The Longing for Ideas and Creativity in Inception

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


  1. I read that Rolling Stone magazine’s Peter Travers gave Inception a positive notice, calling it a “wildly ingen­ious chess game”, and “the result is a knockout.”

    Believe it or not, I’ve never seen DiCaprio in a movie, but I really enjoy science fiction. If nothing comes up, I’m going to see Inception this evening – the first movie I’ve been to since Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince! I’ll keep your viewpoint in mind.

    1. If you go see the film this evening, or at some later date, please let me know what you think about it. In fact, I would love to read a blog post/article from you in response to the film. I love Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince. I am very much into science fiction because this genre is so committed to offering new ideas and exploring the powers of creativity. In science fiction, we are constantly provided with alternatives to our extant realities. Thanks for reading this article and thanks for your response.

  2. Acting- Excellent
    Writing- Superb
    Cinematography- Cunning
    As a certified movie goer, I thoroughly enjoyed the film. Inception contained many layers in which an audience of varied demographics can pull and draw from their individual levels and outlets of creative ideas and critical thinking. I may revisit for another viewing. Great post!

  3. Well, I made the 12:00 matinee today, but can only review “Inception” as a person who uncommonly, and usually reluctantly attends movies for several reasons. One, is my hearing loss. I have difficulty putting the words together and miss a lot of the verbal action.

    The filming was quite impressive, but then I believe every movie has to be computer enhanced in one way or another these days to be rated “good.” I was really pleased with the continuing action and deepening plot that kept me racing to try and stay ahead of the game. My preconceived notions of DiCaprio were wrong and he seemed to be quite professional. I liked him in his role as Dom Cobb. All-in-all, I enjoyed the film and think it was a bargain at matinee prices! However, as almost every movie I’ve attended, I would rather have read the story in a novel and know I would rate it A+.

    Speaking of novels, it seems Chris Nolan is accused of finding his plots in the old comic books! “Inception” was purportedly from a story about Scrooge McDuck and the Beagle Boys:

    I can’t speak to Fredric Jameson’s views, but I can say it took me much concentration to put the story completely together and arrive comfortably at the ending. Again, hearing loss was part of it, but some of the story took a bit of concentration. I’m not certain most people would spend a lot of time thinking it out, but would rather be carried along with the great visual action, and in this case, miss a good mental exercise.

    I don’t know about “cognitive mapping,” but several times during the film, I was solidly brought to think about “Lucid Dreaming” of which I have had some minor experiences. Although never with movie-like clarity; to enter a dream – even a mundane dream, realize you’re dreaming, take control of it and then, the important part – remember it later, is always an intense adventure. This is what I’ll probably think of as I remember the movie.

    Anyway, Thanks for the lead on this, Antonio. It’s been ages since I was at the movies, and because of you, I entirely enjoyed my afternoon.

    1. Wow! I’m glad you enjoyed the film, Goose! I, too, am one who loves to read the novel version of a film. I very much appreciate your informative response that gives me a very thorough and different perspective on the film that I have yet to receive until now. I try to go to movies as much as I can because I have an opportunity to de-stress there. Awesome insight about Inception emerging from the comics genre. I’m glad to have contributed to you having an enjoyable afternoon! Thanks so much.

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