Camille Reyes

Inception: To Be or Not to Be

In Culture on August 12, 2010 at 2:36 pm

This will be my first of two posts about Inception.  If you haven’t seen it, don’t bother reading either post.  I’m not reviewing it.  In fact, I can’t stop thinking about it.  No amount of puffery could pile higher praise for writer/director Christopher Nolan and his team than the way the film has inspired me.  I’m able to trace my inspiration making it not a case of true inception, and not surprisingly Nolan’s muse is also detectable.  Like most creative collaborations the influences behind Inception are myriad.  Also, the introduction of the audience pours infinitesimal waves on the reception of the work; the audience brings their own influences to bear. I see the influence of Shakespeare at play in Inception, specifically Hamlet and the famed “to be or not to be” soliloquy.

To be or not to be– that is the question:
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles
 And, by opposing, end them.

(Shakespeare and Nolan both consider what on the surface is a simple question for the sane: life or death?  Then, they both complicate this problem by uncovering the blurry nature of the line between two seemingly opposite states.  Is it better to suffer in the mind, the dream world? Or face the arrows in the physical world?  But can you really put an end to an entire sea?  Maybe if you just ceased being.  Maybe if you didn’t know the maze, you could get lost or buy time.)

To die, to sleep
 No more – and by a sleep to say we end
 The heartache and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to – ‘tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wished.

(Death is not sleeping, not dreaming, not feeling even in a different reality the “natural shocks.”  That sounds like a load off to Willy and Hamlet here.  Cobb wishes to be with his wife, sporting the hit-you-over-the-head name Mal, and his children, but this requires a choice.  She chose death because she thought she was dreaming thanks to the sea of trouble he set upon her with inception.)

die, to sleep
To sleep, perchance to dream. Ay, there’s the rub,
 For in that sleep of death what dreams may come,

(Cobb knows the limbo of unstructured subconscious, of limitless dream space, but what of death?  What dreams, if any, may come?  And at what cost?  For his children, the cost of their reality is too much for Cobb to handle.  He must get home.  He must wake up.)
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
 Must give us pause. There’s the respect (ah, but our bodies are really convincing.  let’s not be hasty with ending this life or building dreams within dreams within dreams)
That makes calamity of so long life.
For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,
Th’ oppressor’s wrong (Cobb is both the oppressor-of Mal & the people he steals from or incepts (I’m making up that word), the proud man’s contumely (I’m reminded of the dying billionaire),
The pangs of disprized love (losing Mal), the law’s delay (Cobb’s charges and the will)

The insolence of office, and the spurns
That patient merit of th’ unworthy takes,
When he himself might his quietus make
With a bare bodkin? (the man so burdened could find peace with a simple dagger)

Who would fardels bear,
To grunt and sweat under a weary life,
But that the dread of something after death,
 The undiscovered country from whose bourn
No traveller returns (perhaps the place that Saito and Cobb find each other is the undiscovered country), puzzles the will
And makes us rather bear those ills we have (we put up with all this pain because we’re terrified of the unknown, the other side of death. Cobb, fueled by the love for his children, faces this terror while those with agency choose to return to reality as soon as the job is done.  they meet their maximum risk threshold)
Than fly to others that we know not of? (because of fear of the unknown/not waking up)
 Thus conscience does make cowards of us all, (Inception is an exploration of the subconscious and in this vein that part of our minds that is fearful, not of death because this would generally cause waking, but of pain.  pain is in the mind, as Mal says before she injures Arthur.)

(When writer Nolan makes it so that death is possible in the dream state, he ups the stakes dramatically.  Brilliant.)
And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought,
 And enterprises of great pitch and moment
With this regard their currents turn awry,
 And lose the name of action.(most people think inception can’t be done so they do not take action)—Soft you now!
The fair Ophelia! Nymph, in thy orisons
Be all my sins remembered.[

(Mal is similar to Ophelia.  She goes genuinely mad and kills herself.  Hamlet is somewhat to blame, as is Cobb.)

In my next post, I’ll have fun puzzling about the film’s conclusion.  I am avoiding reading theories on the Internet as of yet.  What influences did you see when you watched the movie?  There are no right or wrong answers here.  I’m just curious about your conception.

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