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Saturday, August 9, 2014

Christopher Nolan's Dream

I first liked but later changed my mind about "Inception." If the story were set up as cyberpunk, and the characters entered a computer game instead of a dream, then all would have been well, and I would have loved the movie. Ah, but Nolan just had to make it a dream. That is the deadly mistake.

Although Freud might not be completely correct in all his interpretations of dreams, he was largely right in that dreams are symbols and representations of our unspoken wishes and desires. I find it rather funny (ironic, not haha) that Nolan creates a world that is nothing like dreams but then insists that it is a dream rather than a more logical device like the cyberspace or video game. 

Many have commented that it seems laughable and ridiculous that Nolan's dream has so many rules that 90% of the movie is explaining various rules. Real dreams have no rule at all. In fact it is the land of escape from consciousness, which always has to make up a story and make sense of every inexplicable accident in the world. Dream is the opposite of reason and rules. Therefore Nolan's consciousness-based dream is particularly meaningful. One could argue that he wants to enter the land of dreams (or access his unconscious), but has to reject it (perhaps out of fear). By insisting on creating order out of the lawless unconscious, one has to wonder what in the unconscious is he so terrified of. 

Someone once said (someone famous but I have forgotten who) that storytelling is dreaming. Indeed. Fictional stories are where the unconscious slips out, just like in dreams. As hard as he tries, Nolan cannot prevent his unconscious from seeping between the cracks. If he really wants to hide it, he should get out of the storytelling business altogether and become a priest or something. 

What is Nolan's dream that he is so afraid of? I don't know, but I observe that a common theme in his stories is the man causing the death of his wife. It has appeared at least three times in "Memento," "The Prestige," and "Inception." (I have not watched Batman series. Besides, it isn't originally his story.) More important, the theme of the man killing his wife is the driving motivation for the leading man in both "Memento" and "Inception." The importance in this theme lies in his awkward and unconvincing effort to dodge the man's guilt.

What a very odd motivation though. In archetypal stories, the man is driven by love/lust/pursuit of women, by revenge, by daddy issues, by the passage to adulthood (aka "Hero's Journey"). Sure, we know these stories by heart, over and over. But by the secret wish to kill his wife and associated guilt and denial? Geez, where did that come from? It is certainly a place not traveled by most people. 

Of course one cannot immediately interpret that as Nolan's own unconscious wish to kill his own spouse. More likely it can be traced to his parents' relationships with him and with each other. 

"Inception" suffers from the problem of over-intellectualization and over-rationalization, as demonstrated in the excessive and rigid rules and the overly realistic and literal visuals (gunfights, car chases, crossing snow, bombs, the way characters walk and run). Yet in his obsession with over-intellectualization and the rejection of truly dream-like imagery and fluidity, I see a repressed urge to dream real dreams and cut loose. The more you want to cut loose and let it all hang out, the more you have to wrap it up and wind it tight in layer upon layer of logic and rules. Wouldn't it be funny to hear Nolan's real dreams? They are probably extremely transparent. 

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On a side note, the best and most effective dreams on screen can be seen in the Hitchcock-directed, Dali-designed "Spellbound" (1945). That, my friend, is a real dream to see. 

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