Academic journal article CineAction

The Junkies of Plato's Cave: Inception, Mindbending, and Complex Narration in the Shadow of Philip K. Dick

Academic journal article CineAction

The Junkies of Plato's Cave: Inception, Mindbending, and Complex Narration in the Shadow of Philip K. Dick

Article excerpt

In a world of corporate warfare and psychic espionage, Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) is the premier extractor of hidden information from high-powered business "targets" whose minds he infiltrates while they are dreaming and unsuspecting, by employing with the help of his associate Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) a dream-within-a-dream strategy to access the innermost secrets. These are metaphorized as confidential documents lying in a safe. Tested and hired by the powerful Japanese magnate Mr. Saito (Ken Watanabe), Dom is lured into one last heist, a mission impossible, namely not to extract, but to perform the opposite, an "inception:" to implant--like a virus gradually penetrating through the layers of the mind to full bloom in consciousness as an original thought--the idea in the head of Saito's main business competitor to break up his father's monopolistic energy conglomerate. As a reward for which Dom, on the run since being charged with the murder of his wife Mal (Marion Cotillard) and haunted by her dream presence and efforts at sabotage ever since, is promised the safe return home to America, freed from all charges, and to reunite with his children.

That is the basic premise. But the plot of Christopher Nolan's heist-action film Inception is so intricate that most discussions of it are bound to just try to figure out what happens on the purely referential level of meaning, in this labyrinth of mind invasions, shared dreams within dreams, projections of deep-seated memories, and dreams as reality, almost all of it framed in flashback. One has to agree with critic Roger Ebert that the film's "story can either be told in a few sentences, or not told at all." (1) Significantly the viewer is forced to concentrate on the process of the moment by moment narration with its striking images of dream architecture of trompe I'oeil mazes, Euclidian space turned upside down and gravity defied, gunfights and chase scenes evocative of the Jason Bourne and James Bond films, real-time and slowed-down dream-time, and four dream levels down to "limbo," a state of "raw subconsciousness," where a few seconds of real time can last decades or even an infinity. As we descend we simultaneously go deeper in chronological reverse into Dom's past, finding out more and more about his traumatic backstory wound. Yet even at the level of limbo, which could be said to stand for the Lacanian real, there is the positivity of representation: the ocean's shore, the crumbling debris of collapsing high rises reminiscent of 9/11 and dystopian, postapocaplytic science fiction--such as Planet of the Apes (Franklin J. Schaffner, 1968)--, as well as a Japanese temple by the sea. This version of the real is in contradistinction to both Freudian and Jungian thought, for which the core of the unconscious, to use this cilnically more accepted term, remains fundamentally inaccessible and unrepresentable, and which is, in Lacan, nothing but a fissure or split.

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Fredric Jamson has noted that the heist film is always in one way or another an inscription of collective non-alienated work that passes the censor by way of its rewriting in terms of crime and sub-generic entertainment." (2) By this token Inception, in its futuristic take on the genre, is at heart about meaningful human relationships and social commitment in a world of global corporations locked in economic warfare and resorting to conquer the ultimate frontier, the human mind. This is the next phase, in Marxian terms, of the real subsumption of labor: once the entire world has been horizontally (or superficially) conquered by capitalism as the prevailing mode of production, it shifts to the vertical axis of deep penetration to procure and produce the most valuable information: thoughts and emotions. Simultaneously, the desire for human bonding is the stronger the deeper we penetrate into dreamland, where dream means both what occurs during sleep and what is profoundly desired. …

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