My reply to @marcpeabody's tweet here:
His claims and my replies:
- Getting trapped in a dream means going to limbo. You're stuck in limbo forever… or up until you kill yourself - in which case you'll simply wake up in real life. So why was everyone so afraid of going to limbo?
Going into limbo, due to the time dilation of the dreamworld, meant, to the perceiver, a near-infinite span of time spent in the deep dream world. Meaning you would not only grow old a thousand times over, but the repetition, ennui, and unfathomable duration of the experience would likely drive the person insane; imagine going to sleep feeling 30 and waking up feeling impossibly ancient, your mind having crumbled to dust. Of course you cannot imagine it, which is why it would obliterate the mind.
- Totems. The primary reason for having a totem was to have an item that behaved unusually so that you'd know you weren't in someone else's dream. The spinning top kind of worked the opposite way… it behaved unusually (spinning forever) when in a dream. This directly conflicts with the reasoning for creating a loaded die.
The totem was meant to be an item that you could uniquely identify--it was your tie back to the real world. If you were stuck in someone else's dream, they wouldn't be able to construct the exact properties of your totem, and you'd know you were in a dream. With the top, there are two complications:
A) The filmmakers flat-out needed a way to illustrate to the viewer visually and dramatically that the top was indicating a dream world. Sure, it's weight or shape could have been off instead, but then you'd have Leo saying every once in a while, "Wait, something is wrong with my top!" just to illustrate to the audience something was amiss (or rather, right, since we were supposed to 'know' they were in the dreamworld most of the time.)
B) The top wasn't actually Cobb's (DiCaprio's) totem: it was his dead(?) wife Mal's. So if Cobb was in fact in a dream (his own or another's) the whole time, it was most likely a false totem that he'd latched onto and wouldn't actually work for him, instead just as likely, or more likely, misleading him.
In a way, it wouldn't have mattered if we'd seen the top fall in the final shot; Cobb could simply have decided he was "home" and he no longer subconsciously wanted to be told he was in a dream world. Or, perhaps, he really was home and the top fell just a moment or two after the screen went black.
- His children. When he got home, no one was watching the children and they were wearing the same clothes as when he left them. These oddities certainly don't make me ponder if he's still in a dream state, only that he's in a poorly executed movie.
You don't know that no-one was watching the children. His father in law (Caine) picks him up from the airport. Presumably the unseen mother in law was sitting just outside the view of the shot. Or... the fact that they were dressed and appearing just as they did in Cobb's dreams was in fact meaningful.
Did you notice how every shot in the film jumped directly to a new locale? There were no transitional shots, and you immediately dropped into the action. This was likely not just an attempt at brusque filmmaking; they took pains to point out repeatedly that a dreamer never remembers entering a dream scenario.
- Why the hell can't he just go home? He's afraid of being tried for murder? A single phone call stops that? Really?
Yes, on the surface, the situation is that he would almost certainly be convicted of murdering his wife. The setting it supposedly a near future where omni-corportations wield enormous political power. (This is reinforced be the explanation of the reasons for pulling off the inception in the first place; to break up the destructive power being abused by the world's largest energy corporation.) Or perhaps, if you approach it from the highly likely "all is a dream" point of view, because he is in fact trapped inside a dreamworld, held there by his own guilt, fear, or the overwhelming allure of the dream scenario he was inhabiting, and his own mind sets the arbitrary rules of why he cannot escape it.
- Each level of dream was supposed to be more dangerous than the previous. The second level didn't seem very dangerous. Nowhere near the first. Big letdown.
They were more subtly and psychologically more dangerous. The risks were higher. Dying in the first level meant waking up (which for Cobb also meant life in prison when the plane landed.) Waking beyond that meant a trip into limbo, and the insanity of the infinite. (Besides the snow fortress had quite a bit of gunplay, and the wire fight in the gravity-less second level was pretty bad-ass.)
- No Wizard of Oz "you were there and you and you" moment. You'd think the business owner would recognize a guy in his dream as the same guy he had a conversation with in real life only minutes before. Or maybe when he wakes up he would realize that he'd just seen all the people around him in his sleep.
The dreams don't work that way; you don't recall the specifics when you wake. You only feel the subconscious impact of whatever occurred. Just like, you know, real dreams.
Another character was able to tell that his carpet, though visually identical, was made of a different material. If the business owner is so dim-witted and unobservant in comparison, they could have accomplished the same idea-planting with a bottle of scotch and a hooker.
Saito made that realization within the dream, and it was revealed that he likely had set that encounter up to begin with; he was prepared for it. Also, it was pretty well-established that Saito was of above-average intelligence and ability. And if he was in fact just a construct of Cobb's mind, then, again, all bets are off anyway.
- Someone hands you a puzzle - one with crazy bars and chains you have to pull apart. You've seen similar puzzles and you know they can be tricky and difficult.
To some extent this is fair, because there were some traditional heist/caper tropes in the movie, but that was as much just to give the moviegoer a solid piece of ground to stand on when viewing the film. In another way, you only assumed you'd seen similar puzzles. Inception wasn't really a puzzle.
After much frustration you conclude you aren't going to be able to solve it because it's just too tricky but your brain had fun trying to discover patterns and make sense of it for a couple minutes.
Right, it did have interesting twists and turns and juicy bits to ponder. It also had amazing visuals and great acting.
Would you later be upset if the puzzle was actually a meaningless jumble of scrap metal? Well, that's Inception. It's an unsolvable puzzle. The pieces don't line up.
It's not a puzzle. It's a mediation on the relationship between emotion and reality, upon the desires of the mind and its ability to convince us of things that aren't so, and an exercise in the power and craft, the real guts and intricacies and rush, of storytelling.
It is also a self-examination of Christopher Nolan's mind and what makes him tick. Go back and look at his work, from Memento to The Prestige to even The Dark Knight. He is fascinated with the process of storytelling and its effect on the mind, and on the tension between emotional desire and rational thinking.
-1) On the other hand, it wasn't as bad as Lost.
Very little is.
If something irked me the most about the film, it was the central conceit of the dream world device. Not necessarily its usage from the "waking" world; that's fine, science fiction gets at least one primary conceit. It was the mechanism of using it within a dreamworld that bothered me. How does one use a physical device to share the dream state of a dreamer from within another dream, and share that secondary dream with all the participants in the first? There would seem to be no mechanism for that, though maybe there was. I need to see it again. But if you take the point of view that it was all in Cobb's head, that he'd descended to limbo before we ever met him and we didn't ever see him return, then it's all moot anyway. (I suppose it's moot, period. It's a film, after all.)