Wednesday, August 4, 2010


The word is dicey. It exhumes a beat of novelty. True to its meaning, Inception by Christopher Nolan is the beginning of a new cult. The creation of something that is so mind-boggling that it's too good to be true. I worship his genius.

Dominic Cobb (Leonardp Di Caprio) is an expert at stealing. Stealing people's ideas from their dreams while they are sleeping. Yes, our world could come to that. But the bigger challenge comes to him when he is asked to plant an idea in someone's mind instead. Saito (Ken Watanabe), a rich man, wants Robert Fischer Jr. (Cillian Murphy), heir to his father's empire, to break it up in order to avoid a threat to his own business.

Cobb hires a young aspiring architect Ariadne (Ellen page) to construct dreams that Fischer would enter when dreaming. She has to create a maze that would allow enough time for the team to manipulate the subject's mind, luring him into thinking what they want him to think. They want him to destroy his father's empire. Not violently and forcibly in real life, but by injecting in him an idea using emotional play. A business decision needs to be communicated by hitting what's most sensitive to us - our emotions.

Going down three layers deep into Fischer’s subconscious, Cobb and his team control and navigate through the dreams facing numerous challenges on the way. They discover that Fischer has been trained to ward off dream infiltrators, and so has developed security, which will only hamper their mission. But the game must go on.

This film got me thinking of many issues. One most prominent being how the entire concept of breaking into someone’s mind is in fact a reality today. How? Simple. Through the innumerous information we are being fed day in and day out, with the bombardment of the media. We may not be wholly aware of it (a dream state?) because it works seemingly discreetly, injecting our minds with what it wants us to believe. We forget what’s real and what’s not. Like how Cobb heavily sedates Fischer, we too are sedated – on postmodern paraphernalia.

The second thing I’d like to mention is the power of the mind. The power to invade directly, in contrast to the powerlessness of surrender. While we all think we have complete control of our lives once we get our degrees and pass out of prestigious institutions, we are equally vulnerable to the evils of the real world. But like in the film, what seems real for the victim is in fact a dream, although what happens in the dream is real because he is brainwashed enough to believe that the decisions he takes are his own. Brainwash. The word seems more interesting to me now. It makes complete sense. Brainwash can almost be used as a synonym to inception. After all, doesn’t it do the same thing? Systematically frame a person’s mind and manipulate it enough to convince him to believe that what he thinks is right and true of his own accord.

Nolan’s concept of limbo I find quite fascinating. When you are heavily sedated in a dream, you may never wake up even if you kill yourself and you’ll fall into what he calls “unconstructed dream space”, where you only find “raw infinite subconscious”. And what’s worse, you’ll grow old in this indefinite world. I wonder if many of us have already fallen in this limbo, living our world in an infinite subconscious simply because we have been heavily sedated by powerful market forces. I find an uncanny resemblance to today’s brand culture being part of sedating us into limbo. Unconstructed brand space. Until we give ourselves an appropriate “kick”, we may never get out of it.

If, however, we are aware of these forces of propaganda, then we can develop a resistance towards it, just like how Fischer developed security against invaders who entered his subconscious. But if propaganda can reach levels where we are convinced that we are not being manipulated, then what else is left?

How we perceive is how we understand what we see. How I see someone may be different from what you may. So like in the film where one sees someone else in a dream as a “projection” which defines his perception of that person in real life, in a sense translates to the fact that how we really see people in real life is what they are in our dreams.

Waking Life by Richard Linklater is another film that explores the blurring lines between dreams and reality. A rotoscoped film, it traces the dream adventures of a young man who cannot get himself out of a dream. Lucid dreaming keeps us aware that we are dreaming, but what if we get stuck and simply can’t get out? The dream becomes a reality that we live in, floating in its surreal geography. Like how the young man gets lessons from philosophers about life, existentialism, reality and free will, Inception is an application of some of these ideas in action. What is free will? Does it really exist? Who controls what we think? Can an idea ever be original? Even if it’s planted in one’s head, can we be fooled to think that it’s “our” idea? According to one of Cobb’s associates, “the subject’s mind always traces the genesis of an idea. True inspiration is impossible to fake.” So who gets the real credit of an idea?

I know one thing for sure. Nolan’s genius is impossible to fake. With his execution of the most complicated mind games, it is a breathtaking experience to watch this film. Not once, not twice, but for as long as the totem spins. Lost in your dreams? You could be in danger. Because your mind is the seed of the crime.


  1. I loved it! I love your description of the film and discussing the layers with larger social contexts of relevance :)

  2. Thankyou Swetha! I believe Nolan is trying to make a larger social statement in the disguise of sci-fi action.

  3. if i thought the movie was a super complex concept and Nolan was a genius for the way he could handle it... i now say, the fact that you were able to reproduce the essence of that genius and do full justice to it..i know its been a tough task but kudos!!
    a genius in the making :)

  4. Thanks Ipsi! Nolan's genuis is unquestionable. And recognizing the essence of his story is the least we can do as responsible viewers.

