I will pour out my spirit on all flesh;
your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
your old men shall dream dreams,
and your young men shall see visions.
The dreams in director Christopher Nolan’s film are man-inspired, not God-inspired, nor are they in tended to be a blessing to the whole earth as in Joel’s prophecy. Leonardo DiCaprio plays a corporate spy named Dom Cobb with the unique skill of being able to enter into a person’s dream and extract corporate information useful to his employer. He does this by tricking his prey into sipping a drink laced with a drug to bring on unconsciousness, and then hooking up himself and the target with electrodes and wires to a special device.
A wealthy Japanese entrepreneur named Saito (Ken Watanabe) hires Cobb, but not to extract, but rather the far more difficult task of implanting an idea in the mind of rival businessman Robert Fischer, Jr. (Cillian Murphy). Saito wants Fischer, heir to a vast oil empire, to break up his company upon the death of his ailing father, thus eliminating Saito’s chief competition. The story becomes a heist tale when Cobb assembles a skilled team, each with a required specialty to pull off the complicated scheme. One of these is Ariadne (Ellen Page), a young but skilled architect who is to design the architecture of the dreams. I write “dreams” because the puzzling plot entails the team going into a dream, then a dream in the dream, and still a third dream. Thus we have a dream within a dream within a dream. I am still not sure of all that I saw, so I am looking forward to seeing the film again.
There is a poignancy to Cobb, which we learn later involves the woman Mal (Marion Cotillard) who keeps appearing in his dreams in a disruptive manner. It turns out that she was his wife who became so enmeshed in his dream experimentations that, she had not been able to tell dreams from reality. She had killed herself and implicated Cobb in her death. He had been forced to leave his young children with their grandmother and flee the country. They frequently appear in his dreams. The influential Saito tells Cobb that he can get the U.S. authorities to drop their charges if he will take on the job of inception. The story of the target Robert Fischer, Jr. also has a poignant touch, he being estranged from his dying father for many years.
The special effects are effective, my companion invoking artist M.C. Escher during one scene of intricately connecting stairways. I would add Salvador Dali as well. Although I first compared (in Film Capsules) the film unfavorably to the other one I had seen a couple of hours earlier (Winter’s Bones), I would moderate this criticism after thinking more about the film. Still preferring the smaller budgeted one, I must admit that this is a fascinating puzzler that I still do not understand as well as I should. I could use something like that ball of red fleece thread that the mythical Ariadne gave to Theseus to find his way out of the Minotaur’s labyrinth. This is definitely a film that should be seen with others for help in comprehending it—and I will be joining others who have expressed the need to see the film a second time.
1. How did you feel after watching this film? Confused? Challenged? How similar, and yet how different, is it from the usual summer thriller? Any of it remind you of The Matrix?
2. What kinds of dreams have you had—and how do parts of the dreams in the film resonate with your experiences?
3. How is Ariadne an appropriate name for the character played by Ellen Page? What role does her namesake play in the Greek myth of the Minos and Theseus legend? (For more details on this go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ariadne.
4. Why is Cobb so wracked with a sense of guilt? How does this affect his dreams? Have you had real life failings entering into your dreams?
5. What apparently has been the relationship between Robert Fischer, Jr. and his father? How does the photo of the two figure in with the final revelation about the father’s regard for his son? (Note the child’s pinwheel.)
6. How has a dream of yours seemed utterly real at the time, yet when awakening parts or all of it seemed so irrational or absurd? How does the line “Pinch me to see if I’m not dreaming” (or a variant) correspond with Cobb’s using the tiny brass top as his reality check? But how does he know that he is not just dreaming that the top is real?
7. What do you think about the close-up shot of the spinning top that concludes the film? Is Cobb now in reality or a dream? Compare this to the intriguing way in which another film starring Leonardo DiCaprio ends, Shudder Island.
8. This could be an occasion to look at and discuss the concept of dreams in the Bible.
-God communicating through dreams: Genesis 20; 40-41; Judges 7; 1 Kings 3; Job 33; Daniel 2-4; Matt. 1-2; Acts 9 (Peter’s “trance” a dream?)
-Dreams of individuals about themselves: Genesis 31; 37; (Note in Jer. 23 & 29 dreams of other prophets are considered false).