Dream a Little Dream Within a Dream

Dreaming, we all do it. But am I the only one who keeps forgetting them?

I hear if you wake up on your own accord, without an alarm, you’ll remember whatever you dreamed that night, but screw that, I got things to do, and a brain that just won’t cooperate.

But still, on occasion, I manage to remember a really good dream the next day. Those are always fun. The ones where I fly around town with Fluttershy and Twilight Sparkle as my wingmares. Yes, I know Twilight’s not a pegasus! Shut up! It’s my dream, not yours!

Anyway, dreams are great. They’re the only real time your mind truly runs free, unconstrained by reality or sanity. But the big problem with dreams, is that you really don’t get to share them with others. It’s a solitary experience.

Don’t you wish you and a friend could dream together? Experience the joys of running free in each other’s subconscious and share what you create? Social Dreaming! Wouldn’t that be fun? Wouldn’t that be exciting!?

Unfortunately, we can’t share dreams, it’s simply not possible. Unless we’re Ellen Page in Christopher Nolan’s epic sci-fi heist film: Inception.

…Wow, that was a cheesy segue. Anyway…

When I first heard about this film. A movie about people using dreams to delve into other people’s minds and extract information, I thought it would suck. Primarily because of my pre-disposition to similar, more stupid ideas. You know: New Age Bullshit!

See, my first thought would be this: They use meditation and hypnotism to telepathically enter someone else’s dream…or one of the characters is a psychic or something. Which would be really stupid. But that’s not the case. They use more technological means to do the dream diving, and that’s why this film is awesome!

See, one of the most important things in any sci-fi is the world building. Because any advanced technology like this would certainly change the world, or at least leave some type of impact. That is unless the tech is kept secret, or was just invented last week. But in Inception, the dream sharing technology is at least a few years old, so it had plenty of time to leave an imprint.

In the film, dream sharing was developed by the military as a hyper-realistic training simulator. It makes a lot of sense, because why bother creating complex interfaces to an even more complex, simulated, computer-generated environment; when you can have the human mind do most of the work, and basically fool itself?

At some point, the technology somehow fell into civilian or black market hands. That part is never really explained. But it turns out it’s a pretty popular technology that has a real impact on the world.

One of our heroes, Dom Cobb, played by DiCaprio, was introduced to dream sharing by his future father-in-law, and architecture professor, Michael Caine. The man showed his students a world where their creativity could run free. One thing led to another and yadda yadda spoilers. Dom now works as an elite extractor, using the technology to dive into people minds and steal their secrets. Of course, industrial espionage isn’t exactly an ethical application, so some use the technology to train another’s subconscious to defend itself against this kinda thing.

It’s a fascinating idea. The fact that this technology requires a new branch of security, and a new way of thinking. But something like this, that affects the human mind the way it does, has plenty of potential for abuse, and not just in the way I mentioned earlier.

One of the best scenes in the film takes place immediately after we meet Yusuf, the team’s chemist. He leads our heroes down into an underground dreaming den, where a dozen people share the dream, together. They come every day because, well basically, they’re addicts. Like any drug, if you take it long enough, you develop a dependency. For these people, it’s the only way they can dream. They simply cannot do it without the machine. But more importantly, as the den manager explains, they see the dream as reality.

Kinda sad when you think about it. But at the same time, not a bad way to live. Spend your days working, then at night, live a fantasy world where you can fly and get laid every day. You can even bring your friends with you. Also, because of how dreaming works, you would, for all intents and purposes, be living a much longer life. Though honestly, not something I would do. I prefer reality, it’s much more interesting.

What’s never established in the film are some of the positive applications. For starters: There’s recreation. One can go on a family vacation in the dream world, with their family obviously, and spend a week or two vacationing wherever they want, while only a weekend goes by in reality; or one can visit something a little more risqué, a dream-based brothel. Also, I imagine a psychologist/psychiatrist would love this kind of technology. They could dive into the minds of their patients to both explore their patient’s psychoses, and possibly repair them. Actually, in a way, this is explored in the film.

