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"Architecture Of The Mind": Inception (2010) Film Analysis

Updated on January 31, 2011


The marketing campaign by Warner Brothers planted a big idea in audience's heads: Inception is one of the best films of the year. The film utilized equal portions of drama, suspense, action and science fiction. Director Christopher Nolan credited films like The Matrix, Dark City, The Thirteenth Floor and Memento as clear influences towards formulating the look and feel of Inception. This effect gives a feeling of both originality and familiarity in a unique way. To hold espionage crime in dreams carries added complexity and expands a simple premise, lending abilities to deceive and decept far above any 'real' heist. Fortunately, viewers felt the finished product met, if not exceeded, the original idea.

The story is about a man named Cobb and his team who perform extraction, theft of ideas or secrets from others' dreams. When Cobb becomes hunted by a former employer, he is approached and offered the ultimate, final assignment: performing inception, or planting an idea instead. In turn, he will be granted freedom.

The heart of the story lies in Cobb and his team. But rather than tread oversaturated analysis ground ("was it all a dream?"), an argument that director Christopher Nolan has himself debunked in seveal interviews, I will instead focus attention to the film's depiction of dream-sharing technology.

Dream-sharing technology is not a recent nor necessairly fictional idea. There have been various rumors of U.S. military interest (without any definitive evidence) dating back to the early 1950s. In those times, the military showed confirmed interest in mind control under projects MKULTRA, ARTICHOKE and Blue Bird for example. Highly controversial and classified, these projects resulted in little known results.

Excluding the exciting, adventurous tone to the film, Inception ultimately paints dream-sharing technology as often-times negative and depicts a bleak world devoid from reality. There is a scene where Cobb is shown a room full of individuals in a constant dreaming state. They have disattached themselves from 'reality' to the point where they can no longer enter the dream state without assistance of the technology. This situation also implies that people prefer the dream state even to the detriment of reality itself. I would also argue that the scenes showing a mob of people attacking Cobb, Arthur, Nash in Saito's apartment could be showing people's sometimes violent opposition to dream-sharing and those who use it. Cobb's wife Mal is another example of dream-sharing technology having negative effects on an individual's reality. Cobb had to use inception on Mal to remove her from Limbo. The inherit risk in doing so meant Mal would wake up in reality, still holding the idea in her head that she was in a dream. Unable to covince her otherwise, Cobb suffered with Mal's suicide as well as guilt from being semi-complicit in her death. None of this would have occurred had this dream-sharing technology never existed or been used differently in the first place.

Inception also shows dream-sharing technology to be solely created and used for espionage purposes. Cobb and his team work for companies who have vested interests in clients like Saito. Instead of planting truly beneficial ideas to better quality of life, perhaps positive thoughts about oneself to a person suffering from depression, clients demand influence and ultimately, assume power over others. This is shown in Saito's desire to utilize inception for Fischer to break up his empire (this could also be looked at positively by showing Saito doesn't want a monopoly to exist, but at the same time, why is Saito the only one depicted who desires this? Perhaps to build up an empire of his own? More on this in the ending paragraph...).

Also, instead of medical and scientific fields, companies employ personnel who possess neither background. They are experts at obtaining hidden information deep within the recesses of the mind during dreams. But, again, does that make them qualified to understand the implications of such assignments? Ariadne is selected by Miles per request by Cobb to be an architect. She is thrust into a complex assignment of designing entire worlds within dreams, all without possessing any prior background or expertise in the field (some could argue that was the point in Cobb's choice). Arthur is the only character who consistently questions the mission as well as whether or not they can successfully accomplish extraction or inception without issue (which, as shown in the film, didn't occur when trying to infiltrate Saito's mind). While in Fisher's first dream level, Cobb claims Arthur didn't research enough to gain knowledge of Fisher's past training to combat potential espionage, hence the security ambush and Saito nearly dying in the altercation. In addition, there is no protection offered from the company in case of issues within these dream-sharing espionage missions. As Cobb states, if someone dies in any level of the dream world, they will be thrown into Limbo, forever stuck and left to die in a virtually inescapable dream. This shows that companies and corporations, aside from individuals, also do not value their employees enough to prevent such fatal situations from happening (perhaps a fail safe to ensure no one ever falls into Limbo).

 Inception has given social commentary on a world where technology wouldn't be used to better individuals or mankind as a whole.  The motivations for using said technologies are drawn from negative aspects of greed and power.  More importantly, those who use this technology are irrevocably harmed, left unable to distinguish dreams from reality because of the complete identical nature of both worlds.  Mid-way through the film, Cobb utters a very important line to Ariadne that touches upon that idea:

"Dreams feel real when we're in them.  It's only when we wake up when we realize something was actually strange." 

Was Nolan saying something about our own world?  Is humankind in a state of 'Limbo'? The only positive the film gives us is the hope in Saito's motivations.  Is he acting in mankind's best interests by breaking up Fisher's empire?  "The seed that we planted in this man's mind may change everything." The film leaves ambiguity as to whether this will be for the good of mankind.  Inception is more than a wonderful film, one of the best in 2010, but a contemporary microscope about technology clashing with Man's hopes and dreams. 


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    • rkummer profile image

      rkummer 6 years ago

      Thanks Stevennix2001. I specifically desired your opinion on the piece, figured you'd appreciate a differing analysis. Indeed, you are right about technology and it's use placed in the wrong hands - to me, this was an underlying theme running throughout Inception that I've yet to see anyone else really touch on.

      As for Oscar predictions, I wasn't planning on writing an article, no. I am severely backlogged on watching new releases and feel I would only be going off others' opinions. If I happen to write, I'll be sure to let you know and link ours together.

    • Stevennix2001 profile image

      Steven Escareno 6 years ago

      It sounds like you and me pretty much have the same opinion on this film. Although, one can say that almost any technological achievement can be used negatively if put into the wrong hands. However, that's another philosophical debate for another time. Anyways, great review, as I really enjoyed reading your take on this.

      By the way, are you planning on doing an oscar prediction hub by any chance? The reason I ask is because I was going to work on mine now that the nominations are in, with it being a 3 part hub series. If you are, I'll be sure to link your hubs to mine in part 3 of that same hub series.