By this point countless discussions, articles, blog posts, and Facebook statuses have already contributed their interpretations of the Christopher Nolan film “Inception.” I figured that taking a quick break from political postings to add one more theory to the mix could not hurt.
A few points before I begin:
- This post may contain spoilers to the film. I urge you not to read any further if you have not yet seen “Inception.” First, because it may ruin the film for you. And second, because you’ll probably be confused anyway.
- At the time of this writing, I have only seen the film once, and this is obviously a film that virtually demands multiple viewings. Despite this deficiency, I will continue.
As I noted, there have already been various theories regarding “Inception.” Chief among them in my mind are the the idea that each player in the film is a Jungian archetype of Cobb’s subconscious and that the film is an elaborate commentary on the film medium (I highly suggest you follow the links for closer readings of those two excellent articles). Most theories I have seen have rightly focused on the final scene (the spinning/wobbling top, the scene cut before the potential fall), but with, I think, a more narrow focus than I would prefer. My own personal interpretation of the film is not one that claims a definitive conclusion for Cobb and his cohorts (indeed, I believe Nolan sowed ample evidence for either side in order to confound such discussion). Rather, it is a broad interpretation that hopes to absorb all of the chatter, debate, and philosophizing into a more general consideration of the film. I seek not to limit the discussion, but to expand its possibilities.
I also find it ironic that the final scene, which (for me) subtly downplays the notion that Cobb’s status (awake or asleep) is central to the film, has caused so much discussion about exactly that. In other words, maybe the fact that the film cuts away before we find out the truth about Cobb’s state is not only a narrative cliffhanger, but also an indication that Cobb’s final state is not of utmost importance to the film. It is something to consider, obviously, but evidence could be amassed for either stance, based on your predisposition to desire a “happy” or “sad” ending.
This may seem paradoxical at first. Aren’t all narratives geared toward their conclusions? The driving force of a conclusion is instilled in the very structure of the narrative. Yet, it appears to me that “Inception” has a higher goal than simply narrative. It is a narrative film, of course, and accordingly tells a complete story. But the course of the story draws attention to a myriad of smaller details (the totems are all game pieces, the main players reflect both archetypal dream figures and the creative team of a film, etc…) that point to a broader interpretation of the film as reflective of not only the film genre, but of our lives in general.
In “Inception,” we may see the many subconscious processes that occur every day in our own lives, laid bare in a creative format we can more readily understand (or maybe, misunderstand). The emotional connections we make to the creations of imagination (ie. dreams) should be evident all around us. For instance, I’ve always recognized the excellent song “Cat’s in the Cradle” as one that I find particularly sad, and listening to it always brings some emotion. But why should it? It is obviously a song, not a recollection of events I witnessed. It is a dream, but the emotions associated with that dream are very real (and anyway, to paraphrase that random old man in “Inception,” ‘who are we to say what is real and what is not?’).
This same process works when we see a film, when we read a novel, when we hear a song, when we see a play, on and on. We forge connections with these dreams (think Cobb’s connection with Mal, a dream), often from past experiences that may seem unrelated to the current dream (think Fischer’s relationship with his father being the emotion that underlies his actions toward the company).
It is also an interesting point that this reflection on the creative process occurring in “Inception” functions on various levels, like the various levels of the dream world. It is a creative work that derives emotions, and comments on the fact that creative works can derive emotions, which is, in turn, a reflection of our own past experiences and understanding (thus allowing us to create and form those emotions from the creative work). Whew.
“Inception” maps out, visually, the creative process that is proceeding continuously not just in movie studios (though there is definite self-reflection on the film industry, as Chud.com points out), but in your mind whenever new thoughts are formed, and yields a commonality of Jungian archetypes that binds us together at the thought (reflecting, also, the presentation of the dreamers sharing dream space) — perhaps instinctually (as Jung might say), perhaps through the structures of thought societies build.
In the end, I think the most brilliant point of “Inception” is that each component in it encourages further scrutiny, discussion, and reflection upon parts of our own lives (though too, surely, of the narrative conclusion I downplayed during my contemplations). That is true creation. The film is like the thought Cobb describes in it — a seed that keeps growing.
Maybe “Inception” is Christopher Nolan’s magnum opus, a commentary on, well, everything.