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Some Ramblings - Inception
By Srinivas Kanchibhotla

What a delightful exercise it is, dealing with paradoxes. For a writer, the impossibility of the paradox is never a deterrence, rather it serves as a springboard where new ideas can come about that either circumvent the paradox, or even better, incorporate the paradox into the scheme of things. Consider the age old, yet always intriguing, paradox of time travel. After the basic premise, that time travel is indeed possible by finding some loophole in some wormhole, is done away with, the tough questions start to come out - what can be done (in the past/future worlds) and what is impossible, no matter what? These two questions plague every paradoxical situation. Different stories and movies wrestled with those questions to come up with interesting scenarios to suit their purpose. While 'Back to the Future' world has the time traveling subject's mother fall in love with him, instead of the father, as should be the norm, the '12 Monkeys' world claims that what is done is done, the past can merely be observed and cannot be affected at all. Each situation has its own possibilities - if past can be changed, then future need not toe the line of the present, and so the possibility of alternate/parallel universes; if past cannot be changed, then time will find a way to will itself upon the proceedings to ensure continuity - all equally valid, all equally logical. The process is akin to creating a board game - there are no impossiblities here, as long as there are no improbabilities; no idea is far-fetched as long as it stays true to the pre-determined rule set. And the inevitable encounter with the paradox in the climax, is what that makes or breaks that paradox - whether the writer was fair to his own rules, even if it works to the detriment of his characters, or he purposefully left a loophole to ensure a satisfactory happy ending. In effect, the ending is what that determines how strong the paradox that the writer created is. And like with any real life paradoxes, if the conclusion is ambiguous, unsatisfactory, and quite frustrating, the writer has remained true to his word, because after all, paradoxes, unlike problems, are never meant to have easy answers or solutions.

The strength of Nolan's writing is how he chisels down to the core of his idea and builds everything from ground up, instead of remaining on the surface and work with what is already established. If in 'Memento', the idea is about a how a person with a short term memory loss deal with his situation on a daily basis, 'Batman Begins' deals with the concept, not the mythology, of what a super hero can/has-to be. If 'The Prestige' is about the sleight of the hand, specially with the audience of a fellow magician, 'The Dark Knight' is about the untenability of morality when confronting evil. In each of these cases Nolan tears it all down, and starts at the root of the idea, defining first what he thinks about it (nobility, evil, memory or even magic) and then sets his characters free in that world, governed strictly by his rules. If by those standards, heroes are perceived as villains by the end of the story (remember Lenny?), so be it; that is just uncompromising writing. Up until 'Inception', Nolan dealt with the real world, even within the realm of super heroes, where merely being billed heroes don't automatically let them off the hook. And now, he ups the ante even further as he takes on the dream world filled with shifting shapes - not just landscapes, but rules, structures and even logic. And this is a world that is never supposed to be logical, to begin with. David Lynch came close to depicting the dream world on celluloid in 'Mulholland Drive' (and a bit in 'The Lost Highway'), where making no sense whatsoever makes complete sense, as it is the dream world, and it is supposed to be confusing, confounding, mysterious and illogical. And that is one side of the coin. The other side is the anal world of Nolan, where EVERYTHING, including super powers, magic tricks, and yes, even dreams, have to bound by rules and logic. And he doesn't relax creating just one level of dreamscape, he digs deeper and deeper, going multiple levels into the subterranean folds of the psyche, each with its own possibilities and limitations. And watching him orchestrate his ballet at all these levels simultaneously, isn't just an aural treat/visual feast, but a constant fodder for the mind, forcing the viewer to play close attention to the proceedings - the action AND the words.

If dreams are but exaggerations of the impressions and projections of the subconscious, how can realism even enter that world, given Nolan's penchant to stay rooted in reality even in fantastic worlds? Well, if chaos in the real world is perceived to have an element of order to it, however random it might be, then dreams, however exaggerated they are, should still be rooted in some figment of reality, however flimsy or shaky it is - and that is the opening that Nolan takes to deep dive into the dream world, and the rules that he sets for himself (and for those worlds) are still bound by the same elemental reality. The plot and the action of 'Inception', while being spectacular, no less, are all besides the point to the actual play (rule) book. The ending of the movie at just the right moment challenges the viewer to go back and review all that he has seen and heard and forces him to judge whether the writer was fair to his premise or not. With words chosen to precision, and action conformant to those words, 'Inception' makes no waste of even a single frame, word, gesture or action, as, like the mind, a movie, is a terrible thing to waste.

It is tough to categorize what genre 'Inception' falls under - 'Metaphysical? 'Psychological'? 'Mind bending'? 'Thriller'? 'Drama'? It is none of the above and all of the above at the same time. Now how's that for paradox?

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This article is written by Srinivas Kanchibhotla
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