Inception: Alice in Slumberland

Like everyone I succumbed and saw Inception. Leonardo DiCaprio’s performance was, again, superb. Christopher Nolan’s inventiveness, visual style and scale were impressive. However, what I liked most is what it left me with: stuff to think on. What occurred to me was films exploring notions of reality, the brain, and imagination end up referencing somehow, somewhere, Alice in Wonderland. As I’ve harped on about before.

Because science fiction and fantasy subvert and explore current understandings of the world, they also, somehow explore how logic works. Like in every work of fiction, there’s the logic of the external world set alongside the internal logic of the created world. And the western world’s work most concerned with logic is Alice in Wonderland.  Written by a mathematician, it may have been the entertainment for a child, but it was an exercise in logic and language. It makes me think of how brains work and how culture and language are tied together, like in the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis. It also makes me think of chemistry. So much of the time it comes down to the choice of the cake and the drink – the right pill. (Any one thinking The Matrix?) But it also reminds me of geometry and physics.

Christopher Nolan messes with visual assumptions in the same way Lewis Carroll did. A grin without a cat is a city folded up over itself and individuals folded in on themselves. This film could easily be a commentary on individualism, and self-obsession, but it also poses other questions. Is western culture in an Escher-shaped bind, an Ourobouros, endlessly self-referencing because of a lack of imagination? Or is it just post-post-modernism where audience/readers are so astute, references don’t have to be laboured, but exist as cultural-idea shorthand?

On the theme of visuals, it’s interesting the model of the individual dream in Inception so often co-opts the landscape of the city and the monolithic, anonymous business skyscraper. Endlessly labyrinthine and exclusive, they’re also representations of individual brains. And Inception, a film about Dream, could  really be a film about Brain. Which feeds into the observations that the film is a logic puzzle, with little backstory and not much to get a handle on emotion-wise (if you don’t care about Cobb). Especially when you remember the fights are not with real people but aspects of the subconscious’ of characters the audience has had very little time to get to know. In this Cobb is very much the White Rabbit, and Alice is Ariadne (weaver of dreams) who follows him. If we follow, what dreams of brain will come?

On a similar Inception brain/mind/reality/city theme take a look at Dark City.

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