On yesterday, I had the great fortune to go watch Inception. Without a doubt, Inception is my second favorite film. My favorite film is A Beautiful Mind. As I reflect on what makes Inception such a great film, I have resolved that I do not have the time and space in this article to explain it to you. This article will not be a plot summary of the film. What I have decided to do in this article is discuss one of the dominant themes that emerge from Inception. This film reveals a serious longing for offering ideas and believing in ideas. In this article, I elect not to focus on the film per se but focus on a discussion of the longing for ideas that the film champions.
It seems that in virtually every space in American life there is a dearth of real ideas being offered. People do not have a willingness to offer ideas that will engender alternatives to the status quo. In Postmodernism or, the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism, Fredric Jameson posits that true scholars and intellectuals offer alternatives to the status quo, even alternatives to our capitalist reality. Although people can talk about how beautifully written Inception is (and I certainly don’t disagree), the power of the film lies in its ability to inform us about what is needed to provide authentic alternatives to the status quo: a hunger for ideas and a value of creativity.
I contend that it is more vital to examine Inception’s critique of our waning value and commitment to ideas and creativity than it is for us to simply look at how beautifully written the film is. There are numerous films that are beautifully written that are harmful to disadvantaged populations, women, racial and ethnic minorities, and members of the LGBT community, so just speaking about how beautifully written it is places the film in the same category with films of this poisonous type.
I would highly recommend that all teachers, administrators, and students watch this film because it is sure to spark in you a renewed commitment to exploration, discovery, ideas, and creativity. This masterpiece, Inception, could not have been birthed without the hunger and thirst for creativity and ideas of those who are responsible for manufacturing it. When the Bush administration was considering immigration reform policy, Inception would have been a nice film for them to have closely engaged with. When the Obama administration was considering healthcare reform, Inception would have called them to explore innovative ways to ameliorate healthcare in America.
The educative value of the film for average Americans is it not only calls them to pursue ideas and creativity, but also gives them special insights into Freudian ideas about the mind, especially the subconscious/unconscious mind. The film is one that is easy enough for the average American to follow if he or she is willing to pay close attention to what’s going on, but it is also sophisticated enough to satisfy the deepest thinkers among us.
Fredric Jameson argues that postmodernism (the historical epoch in which we reside) celebrates fragmentation. A classic postmodern film, therefore, will feature a significant amount of fragmentation without any real purpose. In Inception, the fragmentation has a clear purpose: to let the viewer know that he or she can put all of the pieces together by finding his or her “home,” a home of ideas—where creativity and the generation of ideas is welcomed, encouraged, and supported. Jameson contends that people must engage in “cognitive mapping,” that is, concatenating one fragment with another to produce a totality—a whole that makes sense. This film is quite useful in providing us with an opportunity to engage in a healthy exercise in Jamesonian cognitive mapping.
Again, I encourage people to move beyond simply praising the writing that produced the film and move to more specific aspects about Inception that make it a great film—by doing this, you will really make a contribution to the discourse about the film. We know that the writing is great in the film—this is why the film has been such a success at the theatre, but we need to know specifically why the film is so great. I have heard and read too many praises of the film’s writing. The film is too great to reduce it to simple slaps on the metaphorical butt. Inception is certainly a film that evinces the importance of ideas and creativity.
Antonio Maurice Daniels
University of Wisconsin-Madison