Inception is basically about the aforementioned Dom Cobb. When a job goes terribly wrong, Dom and his partner, Arthur, are forced to go on the run from their former employers. But things take a turn when their former mark, Saito, decides to hire them for a very special job: Inception. Basically, instead of stealing ideas or information, they have to plant an idea instead. In practice this is basically a clever form of hypnotism.

Initially Arthur says it can’t be done, because the human mind can always trace the origin of an idea, or as he puts it: “True inspiration is impossible to fake.” However, Dom claims to have done it before, but refuses to do it again…until Saito says he can get the United States government to drop the charges against him, which means Dom can go back home, to his children. He takes the job. I mean, wouldn’t you?

The film quickly goes over the mechanics of dreaming, as we are introduced to Ariadne (a-ree-AHD-neh), the team’s architect and audience surrogate, she’s introduced to all the essential concepts we see in the film as we are. Basically like the companions on Doctor Who, her job is to ask the same questions the audience asks, and in some cases, answer them. But her practical role in the film is to design the dream worlds.

Cobb and Arthur introduce her to the basic concepts of shared dreaming, and we quickly learn she’s a natural. Even managing to fold Paris in half like a sheet of paper, one of the film’s iconic scenes.

We also learn how dreaming works. Once you’re in a dream, you really can’t tell it’s not real, not until you leave at least. The mind works faster when asleep, resulting in a time-dilation-like effect where five minutes of sleeping results in an hour of dreaming.

Finally, the million-dollar question: What happens when you die? Well, you wake up. Which makes sense, because I don’t care what anyone says, the whole ‘die in the dream, die in real life’ thing, that’s stupid.

We are then introduced to my favourite character: Eames, a smug and clever prick whose primary role in the film is to provide some comic relief, and act as a foil to Arthur. He’s the team’s forger, which essentially means that, in the dream world, he can look like anyone he wants. In fact, at one point, he looks like a woman. Which is hilarious.

Eames is also the one who comes up with the master plan to implant the crucial idea into the mark’s mind. Which brings me to the mark. (Actually, I should throw up the spoiler warning here, but they’re mild spoilers…I think.) Robert Fischer, who’s about to inherit his father’s empire. His relationship with his father is frigid at best, and there’s a lot of animosity there. He obviously loves his father, but there’s no indication that his father loves him back. Which is their way in. They basically want him to break up his father’s company, and use the relationship with his father to get this idea through his head.

Essentially they’re going to repair Fischer’s relationship with his father in such a way, that he wants to break up the company to honour him. It’s pretty clever, and pretty cool, and Fischer definitely benefits from it, because he no longer holds this weight of pain in his heart. Of course some may say it’s based on a lie, therefore immoral, but Fischer doesn’t know that, and who knows, it might actually be true. Maybe Fischer’s father really did love him, and wanted his son to…well it’s fully explained in the movie.

Next is Yusuf, who I already mentioned is the team’s chemist. He formulates a sedative as well as the special chemicals used by the machine. Which brings me to a minor beef I have with the film. I understand it’s science fiction, therefore most of the scientific concepts are completely made up, but I just don’t see how a chemical introduced into the bloodstream is all that is needed to get two people to share a dream. One would think there would be some sort of neural connection.

I remember The Simpsons recently decided to parody Inception where Professor Frink developed his own dream-sharing device. It worked by placing a suction cup onto one’s head. Oddly enough, it made a bit more sense to me. That’s right, the parody was more logical than the original.

Anyway, the key point about Yusuf’s involvement is this: his job is basically to improve the operation of the dream machine, by combining both a sedative and his own custom dream-sharing compound that improves on the original, to get our heroes to go three levels deep, something that’s not typically done. What do I mean by ‘three levels’? Well, I mean a dream, within a dream, within another dream. Which is the key point most people remember about this film: The recursion. Even though it’s a minor part of the plot. To say this confuses me, would be an understatement.

Of course there is one more team member: Saito, their client. He joins the team in order to confirm they do the job right. He also assists in the planning stages, by buying a freaking airline. He’s a badass.

