Why I loved Inception (spoilers within)

I think when Nolan left the labyrinth, he threw away the map.” – Roger Ebert on Inception

Christopher Nolan’s latest Inception was released on Friday, July 16. I have been a fan of his work for a while and had been looking forward to this film as the summer hit. I hope by the time I finish this post, I will make it abundantly clear that this film did not disappoint in living up to my high expectations.

There were many things that impressed me about this film but I have chosen to mention just a few below.

Exploration of dreams and the subconscious: Christopher Nolan’s commitment to exploring this aspect of people’s subjective experience was immensely impressive. It is rumored that Nolan spent 10 years writing this script, which means he spent at least a good portion of that time analyzing his own dreaming experience. The way he captured such a surreal entity but grounded it in realism was noteworthy in itself. Nolan’s previous works, including Batman Begins and The Dark Knight are also impressive for their ability to explore out-of-this-world concepts while still remaining grounded in realism.

Dana Stevens of Slate Magazine did not feel the same way, saying that “though Nolan is a prodigious architect of detailed dream worlds, he's too controlled and controlling a filmmaker to give himself over fully to the chaotic logic of dreams.” I would disagree with this estimation of Nolan’s interpretation on dreaming because this is what separates him from Kubric. If I wanted a disjointed, fantasy like interpretation of dreaming, I’d go re-watch Eyes Wide Shut. (Nolan, while separating himself from Kubric, still paid homage to the director, which is admirable in itself)

People’s subjective construction of reality: although this is a concept that may seem absolutely basic and remedial to some, I think it bears pointing out. Nolan was adamant in creating a framework that emphasized the difference in the conscious and subconscious minds of different individuals. In the film, one of the major plot themes is the fact that Cobb’s (Leonardo DiCaprio) reality is heavily affected by his memories and troubled past with his wife (that Ariadne, whose namesake is the Greek goddess who helped Theseus escape from the Minotaur's labyrinth, helps him work through). This concept can be readily applied to our realities as individuals who inhabit an aggregated world. I think its vital to never forget that people’s realities are constructed based on their own subjective experiences, and that even a communal reality is constructed socially.

Totem concept: to separate the dream-state from consciousness, Nolan developed the concept of a Totem, an object that only the dreamer is familiar with and that can be used to verify the end of a dream and the beginning of reality. I thought this was a clever device used by Nolan that has some grounding in recent neuro-scientific research. Known within psychology as embodied cognition, this concept basically claims that our sensual experience of touching and feeling has an effect on our judgment and decision making processes.

The last shot of the movie involves the totem concept, and leaves the viewer questioning whether Cobb was still dreaming or had finally concurred his subconscious and made it back home in reality. Some have said that Cobb was still dreaming because the top did not fall, while some have cursed Nolan for not answering the question more directly. In my opinion, I think Cobb had successfully made it to reality and the reason Nolan left the question unanswered was to make the point that our realities and dreams are not as bifurcated as we would imagine.

All in all, after 2 viewings, I am still finding myself thinking about some of the concepts in the film. I would not go as far as to say it is Nolan’s best work, but I certainly think it lived up to and surpassed the expectations I had for it. I’m happy to be experiencing Nolan’s rise to one of the best film-makers of our time first hand.