23 July, 2010

Life Irritates Art: Inception Deception

Herewith the obligatory: SPOILER WARNING
This article discusses the logical fallacies and inconsistencies in the otherwise entertaining movie Inception. It contains spoilers that whilst not revealing key plot details, will definitely detract from your enjoyment of the film if you have yet to see it. As such, I'm intentionally putting in some space to make you scroll down to the rest, so you can't blame me...





Oh, you made it. Look, I'm not trying to be a kill-joy here. The movie is great to look at, is fitfully entertaining, and hopefully will allow other allegedly cerebral films to be made. But it's not as clever as it wants us to think it is. So here's a few things (based on my single viewing of the film) I think they got wrong:

Time Dilation 1. Compound nonsense.

We're told that time in dreams passes more quickly, the brain processes dreams faster than a waking state. I think this is a reasonable conceit. However, they then go on to say that this effect is compounded for each level of dreaming within the dream, so that where a dream might be a day for an hour in the waking world, a dream within a dream might be a week, and a level further down a year, etc.

This is total rubbish. The reason for this is simple, the "you" in the dream doesn't have its own brain, it has your brain. A dream within a dream is not being dreamt by the dream brain, but the original brain, which can only go as fast as it can go, so no faster than the original dream. I'm sure Roger Penrose could explain it more accurately, scientifically and cogently. Perhaps the geek analogy would be that you couldn't run an operating system in a virtual machine any faster than it would as native on a given machine.

This scenario is still true even if, as in the movie, different brains are joined together doing the dreaming. Unless one brain is capable of 10x the speed of another, and yet another at say 100x. Processor chips may have come on in leaps and bounds in the last two decades, 200,000 years development of homo sapiens has only given us the brains we have; short of genetic engineering or electronic augmentation, we're not due for upgrades anytime soon.

Time Dilation 2. Inconsistent

OK, even if we were to accept, under the "if you say so" rule, the time dilation level on level as they posit it, their application of their own logic is dreadfully inconsistent. When the van tumbles over in the level 1 dream, the corridor in the level 2 dream revolves at more or less the same rate. Contrast this with the van falling off the bridge, taking forever to fall in relation to level 2 where Arthur must adjust for the "weightlessness" effect caused by the van in free fall, he has time to manipulate the rest of the crew into a lift so that he can create thrust to cancel out the seeming lack of gravity. By the difference in time at this point, we can see that the revolving corridor should have turned at a very leisurely pace, more like the gimbled room that Astaire taps around in Royal Wedding, than the shuttle in 2001 A Space Odyssey.

Inner Ear, Aint that a kick in the head

We have explained to us that the "kick" needed to prematurely wake a dreamer relies on the inner ear's sense of balance, equilibrium, and position. Because of this, when the van rolls over in dream level 1, the corridor rotates in dream level 2, when the van falls off the bridge, everyone is sent into weightless freefall in level 2. Why doesn't this affect level 3, or the "limbo" level? There is a level 2 explosion that seems to set off an avalanche in level 3, but otherwise the impact of the levels is absent.

What if the plane hit turbulence? They don't seem to account for that, or if they do it's further muddied by the notion that the sedative that the chemist comes up with may eliminate the inner ear problem. However, if that is the case, how is anybody experiencing free fall, the tumbling change in the direction of gravity, or any other positional sensations in other dream levels in the first place? Sure, you're allowed to make up the rules as you please, but they should apply them consistently.


If "limbo" isn't populated by subconscious projections, how is Mal there? If Mal is there, then anyone with the dreaming/architecture skills trapped in Limbo, could imagine anything they want and while away the time productively so their brains don't turn to mush. Then again , Saito has his army of dream thugs, his tastefully modernized Samurai palace, and he's a newbie. So why is the "limbo" city unpopulated, and why doesn't Ariadne have any projection baggage?

Idea Theft

There is something really slim about the initial idea in the first place. Do any of us have special information that is boiled down enough to be an idea worth stealing in dream form in the first place. Let's say we have secret plans. For them to be stolen from a dream, we'd have to have eidetic memory to have memorized them precisely, and the thief must have similarly photographic memory. On top of this, your dream would have to access that memory in a waking form, as much in dream is symbolic. The dream thief might end up with, say, an eternally weeping sculpture of the Virgin Mary, but no way to translate that image back into the schematics of the nuclear submarine.

That leaves us with much more basic ideas to steal. Passwords. However, if you have the tech to do all that dream manipulation, surely you have easier ways to just hack the passwords in the first place.

The convenient notion that if you build a safe or a bank vault, the dreamer automatically puts their secrets in it, is a bit daft because not everyone would think those were the safest places. Think of those who don't trust the banks. I'm sure there's a few people now who wish they'd kept their equity in the mattress instead of in sub-primes. Also, if you build a safe in someone else's subconscious you should know the combination to it, or is that simply too easy.

Imagination Deficit

Finally, a niggling note, not actually an inconsistency problem of the film per se, but why are the dreams so mundane? They seem to be the dreams of someone who is either an urban planner, or has just endured serial viewing of all the James Bond films (without some of the Roger Moore's there's little humour on show here). OK they play around with physics a little bit, Paris goes all bendy, a specialist "forger" can impersonate another.

Where are the World of Warcraft Avatars? The people who turn into snakes or talk backward? The melting watches? Why does everybody look like themselves (exception noted)? In my dreams, I'm taller, younger, better endowed, and have my hair back. Where's Freddy Kruger and the Lady in the Radiator, and even the Darth Vader that turns into Luke when he's decapitated? Where's my fucking Imaginarium, Dr. Parnassus?

I appreciate that the "architects" in the film have to build a "maze" for the purposes of a heist or an inception, and that may mean that things need to be more "real" for it to come off. It is a bit of a disappointment that these dreams seem to be so much about interior design. Even when in the godlike dimension of limbo Dom and Mal rebuild their favorite houses, they set them in the middle of an urban reflecting pool, surely some of them had gardens or lawns. No wonder they wouldn't want to be trapped in limbo indefinitely, it's completely boring, there aren't even any multiplexes.

Sorry, if by "planting" all these ideas in your heads, I've destroyed your enjoyment of Inception. It's being touted as a thinking person's thriller. So, you should have thought of all this on your own, without my sorry-ass help.

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At 21 August, 2010 00:50, Blogger Kim said...

Well, who says I didn't think of these and other questions on my own? Thanks for putting some clothes on these questions.

I've been worrying away at the time dilation thing myself and can't make it work out from a purely mathematic viewpoint. However, I didn't go intending to be challenged mathematically, but to be entertained cinematically.

Ultimately, it comes down to what you inferred: entertainment is in the eye of the entertained.


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