So, now, it’s time for the mission.

They all board the plane, ready to begin the job, as Cobb talks to Fischer and gives a toast to the man’s father. Some may write this off as a minor point, but it’s pretty essential to the overall mission. After all, a key part of inception, is stealth. The mark cannot know you’ve been in their mind, otherwise it won’t take. Let’s face it, if you just randomly, one day, without any prior provocation, started dreaming about your father, you might clue in that something is up. So there needs to be a trigger in reality. This is the first step to the team covering their tracks.

So, they enter Fischer’s mind, manifested as a rainy city, thanks to the designated dreamer: Yusuf and his full bladder. But the shit quickly hits the fan as the team makes a frightening discovery: Fischer’s mind is trained to defend itself. So, his subconscious immediately starts to open fire on our heroes.

Not a big deal, after all, if you die in the dream you just wake up. But unfortunately, not this time. Yusuf’s sedative means death won’t wake them up, it’ll just cause them to fall out of the dream’s structure, and straight into Limbo.

I like the idea of Limbo. It’s basically an empty field one can use as a playground. In fact Cobb spent 50 years there with his wife, Mal. Building all sorts of structures. Their mind ran free. They were basically gods. The problem is, you can easily lose yourself down there. Lose your sense of reality. Which is what happened to Mal. Then, spoilers happened and she killed herself.

Another frightening discovery: a train appears in the middle of the city…with no rails, just rumbling along a downtown street. An element of Cobb’s subconscious that’s busting through. This ends up being a crucial point in the film’s overall plot.

So the team kidnaps Fischer in the dream, and suggest the idea of breaking up his father’s company. They just suggest it, this isn’t inception yet. How do they do this? Eames impersonates Fischer’s godfather, and basically says, “You know your father had this really bad idea. He wanted you to break up the entire empire.”

Of course they were supposed to have much more time to complete this part of the plan, but due to the security forces on their tail, the timetable moves up. So they take out some subcons with a grenade launcher that I’m pretty sure Eames literally pulls out of his ass with the greatest line ever: “You mustn’t be afraid to dream a bit bigger darling.” Then, they all jump in a van, and go to sleep.

The next level down, the team finds themselves in a hotel that’s connected to one of those motion simulator rides, thanks to Yusuf’s driving in the upper level. This part of the film is pretty cool, as gravity continually shifts and Arthur, the designated dreamer, has to fight off an army of subcons in a rotating hallway. It’s one hell of a fight scene, and one of my favourite parts of the film.

But back to the A-plot. (This is some hard-core spoilers, but I really want to talk about it.) Cobb goes to Fischer and tells the man his name is Mr. Charles, an aspect of his subconscious, in charge of security. At this point, one of the coolest things happen, the mark joins the team in breaking into his own subconscious. I love it when all the good guys work together.

So, the team watches as the next part of the plan comes together, almost on its own, as Fischer’s subconscious reminds him of how bad an idea it is to break up the company.

They go to sleep, and find themselves on a snowy mountaintop, heavily armed with sniper rifles and military-grade arctic gear. It’s a great scene as they lead Fischer into a complex with a specially designed vault that contains some heavy spoilers and the film’s greatest scene.

I’d love to go on, but I don’t want to reveal too much. All I can say is I loved the scene in the vault. It made me really giddy, how Fischer…spoilers. I also loved how it reminds me of the Death Star, or Tron 2.0.

Overall Inception is a great film. I’m shocked it didn’t win the Oscar. It pushes so many boundaries; brings us so many great ideas; and overall, it’s extremely intense. Anyone who doesn’t stop to watch this film is a moron.

Right now, I can only hope for a sequel to Inception. There was talk of a video game based on the film, but I have no idea what’s happening with that. It would be great to hear more stories about shared-dreaming, even if it has nothing to do with Cobb and the gang. Maybe they could cross it over with Silent Hill?

Of course Inception isn’t the only story to come out in recent years specifically about dreaming. But that’s something I’ll talk about another time.

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