Film & TV

Inception – Not as Clever as it Thinks it Is

Inception is basically a good film, but not as clever as it thinks. You might fool some people some of the time by surrounding a fundamentally simple film with opaque and convoluted ideas, but on this topic I’m not the first – and won’t be the last – to argue that the emperor isn’t wearing any clothes. The film’s plot holes are best dealt with by the assertion that the events take place in a dream, but this tried and tested deus ex machina can’t help but seem like a bit of a cop out in the face of Inception’s outward complexity.

So to begin, my personal position is that all we – the audience – see in Inception happens in Cobb’s deep subconscious dream. Now, if I were to give an example of one moment that underlined this point for me it would be Cobb taking Mal’s totem while in limbo. As the film explains, a totem is something unique and personal which only one person can recognise as having a connection to reality. So the fact that Cobb takes Mal’s totem and uses it throughout the film as his own marker for physical existence means that his reality is based on an uncertainty. Therefore it is irrelevant, although not completely in the context of the film, if the spinning top stops spinning because it is the weight and the feel of the thing that connects you to reality, rather than the action it can and should perform. Indeed Cobb could be tricking himself into believing that it is reality though the false reading of the totem.

Beyond this and in much more obvious terms, the fact that Cobb’s children seem unchanged by time – and that Cobb and Mal choose to go and live in limbo rather than look after their children – for me, suggests that the whole film is based in Cobb’s limbo. This also leads me to believe they have invented their children as part of their life in limbo, although this could just be a glaring plot flaw.

Now for the plot holes: they are numerous and for a far more detailed and insightful look at them I suggest you look at this website: However, if my initial assessment is correct that this is all a dream, then all of the plot flaws are meaningless because they can be explained by the inconsistency of dreaming. Having said this, the fact that you can cast aside any plot flaw with the explanation that it wasn’t real seems to me to be a bit lazy on the part of the film as a whole. If you read a book and vast parts of it didn’t conform to the verisimilitude set up by the writer, but it ended with the words ‘and then I woke up’, you’d feel cheated. It’s an easy way out, especially in the case of the rolling car. At the very least the guy who had to subsequently wake up the others and ends up having the special effects showdown in the corridor should have woken. Even if you take into account the different layers, every layer relies on the kick from the one above it. But, as I’ve said, I do think it was all a dream so I suppose relying on that I’ve got to forgive it. Although it does make the whole film seem annoyingly predictable.

Also, I wasn’t sure how exactly they were all sharing Cobb’s limbo. Ariadne and Cobb went in together, but they were originally sharing Fisher’s dream and he died first, going into limbo for a matter of minutes which itself should have been decades. Therefore he should have had his own limbo, or they should all be in hanging in limbo. This is the advantage of a convoluted storyline; it’s hard to tell who is right or wrong and it eventually gets so frustrating trying to find the truth that you give up. As such, on the limbo matter I can’t say I’m sure. If it was all Cobb’s limbo anyway, this point is irrelevant (which seems to be becoming a bit of a trend).

One thing that I haven’t seen anything written about is the fact that Ariadne is a character from Greek mythology who helps Theseus defeat the Minotaur and escape the Labyrinth. This seems to point to Ariadne as Cobb’s aide, allowing him to slay his demons and find his way either out of his dream (if you think the whole film wasn’t a dream) or to a level of acceptance as she allows Cobb to escape the labyrinth he has built for himself. A labyrinth has no natural way out (Ariadne in the film, is shown drawing that circular maze): rather the aim is to reach the centre. This therefore could be seen as a metaphor for Cobb’s unconscious limbo state, where he can reach a stage of completion and resolution without ever escaping the maze itself.

Overall I have to say it was a good film, and definitely one which demands to be deciphered and discussed, which is always nice. However, I’m not sure it’s a great film. Worth another watch, for sure. Buy it on DVD? Probably not.

Adam Krusts

Film & TV
2 Comments on this post.
  • TBK
    7 October 2010 at 05:55
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    You started out making sense but then you just lost it.
    I wonder what that tells you.
    Maybe you are not quite as smart as you think you are.
    Inception is brilliant live with it!

  • Elanor
    2 December 2010 at 23:09
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    I think you missed the true brilliance of the film. Inception isn’t there to be scrutinised academically, but it is one of the few action films to try and challenge viewers perceptions and understanding and succeed at the box office. Inception opened with a £5.91m taking at the box office in the UK and a $61.8m opening in the US. As Christopher Nolan previously showed with The Dark Knight you can create a hugely popular and profitable action summer blockbuster that can still work away from the Hollywood template and be influenced by more alternative cinema without alienating the wider audience. Inception isn’t a masterpiece but it’s a satisfying piece of entertainment.

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