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Arts and Culture

‘Inception’s’ Suicidal Tendencies

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Posted on Jul 18, 2010
IMDB / Warner Brothers

Christopher Nolan’s epic and ambitious new blockbuster is a fascinating, skillfully made brain twister that gives Philip K. Dick a run for his existential money. But at the core of Nolan’s film is a troubling idea that won’t go away.

Spoiler alert: Do not read this if you haven’t seen it. Even if you have no interest, you’ll probably end up getting dragged to the theater to see what is already shaping up to be the summer’s most-talked-about movie.

Those who have seen it know that “Inception” deals in dreams, and dreams-within-dreams, and, well, dreams-within-dreams-within-dreams-within-dreams. Nolan pushes these layers of reality to the conceptual limit and, although his past films show a tendency to jump off the rails and break the suspension of disbelief, he pulls it off here. That is an incredible achievement.

I was impressed by “Inception” more than I actually enjoyed it—and not because it lacked for filmmaking. Every department, from the production design and photography to the acting and direction, delivered. I am frankly amazed at how Nolan pulled this off. At one point we are in four realities with competing tensions simultaneously closing in. That we are able to follow what is happening is just nuts.

The problem is that we spend so much time in the dream world, pushing the limits of understanding, that I felt almost philosophically motion sick. There is no firm ground in “Inception.” The whole idea, of course, is that even the “real world” might be a dream, if not just a movie.

And how do you wake up from a bad dream? You kill yourself.

To a steady drumbeat, the film again and again suggests that real is unreal and the way back is suicide. The characters attempt to punch their own tickets so often that we are treated to ever more creative methods, culminating in the most romantic heads-on-train-tracks scene ever. At one point the rules change, and the characters are no longer allowed to escape through death, because, we are told, they will end up in limbo, a kind of mental wasteland where you spend decades in a sandbox with your ego and your id. But how do you get out of limbo? You kill yourself!

“Inception” ends just before we find out whether or not the real world is bogus, but the implication is clear: Question reality. That’s a powerful and important idea, one worth exploring in entertainment and art. But there’s a companion idea that I worry some disturbed person is going to respond to in the worst way. As the movie says, an idea, once it’s been planted, is a resilient parasite.  —PZS


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By vip.., March 18, 2011 at 5:55 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

i watched this(INCEPTION) movie ...2days before.. till the time ..i badly
confused that is it real world or ... I kill myself to wake up in somewere.. I’m
not religious ..and i’m more then practical pepoples around me .. I think
that was really amazing movie very entertanning i just tottly fighting with
my mind .... I think if you are not OK with your mind ... Then DO NOT WATCH
INCEPTION… This will really can kill you ... And after wathcing this you will
not gonna trust anyone easily ... (of course this is real world..do Not Think
aboit suicide)


And yes if it is fake world .. Then thnk you can be happy here… And you are
sleeping somewere…

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By christian mortensen, December 16, 2010 at 8:29 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

what if the bible actually describes that you are the
god, but have forgotten. what if, the bible is actually
telling you that if you die, you wake up in the real
wold aka. heaven?

i’m not a religios person. but the movie really puts
things in to perspectives.

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By rjw1953, July 26, 2010 at 4:40 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Questioning what is real, is this all a dream, are we living in God’s aquarium, etc. It’s good for teenagers passing a joint around.
I thought this was more about a technology that uses the brain with the help of drugs to access the mind, the brain’s stored data. I didn’t think it was philosophical. Worryng about what is real - especiallyu in relation to a fictional movie? not a queston

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By yathrib, July 24, 2010 at 6:17 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I really hate this ‘what is reality’ fucking bullshit.

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By robert winters, July 22, 2010 at 5:46 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Mr. Wasserman - Loved your comment!
Entertaining.

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By the worm, July 22, 2010 at 5:09 pm Link to this comment

The director’s need for continued explication makes the movie over wordy and,
frankly, it’s a little insulting to the viewer to have to be told again and again what
this is supposed to mean or that.

Less ‘explanation’ would have made for easier ‘willing suspension of dis-belief’.
It’s hard to ‘get into it’, when you’re constantly be instructed on what to think.

