exactly where she took him. It’s the place she wants to bring him back to, to “be with her”. There she smacks him upside the head with truth and makes him question his own reality.
I refuse to tell you anymore because like any great film it must be experienced. And like any great filmmaker, any great conductor Nolan keeps the film rolling and keeps you questioning until the very end; he raises a question that was raised in a movie I saw years ago: “Waking Life”.
Waking life is a film that questions reality in relation to dream via a series of random conversations. In one scene a two lovers lie in bed and discuss why it is that you can go to sleep at say 11: 11 pm, fall into a dream that has twist and turns, is extremely visceral, and seems to last for hours. And you wake up only to find that 3 or 4 minutes have past. Chris Nolan takes this and weaves a symphony as events in the dreamscape are happening simultaneously. On one level there is the world we think of as “our reality” the waking world. On another there is a car chase where Yusuf is driving off a bridge into water to achieve the “kick” to wake the team up. Another level where Arthur is fighting off Projections in a topsy-turvy Hotel (the gravity is affected on this level because of the slow free fall on the level above), the snow battle in the cold fortress that is Fischer’s mind. And the twisting, roaring chaos of Limbo below all occurring simultaneously at different rates of speed; in the waking world 5 minutes is 10 years in Limbo, this symphony all comes crashing together on those distant shores of Limbo. And like any deep dream sometimes we can wake up and not really be awake.
Like any truly great film it leaves the question open for you to ask, to discuss, to form your own opinions. And in a country where we like our movies vapid and our plots spoon-fed to us, Inception is the most refreshing film I’ve seen in a long, long time because it doesn’t let you off easy with an ending wrapped up in a neat little bow. And in my humble opinion, that’s what good filmmaking is.
And the top spins.
Well, its late. I’m sleepy, and I have many dreams awaiting me.
That is….if I am not dreaming already.
See you on the Flipside of Infinity.