...for possibly the eighth or ninth time (at least), and for the first time I felt I actually understood everything that was going on and understood how the different layers of dreams related to each other.
It's funny to realise, just from looking at the dates involved, that I had started corresponding with my wife about a month before the film was released, and it would be several months before we met for the first time. (I saw it in the cinema at least twice, and perhaps three times). I didn't remember that at all.
Inception captivates me for many reasons. Partly because it's simply an amazing film. But also because its themes are so very potent, at least to me.
There is the 'journey into the inner self' theme. At least two of the characters-- Leonardo Di Caprio's character and Cillian Murphy's character-- make this journey. There is nothing more exciting than the idea that the soul is a vast, deep and mysterious territory-- vaster, deeper and more mysterious than we can ever imagine. In The Interior Castle (a book I could never finish), St. Teresa of Avila says that, no matter how large we image the interior castle (which is our soul), we can never adequately picture how vast it is. And along with this idea, there is the related idea that in the depths of the self-- on some lonely beach, or on a mountain height, or in a sunlit attic, or (as in the film) at a father's death-bed-- you find your encounter with the ultimate secret of our soul. The cathartic pay-off is immense. (The same idea works well with horror, although here it is your ultimate fear-- which is not simply the thing that scares you the most.)
There is the 'interior drama' theme, which is related, but not quite the same thing. This is simply the idea of an imaginary world taking physical shape. It can be a rather horrific idea if it's purely solipsistic and confined to the prison of one's self. But, in Inception, it's a shared dream, which makes all the difference. There is a not unpleasant vertigo in the idea that mind and matter are the same substance-- and really, what philosopher has ever been able to separate them? Why does Prospero's "such things as dreams are made on" speech in The Tempest fill us with such a delicious melting feeling? I tried to write an "interior drama" story myself, with The Man Who Could Make Worlds, as serialised on this blog some time ago. (I must return to it some time.) Alas, not with a great degree of success.
Dream-within-dream stories are always a winner. A little known episode of the nineteen-eighties Hammer House of Horror TV series-- 'Rude Awakening' with Denholm Eliot, where a man keeps waking from a dream into another dream, and keeps getting arrested for the same murder-- is eminently worth seeing if you ever get the chance.
And finally, there is the "pure joy of creation" theme. Ariadne can't walk away from the job, even when she knows it's the sensible thing to do, because dream architecture is "just...pure creation". Is there any ecstasy in the world as complete as the ecstasy of creation? It's as though, when we create something beyond ourselves, we exist ourselves more than at any other time.
Even though Inception is far from being my favourite film, or even in the top flight of my favourites, it does have a rather unique power to stimulate this pure urge to create-- in me, anyway. (It stimulates the urge. I can't say it's ever actually spurred me on to any activity.)
And the men are all dressed so snappily, too.
Rarely has a film lived up to its hype as successfully as Inception does. Even an incorrigible contrarian like me couldn't find any reason to dislike it. And that's saying a lot.
(Afterthought: When you think about it, there is something dream-like about every moment of our existence. I suppose you could describe life as being 'dream-like' in many ways, but I mean it in a very particular sense right now. Life is dream-like because, at any given moment, we don't really know when or where we are, we have a very partial grip of reality. When I was a teenager, I always had a plan to study the encyclopedia and other books until I had reached a kind of plateau of perpetual awareness. I would experience every moment of my life with full awareness of its historical, scientific, cultural, geographical, and other factors. I would always be aware of the rotation of the Earth, the configuration of the stars, the historical epoch I occupied, the circulation of my blood, the source of the food I was eating, the clothes I was wearing, and so on. Of course, this never came to be. I live every moment of my life with very little understanding of how it fits into the great Scheme of Things. But, even if I had memorised the encyclopedia, the same thing would be true.)