“Inception” is one of those rare movies that (for me anyway) seem to make perfect sense in the theatre, but once really considered…. don’t. (Usually when I watch a “mind-bender” movie, it seems confusing until I look back on it at which point it all becomes clear.)
I’ve never met a movie that seemed like the concepts (specifically Limbo and totems) had been created by one person or group, then passed off to someone else who didn’t REALLY understand what the original writers meant, but decided to take a stab at it anyway. For this reason, I feel fine to forgive anyone who misrepresents aspects of the plot, because they’re really only repeating the bits of the plot that were WRONG.
I’ll go through the many-faceted problems with both ideas that make this movie… suck.
Okay, the movie didn’t suck, exactly – a lot of independent bits of it were fantastic: soundtrack, camera work, effects, acting, the dialogue was passable if not amazing – in short, it was worth watching and worth enjoying (also, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Tom Hardy heckle each other pretty much the whole movie). The plot was just such shit it was hard to fully appreciate everything else.
LIMBO: It made no sense. It wasn’t that it wasn’t explained well, it wasn’t that it was too complicated to understand, it just DID NOT WORK as a concept. (If anyone disagrees and wants to explain it in a way that covers all the shit I’m about to drop on it, go for it, I’d love to be able to respect this movie.)
If you’re thinking of the dream world as a building, the waking world is the fourth floor (for the purposes of the movie). A dream is the third floor, a dream within a dream is the second, a dream within a dream within a dream is the third (as deep as the technology will allow them to go), and Limbo is the basement. If you are killed in a dream you wake up on the next level up (as is shown in the opening). However, to go down to the first floor (the third dream deep), the dream has to be stabilized with powerful sedatives. With these sedatives in a dreamer’s system, he cannot be woken with a dream-death. When he dies in a dream, he is dropped into Limbo. Time increases exponentially as you go into more dream levels, so Limbo lasts for hundreds of years, trapping the dreamer – at least that’s how it was initially explained.
There are several problems with this, the most obvious being that Limbo was not in fact the prison it was originally described to be. It is made clear that if one dies in Limbo, HE WAKES THE FUCK UP. Mal and Cobb are “trapped” in Limbo for 50 years, but ALL THEY HAVE TO DO is jump under a train, and they are transported back to reality. (Unfortunately this solution does not leave the subconscious once you’ve escaped, but that bit was relatively consistent so it won’t be much about that in here.)
So what’s the problem? Why the hell is everyone so afraid of falling into Limbo?
I’ve got no idea, and I don’t think the writers did either.
It didn’t occur to me until I was writing the first bit that the basic concept of Limbo, i.e. that if one dies in a dream while sedated he drops into the “basement” level, was grossly misused by their own logic.
In the opening sequence with Saito, Dominic Cobb, Arthur, and the original architect Nash, it’s established that if you die in a lower level of a dream, you do NOT wake up in reality, only in the next level up – you’re only taking the elevator up to the next floor. The only level on which you are actually sedated is reality.
Imagine a short circuit in the elevator that won’t let it pass the third floor (it’s an electronic elevator, stfu). It’s perfectly functional until then, because they cannot use the sedative on any level beyond reality. Sedative does not EXIST on any other level, because NOTHING exists on any other level; the worlds exist entirely in the mind of whomever is dreaming at the time. It’s pointed out that although you can feel pain in a dream, it’s only painful because your mind expects it to be; the physical effects of something like a drug can’t happen.
Because of this, Limbo is only valid if you’re killed on the first level of the dream – if we’re back in the elevator, a dream-death is just going up to a higher floor. The elevator works just fine until it gets past the third floor, at which point it glitches, the lights blink, and it plunges down to the basement (in this analogy the elevator was designed by Microsoft).
To try to be a little less convoluted, the sedative only prevents consciousness in reality, NOT consciousness in higher dream levels. Ariadne, Fischer, and Cobb, killed on the first floor or third level, should have just risen to the second. (Saito died on the first level and would in fact have dropped into Limbo.)
Remember, the items (including drugs) you’re seeing on any floor below the fourth (reality) DO NOT EXIST. They are all supplied by the dreamer.
This brings me to the next problem, totems, which are more misunderstood than actually wrong. In short, the writers done fucked up. They were very unclear on this point and a lot of viewers got the wrong idea (leading to the pointless debates about the final shot).
Totems do not do not DO NOT tell you if you’re in a dream. The ONLY function of totems is to tell you if you’re in SOMEONE ELSE’S dream. If you’re in a foreign dream, the person who created it doesn’t know exactly what the totem feels or acts like, so checking it tells you that whoever brought this item into the dream had never physically interacted with it. They can replicate everything else perfectly, but if there is one physical item only you know completely, you’ll never be fooled (that’s why it’s so important that no one ever touch anyone else’s totem).
Leonardo DiCaprio completely misrepresented his little spinning top by implying that it would indicate a state of reality or lack thereof, thereby creating a superficially clever ending that didn’t matter at all if you understood what was going on.
That’s right: if the top had fallen at the end, it would have told us NOTHING about whether or not the movie’s events were “real.”
DiCaprio implied the top was governed by some sort of “dream physics” which prevented it from falling. Dream physics do not exist; that’s the point of a fucking dream. The top is governed by the subconscious of whomever is actually dreaming at the time. (I’m assuming it had two functions: the weight and feel of it indicated whether or not he was in someone else’s dream (because it WOULD fall in their dream; there’s no reason for it not to, also I just put quotation marks within quotation marks because INCEPTION POST), and if he was in his, the top would keep spinning because he wanted it to. Those are genuinely the mechanics of it.)
If the top had spun for an hour, it obviously would have been a dream, but if it had fallen, it would mean A) it was reality, OR B) Cobb subconsciously wanted or expected it to be reality. This leaves us with the exact same question we’d had the whole time; its falling would have resolved nothing.
I’m going to troll and put a spoiler warning down here, because if you haven’t seen Inception yet, you’re not worth my fucking spoiler warning. Get a TV and leave the house once in a decade.