Inception: Descartes, Jung and why Hollywood still rocks…

Pronunciation: \in-ˈsep-shən\
Function: noun
Etymology: Middle English incepcion, from Latin inception-, inceptio, from incipere to begin, from in- +capere to take
Date: 15th century
: an act, process, or instance of beginning : commencement
synonyms see origin

“We are such stuff
As dreams are made on and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep…”
[Prospero, the Tempest, Act 4 Scene 1]

The night sea journey is a kind of descensus ad inferos–a descent into Hades and a journey to the land of ghosts somewhere beyond this world, beyond consciousness, hence an immersion in the unconscious.
[Jung, “The Psychology of the Transference,” CW 16, par. 455.]

Inception: You mustn't be afraid to dream a little bigger, darling....

“Inception” is a movie that seemed to creep up on everyone in Amman, after months of 80’s Hollywood remakes (Karate Kid, A-team, Predator, Nightmare on Elm Street and so on….)

The first I heard of the movie was on a friend’s facebook status : “Inception” – it sort of sounded like a mix between incision and deception, one of those words you’ve rarely if ever come across, but sort of understand the minute you hear it.

So i sneaked a peak at the trailer.  It didn’t take long before the guy next to me was doing the same.  Then the guy next to him.  Word spread – the first thing i heard on coming into work the next day was “but seriously, how can you have a dream within a dream?”

Before waxing lyrical about an undeniable tour de force from Nolan, let’s make something clear: Inception is far from a perfect movie.  It’s not difficult to pick holes in it.  What happened to the architect?  Who’s dream was it all anyway?  The snow scene was overdone.  The ‘projections’ were way too much your fill-in video-game style ‘bad guys in a box’.  Oh and the ending… well we’ll get to that later.

When it comes to movies like Inception I’m always a little nervous over-intellectualizing what is above all a work of entertainment.  At the same time, I don’t buy into the condescension or snobbery some people exact on Hollywood – creatively, artistically, imaginatively it continues to produce some of the best work on the planet (although the game industry is quickly catching up).  The fact people are prepared to ditch their laptop, their Ipad, their PS3 or their satellite TV to go and pay to watch something like Inception – something they can probably download or buy for a dollar downtown – pretty much says it all.  Just because it’s “popular” doesn’t make it bad – just look at European cinema.

So what made Inception worth that 6JD trip to the cinema?  Let’s be fair – it wasn’t the visuals.  Other movies look just as good.  How about the précis – “a thief who invades your dreams”?  It definitely ticks some boxes.  The director? Possibly.  The cast?  To a certain extent.

For me, I think Inception was a movie for its time – the kind of thoughtful sci-fi fantasy everyone was waiting for.  Ever since the Matrix movies which question the ‘real’ have sought to reference the online and virtual worlds in which we increasingly interact.  But the notion pretty much demands writing ‘a story within a story’, or in the case of Inception several ‘in-stories’, ending up with something as difficult to write as it is to follow.

In his Meditations Descartes argues that the senses, without the mind, are incapable of interpreting reality – he uses the example of melted wax and a candle to suggest how perception shapes understanding where sight and touch and confuse.  In the end he had to appeal to reason and a benevolent God to convince himself that he was in fact ‘awake’.

Meanwhile Jung talks about the ‘night-sea’ of the unconscious – like Inception he warns of the dangers of ‘washing up on the shores of your unconscious’, but also the illumination that can come for those who survive such a journey without splitting their psyche – he compares it to the Buddha’s experience under the Bodhi Tree, or the mediations of Christian hermits in medieval times.

My point?  I’m not suggesting that people go to Inception to brush up on analytical psychology, or Cartesian doubt, but I can guarantee you that the scriptwriter’s behind the movie were very well acquainted with both, and that on some level the ideas embedding within movies like this are communicated to people… perhaps most powerfully, as Inception argues, when done instinctually..

Finally the ending.  It was a neat and extremely tempting parlor trick – emotionally and visually satisfying for a few short seconds.  But after the initial smile, it did leave an aftertaste.  Could we have had something more subtle?  It brought back memories of something I once wrote: “lot’s of nice touches John, but you just broke the cardinal rule of script writing – please never conclude “it was all a dream.”

But then the great thing about the arts is, if you’re good enough, there are no rules.

I like imagining what happens when Cobb walks back into the kitchen, and sees that totem still spinning on the table.  It’s funny how in such a rational technological age, our storytellers are questioning the visible world as mystics and priests once did.

Inception was amazing.  Just please don’t let them make a sequel…

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5 Responses to Inception: Descartes, Jung and why Hollywood still rocks…

  1. striation says:

    Love what you’re doing, though I hit a wall with the quotes. X Str

  2. Christian says:

    I couldn’t agree any more. This is by far the most entertaining movie I’ve seen since the first Matrix movie was released.
    Funny you should mention it, I had a feeling it was like the next generation Matrix.
    Better effects, better acting and the same existential mystique.
    Heroin on a DVD, very good escapism. I watch it when I’m feeling shitty.

    Wouldn’t we all just love to wake up to find out that all this crap is a dream…

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