When I first watched Inception, I immediately thought it borrowed heavily from the Matrix and BladeRunner, my thoughts were confirmed when I later read that Chris Nolan was inspired by those films among others. The scene where Cobb shows his new student how the dream world works is remarkably similar to when Morpheus shows Neo how the matrix works, and the ending, where we are left to ponder the significance of an spinning top, is strikingly similar to the origami unicorn in BladeRunner, both objects are meant to help us determine or question what’s real.
The power of the matrix comes from being aware of it, and it gives our characters the ability to dream up a fantastical reality, oozing style. Inception on the other hand, requires the characters to dream up a believable reality to keep the mark from realizing he’s in a dream. And where BladeRunner asks you to question the definition of life (a collection of experiences and memories or something more), Inception asks you to question the definition of reality (a collection of perceptions and memories or something more).
In the matter of dreams, I have always felt that when truly replicating them for entertainment, they fail to have enough structure or continuity to keep us engaged. A film like Waking Life does an outstanding job of replicating the feeling and sensations of dreams with ever-changing environments and streams of consciousness. But ultimately, it suffers from the same lack of engagement we all feel when someone comes to us as says, “I have to tell you about this dream I had,” and you know that the feelings and significance of the dream won’t transfer to you because nothing in that dream actually has any universal significance, any feelings at all occurred in the dreamer’s mind, and they are not connected to the relatable story of the dream. Statements such as, “There was an eggplant on the table and for some reason I felt an overwhelming sense of dread, “ do nothing to make the audience feel dread.
Despite the harsh reality of dreams, Nolan has done a remarkable job applying structure and storyline to the dream world. Intricately woven levels of dreams and the fictional science behind them are masterfully handled such that we accept the world being created. As a rule, when you define a world for sci-fi or fantasy, you lay down the rules and audiences will accept them, as long as you follow them as well. You can’t change them midway just to make things work once you painted yourself into a corner, or do something that flies in the face of them just because it makes for good drama. For example, people will accept that Superman is bulletproof, but don’t have him don an armored breastplate later on, everyone will wonder why he needs it. Inception adheres to its own rules, and so leaves us little room for contradiction and loopholes, thus directing us to focus on the story and its message.
As with the message in BladeRunner, the answers are not nearly as important as the questions. What’s real? What’s important in your reality? Can other people put ideas in your head? What matters most in life? These are all questions posed by the film, and the answers are subjective, but while you ponder the question of whether the reality of the film’s world is still reality at its end, remember for a moment that the whole film is in fact, someone else’s dream, one you participated in. Are the thoughts you have as a result of the movie, simply another form of inception?