Inception is the best video game you are likely to see on the big screen this year. This is the conclusion that has emerged from anecdotal evidence and has been debated in at least two recent reviews.
Whatever your stance, it is hard to deny that the immersive experience of the role-playing video game is writ large in Christopher Nolan’s latest blockbuster. It is an ambitious exploration of the human construction of dreams in order to commit ‘inception’ – planting an idea into another person’s mind so that they believe they came up with it themselves.
In order to propel the central narrative device, the film treats the audience to glimpses of several levels of highly stylised dream worlds, constructed by a motley crew led by the architect Cobb (played by Leonardo DiCaprio).
The fact that the dream worlds are not so different to the reality in which the characters operate reflects Baudrillard’s assertion that the simulacra is indistinguishable from the real because we can no longer recognise the real – all that exists is its representation (1994).
Rather than showing us a surreal version of subconscious reality as we know it, as the freedom of dream construction might suggest, the film plays it quite safe, sticking to conventional interiors and sequences commonly found in action films and video games. Despite this lack of creativity, the absence of a surreal quality that often marks dream sequences in visual media actually highlights Baudrillard’s notion of the simulacra quite well. As Cobb explains to Ariadne, “dreams feel real while we’re in them, it’s only when we wake up that we realise that something was actually strange.”
This is also explored in films such as The Matrix and The Truman Show, in which the protagonists develop a gnawing sense of awareness that something is not quite right with their environment, and the path to self-enlightenment involves literally being reborn (Neo), or resisting the controlling forces that keep one trapped in their environment (Truman).
Films like Inception, The Matrix, and The Truman Show offer a glimpse into the possibilities of escaping into an alternate world in which the truth about the simulation of reality is revealed. They allow the audience to take part in the hyperreal adventures played out on the screen and momentarily be architects of their own version of reality.
Baudrillard, J. (1994) ‘The Precession of Simulacra’ in Simulacra and Simulation, excerpt pp. 1-14, University of Michigan Press: Ann Arbor
Scene from The Matrix in which Neo chooses to be aware of the truth about his reality, in other words – to wake up from his dream.
An infographic that makes the complicated interactions of Inception a bit clearer.