Coercion is likely to be more effective when the victim doesn’t realize he is being coerced. This is one of the main themes in Christopher Nolan’s new movie, Inception, which I saw Monday night with high expectations. In Nolan’s movie, characters are susceptible to an exotic form of mind-control in which agents infiltrate their dreams and ‘plant’ beliefs/desires in their minds (a procedure called ‘inception’), which, upon waking, the victims interpret as beliefs/desires of their own or (as Frankfurt might say) beliefs/desires the victims wholly identity with. Believing these beliefs/desires represent what they genuinely believe or genuinely want the victims are more likely to act on these beliefs and desires. The movie, in my mind, was just ok–ambitious and interesting but not nearly as successful as Nolan’s masterful Memento.
I’m not giving anything away by letting you know that the plot is thinly driven by a corporate tycoon who wants a corporate rival to split up his recently deceased father’s energy conglomerate/empire–indeed, needs his rival to do so in order to prevent him from gaining a monopoly on the world’s energy resources, which, presumably, would be bad for everyone. But this movie isn’t really about plot. It’s about all the pitfalls faced by those who set out to manipulate people’s behavior by means of ‘inception.’
The dream worlds that provide the settings for at least half of this 2.5 hour movie are depicted very well, which makes the movie a pleasure to watch (although I will say I didn’t think there was anything particularly extraordinary about the visuals). The action sequences, which also make up a large part of the movie, are also well done. There are interesting insights into the logic of dreams–for example, that in dreams we always find ourselves in media res without any idea of how we arrived at our locations, that action and location can shift suddenly, and that our dream environment often take on features of the environment in which we are sleeping (so if we’re sleeping through an earthquake we’ll like experience tremors in the dream landscape). So what’s not to like?
I’m still not sure. But my reaction three days after seeing the movie is still lukewarm–perhaps it’s my nagging sense that the movie could have been more interesting than it was. And one minor complaint: whereas ‘inception’ is treated as being extraordinarily risky and difficult, the more basic premise of ‘dream-sharing,’ or ‘entering the dream of another,’ is never given its due. We’re never given any information about how DiCaprio’s character manages this feat, beyond ‘Michael Caine taught him how to do so.’ If you see the movie (or have seen the movie, Josh) I’d be interested in hearing what you think.