  5. n i totally forgot to add that i loved the ending of ur wrk... it leaves a mark jus as the ending of the movie... gud job dear! :)

  6. "it is a breathtaking experience to watch this film. Not once, not twice, but for as long as the totem spins." best expressed of all the reviews I have read till now. To speculate on what happened at the end is the seed Nolan wanted to plant in viewers. Thats INCEPTION!

  7. How true, Raghav. Nolan has cleverly made us the witnessess and victims to his fantastic idea of Inception!

  8. Brilliantly written Zulfia, I love the dissection and understand that you have brought to it. I for one, was left with an open mouth all the times I watched the movie, and like someone said to me-"it gets better each time."

    Beautifully done.

  9. What I truely like is your comparison to real life and you have been successful in "Incepting" a thought in my mind about the regular bombardment of influences we encounter!! All of us behave in a certain manner because of our unique style of upbringing by our parents, guardians, influence of friends and their families, our schools and then colleges. So what looks descent to somebody can offence somebody and vice versa.

    Islamic Fundamentalism is also which needs to be looked in detail as to how a suicide bomber can kill him/herself. It needs real guts to take own's life and thats the power of inception!! It can make you take lives and destroy cities!! Naxalism used to be a thoughtful revolution once upon a time and now it is the biggest threat to India. Bigger than Pakistan and China put together. In the last year, more people have died in Naxal Attacks than any epedemic or in Jammu & Kashmir...and what led them to take lives?...the powerful inception in their minds about they doing the "right" thing!!!

  10. Thankyou very much Neha! And yes, it does get better each time, as you absorb more and feel the wealth of the concept. It's a perfect mix of building intrigue and fascination with growing clarity with each viewing. One of those rare films that you cannot get bored of.

  11. Ujjwal, so can we call "inculcating" ideals and values as something that hovers around incepting them? Perhaps the former is a more polite and refined term. If looked at positively, we are in a constant flux of activity and interactions that involve exchange of thoughts, ideas and experiences. Like how Ethan Hawke's character quotes Thomas Wolfe in the movie Before Sunset, "we are the sum of all the moments of our lives", probably these moments define how we think and how we carry ahead in life to gain more experiences. So the way I look at something would be different from what someone else would look at the same thing. And as you rightly pointed out, sometimes even taking offence to what I consider non-offensive. It is the source of these continual layers of thought processes that we need to trace to understand what feeds our mind to make it function the way it does.

    Islamic Fundamentalism and Naxalism are realized by their own motivations. Gathering from my previous paragraph, if we apply it to these occurences, then those who propagate it "think" it's right while the victims and outsiders "think" it as wrong. So what's important now, is to discuss who defines what is right and wrong? Someone who has power? So again we come to the question of the "power of the mind" that I have raised in my analysis of the movie. Instead of using physical force, there is instead an invasion of mind space. Less violent (in physical terms) but much more serious. Simply because all our actions start with thought, and mental conviction of performing them. If that very thought itself can be altered, then we believe in righteousness as innocently as anyone else who may not think it that way. Ah it's a conglomerating cycle of deception through Inception!

  12. Zoing - Nice review. To me inception was really fascinating because, it resembles our advaita philosophy so much. According to the philosophy, the world we live i today is maya. It is an illusion (people always misunderstand this thinking that we say that the world doesnt exist. We say that the world is an illusion. ). When you are in a dream, you never realise that you are in a dream, until you wake up. Similarly, the life we live in could be a dream too and we will realise it only when we wake up to reality(the original reality). Freakily enough, so many times in the past 10 years, I have had dream with in a dream. Its an awesome experience.

  13. Yes, very well. We could all be living in a dream. But so does that mean we wake up in death?

  14. Similar to inception, may be death is a kick..

  15. NO wonder some people say death is the only real thing.

  16. Well said Zulfiya...Deception through Inception!! "Inculcuting" is such a positive word..wish all of us inculcate good things in life...

  17. A manipulative brain can be a boon or a curse. That is a highly subjective topic. Loved the way you have put across your description of the film. Looking forward to more interesting POVs. Keep it up :)

  18. Thankyou Shoumie! Subjectivity looms over many crucial possibilities. Manipulation being one such. While the word itself suggests negativity as to plot someone else's thoughts in one's favor, perhaps it can be used positively too.:)

  19. Very nicely written. You have managed to capture the essence of the film very well. Better than most reviews that I read online. In fact, this isn't a movie that ought to be reviewed. It is a movie that should be discussed, which is pretty much what you have done. I like the analogy that you have drawn between the film and manner in which we are bombarded with so many messages today. Inception is possible without going that deep! " is a breathtaking experience to watch this film. Not once, not twice, but for as long as the totem spins." is a killer line! :)

  20. Thankyou very much Pradeep! Appreciate your comment. Yes, I totally agree with you. I wouldn't want to call it a review, because it isn't. It can't be. It's simply an attempt to understand and make sense out of the plethora of information we are fed in the film, along with alluring visuals. The film engages your intellect as much as it does your visual alertness. That's the lesson we must practice in real life too. Or could it be dreams?:)

  21. is this a review ? ...i mean most of things mentioned in this is about OUR reality . BTW great job on this :) ...