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By Karl, July 22, 2010 at 6:00 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I think it was a poignant message to, and about, those who are so absorbed by
invasive technology that they are willing to sacrifice their lives for what they
could perceive as legitimate.

Considering each character systematically terminates themselves time after time
in quick succession, it becomes quite bizarre to watch, and appears to present
the complete lunacy of the situation. It seems (if anything) it is displaying a
sentiment that in no way endorses suicide but condemns it.

What if reality was mistaken for only one of the numerous dreams?

Maybe Nolan’s message was that life is too precious to take the risk of
attempting to find out. Where other films like the Matrix and Dark City inspire
us to question controlled consciousness, Inception seems to be a rare ‘warning’ in the least conventional way.

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By Mike Z., July 21, 2010 at 11:32 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

The entire killing yourself to awake from a bad dreams is just a metaphor. It shocks the perception of being into determining the tangible reality of the tangible realm they truly inhabit. Please read some Joseph Campell and Carl Jung or quit pining away for failed attempts at screenwriting. If it were meant to be interpreted the way you have it would have resembled them entering the gates of Heaven much like the rest of the maniacs who ascribe to the mainstream archaic middle-eastern mysticism scribe in the bible…thank you.

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By Steve Wasserman, July 20, 2010 at 1:15 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I thought Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight” grotesquely overrated, full of empty techno-trickery and endless chase sequences.  “Inception” is no departure and is yet another example of arrested adolescent three o’clock in the morning wet dream of pretentious (and bogus) low-rent and degraded wannabe Philip K. Dick fantasies about nothing is what it seems and what if it were all in your mind and yet, somehow, real.  All of it an excuse to spend $160 million giving us a cascade of remarkably detailed and often beautiful if ultimately hollow images tethered to—you guessed it—endless chase sequences.

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By rjw1953, July 20, 2010 at 10:25 am Link to this comment

I feel your alarmist take on this movie feels like you just needed some text to fill an article. I certainly don’t base my life decisions and my outlook on my own existence on movies. If that were the case we would all be dead from the slasher movies, the incessant serial murder themes in movies, and on TV etc.
It’s fiction.

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Peetawonkus's avatar

By Peetawonkus, July 20, 2010 at 6:15 am Link to this comment

I saw the film. Sorry but I don’t see the suicide message allegedly there. In Philip K. Dick style, “what is reality?” is questioned, in no small part because, as the film suggests, what is “real” is what we believe to be real.

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By @aeyockey, July 19, 2010 at 12:56 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I can see your take.  But I’m not sure Nolan ever actually asks us to question our own reality.  Unless of course you have good reason to believe you have been kidnapped and hooked into the dream machine.  The obsession with suicide did trouble me even so.

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By zaphodity, July 19, 2010 at 2:40 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

This touches on a few interesting concepts in regards to reality and perception. So much of what we think we know is more like a semi-conscious waking dream than reality, the 9/11 lies and invasion of Iraq for instance. What we perceive as opposed to what’s really happening are 2 different things. Looking forward to seeing this movie.

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By Peter Z. Scheer, July 19, 2010 at 12:41 am Link to this comment

Oh I so appreciate your comment. I agree with you. Totally. My worry is that someone might mishear what the movie is trying to say. I don’t think Christopher Nolan found an ingenious way to kill somebody any more than I think Clockwork Orange was Kubrick’s clever recruiting poster for gang violence. And it’s not as if both directors didn’t take great care in the construction of these worlds. No, I don’t think they did anything wrong, I just think there are sad people out there who will hear what they want to hear and I so hope I’m wrong about this.

I did think it was a bit weird that the suicides got more and more fetishised. The train being just over the top.

But what a well made movie. I’m still thinking about it.

Makes me miss Philip K Dick in the worst possible way.

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By Isha, July 18, 2010 at 11:27 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I disagree with this. I saw the movie and loved it. I do not think in anyway it was promoting suicide or even suggesting suicide. Quite the opposite. It says to enjoy life; do not get trapped in lies, stop living in a dream world and fight to survive. But I guess how one interprets something is to each his/her own. You see suicide where others see a message to live. Maybe you need to break out of the dream world and into reality.

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