Inception: Your Mind is the Scene of the Crime
In the green old days, before the now-compulsory, web-based confession apparatus sucked out everybody's brain, if you wanted to be in a band, you put an ad in the classified section of the hippest rag in your area -- something along the lines of: "Guitarist seeks originals band. Influences: Böwie meets Mötörhead meets Yökö."
Hollywood script pitches still go that way. The Inception pitch was "James Bond meets Orpheus meets Kurt Vonnegut," I just know it. Short version (as I told my local wine pharaoh as I exited his storefront): it's James Bond for hippies.
There's a parallel with last season's Avatar. If you are into plant medicines, you're up for whatever Hollywood budgets can do for that because, well, you're interested in the topic, and a billion dollars' worth of mainstream attention just might figure in the revolution of consciousness. It's exciting. It gives us something to bounce off of. Inception is to the dreamwork what Avatar is to the ayawork.
A well-made movie on lucid dreaming is indeed a cool and welcome thing. That it has to be formally -- of course of course -- shoot-em-up-bang-bang is to be tolerated. No, wait a sec, that's not good enough; it is to be understood.
To begin with, Inception is a replay of the Orpheus myth. Beautiful. Excellent choice.
Orpheus was the father of songs, the first poet. His father was a Thracian river god and his mother was the muse Calliope, patroness of heroic poetry, and so of Homer. The lyre was invented by Hermes, but Orpheus perfected it. Sort of like Les Paul and Jimi Hendrix. Orpheus had such excellent chops that when he sat in the forest to practice a tune, the trees and rocks moved closer, the better to listen. His songs changed the course of rivers, that sort of thing.
If you have top-five status in the Greek pantheon of heroes, you get to visit the underworld and come back alive. Resurrection owes a lot to Orpheus.
The name Orpheus has been traced to the proto-Indo-European orbhao, "to be deprived," orbh, "to put asunder, separate," and the Greek orphe, "darkness," and orphanos, "fatherless, orphan."
The most famous story in which Orpheus figures, and the one upon which Inception is based, involves Orpheus's bride Euridice. While walking in tall grass during their wedding party, Euridice steps into a nest of poisonous snakes. Gone.
The widower's lament made the gods weep. So Orpheus called in a favor and the rulers of the death world, Hades and Persephone, told Orpheus that he could go and find Euridice in the underworld and lead her back to life above ground on the condition that he should not look back at her until they reached the life world. All along the way she called to him. Look at me, look at me, o my love. He couldn't not respond; he turned to look and she was gone forever. This is Inception, the Greek part.
Leonardo diCaprio's Mr. Cobb leads a team of industrial espionage agents who are able to enter people's (CEOs') dreams in order to steal their secrets. Cobb and his bride had done a lot of the dream research that made these missions possible, and had spent so much time in the dream world together that they took the process of dream building to a depth and complexity that no one else in the business thought possible. We meet Mrs. Cobb early in the film, in Cobb's dreams it turns out, but only later do we learn that Mrs. Cobb is dead. Their whole interaction, for two hours, is basically Orpheus and Euridice in the underworld.
Wait a minute. I have a minor beef here. Leonardo's (Mr. Cobb's) wife Mal is crazy beautiful, and beautifully played by Marion Cotillard. But in the mouths of Leonardo and his frat buddies (outside of the main love interest, the whole thing is a frat party weekend with one girl present -- somebody's kid sister, so the guys behave themselves) "Mal" comes out sounding a lot like "Mom."
Leonardo, like any youngish white American male, shouldn't have to deal with such a troublesome name. These guys grow up with a mouthful of marbles. When they speak, final consonants are anybody's guess. We shouldn't have to try to decode this when talking about the sub-basement of the psyche. They should have called that lovely woman Beth or Suze or Jen. Moh[l/m] is too much. Especially so since there is so little feminine presence here. The main, archetypal conflict, upon which the plot to steal secrets turns, is a father-son relationship. The moviemakers left mother out of it entirely, so the "Mom" reference kind of messes with your mind.
The other Greek element is the "kid sister" I referred to in the parenthesis above. She is a brilliant student of architecture (brilliantly played by Ellen Page) who is hired to design the dreams the team will impose upon their victim. Her name is Ariadne.
In Greek mythology, Ariadne is the daughter of King Minos of Crete. Minos is very upset with the Athenians because they killed his son, so he demands periodic sacrifices of young men and women from Athens. They are brought to Crete and sent into a labyrinth occupied by the Minotaur, who kills them. The young hero Theseus joins the party of sacrificial youths with the object of killing the Minotaur. Ariadne falls for him, and gives him a sword and, crucially, a ball of thread so he can trace his way back out of the maze. Inception's Ariadne serves the same function -- she leads our hero out of the labyrinth of dream. Her audition for joining the team of dream agents is to design a maze.
The Kurt Vonnegut part is from Slaughterhouse Five. Vonnegut's hero, Billy Pilgrim, is "unstuck in time." Due to his having been kidnapped by aliens from the planet Tralfamador -- aliens who move between past present and future with the speed of thought -- Billy is sometimes a teen-aged American soldier in a Nazi prison camp, sometimes an old man remembering his life, and sometimes a young man mating with a Playboy model named Montana Wildhack, a fellow abductee with whom he is supposed to make babies for the Tralfamadorian zoo trade. This "unstuck" device serves Inception's movie dream collage "subconscious" well.
The James Bond part is in the action sequences, and in the trombones. I mean, it's wall-to-wall music, it's BIG music, a la Henry Mancini. There's one sequence of a battle on skis which, if you came across it while channel surfing, you would swear was from Dr. No or Goldfinger.
So what's the overall message? It's that your dreams and fantasies are commercials for the corporation. Forget the collective unconscious, this is the capitalist unconscious. The corporation is reality, get it? So whatever field of struggle you may choose to go into as an activist, it's already accounted for, already a part of the program. The bad guy is the corporation, and the good guy is the corporation, and when the good guy wins, after you have blown up a lot of people on his behalf, the winner is ... the corporation. And you then get to retire to Connecticut, where your Dad, Michael Caine, has been watching out for you all along. Holy shit, Batman, what a relief. Let's go get that Yale MBA and consider that my settling into the elite is, after all, a victory for everyman.
One other thing, my friend Huffa says Inception is about the derivatives trade and the collapse of the financial markets. You can see it when the biggest city in the universe crumbles during the culminating dream of the movie.
Go see this one, it rocks, but keep your eyes open.Tweet