  22. Yes, all that's conceived by our limited senses are maya per advaida... how to prove it? simple: what we see? the sun rising from east and setting at west. Is it real? no. it is because our earth is revolving; but do we feel it, see it, or comprehensible to our senses? no. Who am I? is this body what I am? no. 'cos, I don't feel like a skeleton covered with flesh, blood, mucus, nerves, and acids. It is my hand, my heart, my brain, my thoughts, my idea... who is this "me" then. Here is where the religion takes its root. when I get "the kick" at my death in this real dream (life), what happens to this "me"(aathma)? we live in a nutshell of revolution for how long? here the time becomes immaterial too... there is no "time" in reality. very weired thoughts! who incited it into human beliefs.

    Budha wanted to know the reason for suffering. what did he do? sit in meditation for years and found answer.... from where? where was he got this connectivity. Prophet Mohammed sat in meditation in Hira cave many times and he got revealed of Quran... who incited him these rightful ideas?

    The only rule that god reveals is "reward & punishment". And what do we practice the same, at home, to our children, the companies follow the same rules to its employees, the govt implement same rule to its citizens (the reward many not be less prominent than punishment)...

    The religions teach there is life after death, death being in various ways. Is it that we get transfered to another life by the will of god. don't we change our jobs from responsibilities to more responsibilities.. some resign abruptly (suicide) to get a better job; some get transfered from one site to another... we can but only follow the divine rule in all spheres of our life.

    so also is this "inception" - about dreams and reality... so WHAT IS THE REALITY?

  23. A class analysis. Very few reviews do justice in guiding readers through the world of the movie; even fewer manage the feat of connecting concepts in the movie to the world that flourishes around them.

    Many of us in our working lives may have experienced days or even weeks where we work so hard and get so less sleep that everything around us seems a blur. We rumble through the day in a Zombie-ish state and each day makes us seem older and less dynamic. An attempted recollection of events brings up nothing but a garble. The world, then, seems a dream, yet is reality. This is what stuck me as I encountered the term 'Limbo' - the un-constructed space that you remain in till realization dawns and you wrench yourself out of it. For some, this world becomes their reality.

    Have you watched the process of Hypnosis? The hypnotist coaxes a person into his sub-conscious by distracting his conscious state with a repeating motion, like that with a pendulum. Once the person's conscious is well away from the point of return a.k.a in a dream state, the hypnotist creates a make believe world and drops the person right in the middle of it. The person lives in that state long enough until the hypnotist decides to bring him out. This may manifest as an extreme case, but goes far to show the impact that an 'incepted' idea can have on you.

    I enjoyed the usage of propaganda in your review.
    A glimpse into history and the cold-war era brings to light regimes of U.S.S.R, China, countries of the Warsaw Pact, among others, that engulfed their nations in totalitarian regimes and succeeded in cutting them off from the world. Their Propaganda mechanism managed to repeat lies and half truths to an extent that it cemented itself firmly(was incepted) in the minds of the citizens. This was used as an instrument to bring out unquestioning loyalty from the people.
    This concept is beautifully highlighted in George Orwell's 1984. His construction of Big Brother, the Thought police, the propaganda repeating telescreen makes you realize how innocently the human mind can be fooled to believe.

  24. Reminds of a line from Orson Welles' adaptation of Franz Kafka's surrealist 'The Trial': "It's been said that the logic of this story is the logic of a dream...a nightmare."

    Theories aside, when it comes to film-making, I believe that the film can not only be enjoyed on a very superficial level, you can also delve into its philosophical and existential depths, just like The Matrix did a few years ago. And that's the genius of Nolan - his intricate and structured style of narrative. He's come a long way from his low-budget 'Following' (reference to Cobb?), growing to 'Memento' and 'Prestige' and now of course his masterpiece Inception.

    An interesting read, though I may not agree with eveything:

  25. @ Hamza: Deep! While we believe that as long as our physical selves are alive, we are "living", and so we exist, many times the concept of the soul can question this belief. We live by our thoughts, our heart, our ideas. That is the very nature of this crime called Inception, where the place that we are most vulnerable, and have almost no control, that we can easily get affected. Interesting how you brought out the concept of revelation. While Prophet Mohammad and Buddha power in their mind, they also had the ability to instill in others the same goodness they were chosen to spread. All the cultural and religious values we have imbibed are a result of a sort of Inception, where we knowingly or unknowingly accept. Death may seem as the only liberation, but who knows what's real?

  26. @ Fee: Hypnosis! Beautiful application. Psychology is the way into a person's mind. Without it, we cannot understand each other. When we reach a point of control "over" another person's mind, we have him/her hypnotised. It is quite a fascinating exercise to watch, and probably even to experience. While our minds seem to claim superiority of thought and intelligence, all this power is lost when we lose control over it on account of an invasion. Sometimes I really wonder if our thoughts are ever really unadultered. Pure. From the time we are born, we are taught to socialize, to live in a gregarious environment. Without influences, how are our ideologies formed? So in its truest sense, every thought or idea we have is a result of an inception that has occured at some time or the other, at some age or the other, that keeps adding or subtracting, sometimes leading to a new combination. That we say is what we think.

    Orwell's prophesy has always turned out right. Thought Crime is the playground that Inception slides around in. We don't need our bodies to commit wrongdoing. You just have to think about it.

  27. @ Nabil: "..a dream..a nightmare". Indeed. Kafka's book floats you around in a bizarre journey of real and unreal. Yes, a film must be viewed from philosophical and existential depths, because only then can we engage our mind in questioning, in de-coding and most importantly in meaning-making. Works such as these are masterpieces because of the intellectual labyrinth it presents to create a complex work of art. Art needs to be interpreted. Discussed. Only then will we find some release to our repressed dreams. Or was that life?

  28. Christopher Nolan has cleverly packaged the movie "Inception" with an absorbing storyline,engaging special effects and action sequences,music that gels in with the mood and with perfect casting.It is interesting to note how he successfully marries commercial cinema with philosophical debates!He is truly a genius in creating "thought-proving blockbusters".
    The very idea of "Inception" is an oft-debated topic in philosophy and psychology.Man is a social being,and is highly influenced by his fellow human beings and the environment.There's no denying that.
    But again are all ideas incepted/influenced/inculcated in various degrees?Does true inspiration exist?Did the great thinkers and inventors not have original ideas?
    I think it'll be a never-ending debate.
    And Nolan has succeeded in igniting this debate.Kudos to him.
    Kudos to you to have so lucidly explained the concept and for drawing parallels with our reality(I don't believe in Maya ;-)).The materialistic and voyeuristic society that we have turned into is definitely due to the unabated "propaganda" and "projections" that we encounter everyday.Those who resist it are fighting a long,exhausting battle!
    The film is not flawless.If one starts dissecting scene by scene,its quite easy to start seeing the loopholes.But I wouldn't want to get all technical.
    Lets just sit back and enjoy what I call "thought-provoking entertainment"!

    Your best write-up till date Zulfiya.And I have no doubt that you shall only get better every passing "review".But again these are not reviews :-)


    P.S:Lot of dramatic punchlines(pardon the usage of this word) in your write-up.I see that it has had the desired effect on the readers :-)

  29. Thankyou Varun, for your observations. The Original Idea, I believe cannot have a single, absolute genesis. Like you said, man is a social being and he cannot be what he is without an environment. Our social upbringing is as important as our physical existence, because without an external world, we have no references to base our ideas on. Let me share with you something that Mr. Adi Pocha, a renowned ad filmmaker and writer told us, "a creative idea is the synthesis hitherto of, two unrelated ideas to create a new relevant idea." So if you come to think of it, most of our thoughts are formed because of what we see and observe around us, that may be forming certain ideas (or opinions) in our minds that we are not really conscious of. We are in a constant process of decoding what is encoded in our cultures, of encoding what we would like to communicate, of inhaling and exhaling social apparatuses of control. Eventually when we do get a "new" idea, it may seem novel, but it really is a result of what we already know, and what we want to create with or without it, that is unheard of.

    Please do bring out the flaws in the film. Dissecting a movie is the very purpose of this forum. Go ahead, get technical, let's discuss it.

    Thought-provoking entertainment is always immersive. I think its the best way to keep a viewer hooked.

    Thankyou for your encouraging words. I will definitely try and keep up the pace. Not reviews, but I'd like to call them an analysis, and subsequently, a discussion.

    I shall pardon you. But could you point out these "punchlines" please? I must admit, however, that I had no desire for any "desired effect" with these "punchlines". Simply because, they weren't!

  30. I liked this review for two facts. One the way you think/thought about it. Second, the ensuing conversational discussion with the people who have commented... Good to read it always and find a different meaning to a film I just finished watching... waiting for Peepli live...

  31. Thankyou Regil. Happy to know you liked it. Peepli Live coming your way shortly:).