Why I disliked Inception

I watched Inception last night. I watched it for very specific reasons, knowing full well ahead of time that I was not going to like the film. I didn’t; I was bored and irritated through almost the entire movie. However, I did manage to articulate why I didn’t like it.

I couldn’t invest in anything that happens to the characters.

The reason I couldn’t invest in the characters in Inception is that the entire movie is not real. Now, you are going to immediately point out that ALL fiction is not real, that’s why we call it FICTION. True, true. But there is a specific not-real-ness to which I refer here, which I will now try to explain.

In the majority of fiction you are given rules. Certain conventions. You are invited to relate to the characters, to fear for their safety, to worry about their accomplishments, to rejoice in their triumphs. This works for me because I am convinced by the writer that the stakes are real for the character. I can invest in what happens to them, I can relate.

In movies About The Nature of Reality, or Just a Dream stories, or What If We’re All Minds in a Jar novels, I find that however much I may relate to the characters, I never fear for them. I never cheer them on, I never worry about their love and life and children. I don’t connect with the characters in these stories because the entire premise of the story is “This might all be fake! Ha-HAH!”

Okay, so, if it’s all fake, I don’t care.

And if you spend the entire story trying to prove to me that I, as a reader or viewer, will never be allowed to determine what is fake and what is real to the character, I will never care.

There is an exception to this general rule. If the story I am watching is about the aftermath of an experience in which what the character thought was real was false, I am interested in that. Because that is a story, then, about the real consequences, about trust and betrayal and crippling doubt and anger and loss. That, I can get into.

Related side notes: I have read enough Phillip K. Dick to know I dislike his work intensely; I loathe practical jokes and April Fool’s Day; I think the metaphysician Richard Rorty is a complete waste of my time; I don’t spend any energy worrying about what happens when we die.

8 Responses

  1. In serial fiction, I hate stories that “never happened” (dream sequences, time travel, that stuff) because they hit the RESET button at the end and then any growth that happened or might have happened as a result of the plot is erased. There are none of those consequences you can get into. I really, really, really HATE that.

    But non-serial stories that are about un-reality I really love. As long as there is one character who exists. Then it becomes about identity and how he/she/*I* relate to the world. I understand what you mean about it being a joke, but that’s not how I see it. I think it’s a more true exploration of real than most things. To me.

    In related news, I don’t really have a sense of humor.

  2. @Anika How do you find entry into a character for whom no consequences are real and nothing ever actually happens to them? I mean, discounting the what-happens-afterwards part of the story I mention above, which I TOTALLY get into.

  3. “Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?” (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows)

    I simply don’t agree with your statement.

  4. @Anika So, you are saying the the fake-reality angle just isn’t relevant to your interests?

    I just feel like the movie becomes a practical joke played on the viewer in these cases. Which is NOT everyone’s experience, I know! Many people like the “puzzle,” like trying to figure it out. I disengage.

  5. I think I’m saying the fake-reality angle is entirely relevant to my interests. It IS my interest. I … I don’t think of “reality” in terms of “real” and “fake”. It’s ALL real if you believe it. EVERYTHING has meaning and what’s interesting is how people react. Mal Cobb isn’t “real” but Dom Cobb is. In Fight Club Brad Pitt isn’t “real” but Tyler Durden is. The Mad Hatter isn’t “real” but Alice is. The dreamer is real and to him or her the dream is also real, even when he or she knows it is a dream.

    I get what you are saying about the joke and it is perfectly valid. Liking the puzzle is perfectly valid. Those are not my experience. I never worry too much about authorial intent or audience reaction because MY interpretation is real to ME.

    I look at everything through my eyes and I don’t worry too much about what is really there. I do love to talk about it, though!

  6. Sigrid, thank you for articulating this; I’m the same way. Loathe practical jokes and April Fools jokes – (I’ve seen one or two that fit my definition of funny – a complete absence of any mean-spiritedness is essential, but most pranks and practical jokes just don’t meet that standard.) I’ve tried to read a couple of Philip K. Dick’s books and just couldn’t.

    Have never heard of Richard Rorty, so thanks for the warning! *wry*

  7. I don’t mind the “is it real or not?” thing because when I read stories like that I just assume it’s all real, that it all counts, and ignore that implication. I didn’t like Inception either, but that was because they used the “not real” angle as an excuse not to give ANYONE characterization, and I couldn’t care as a result. I might have liked it otherwise! (Though Chris Nolan’s massive fridging-the-love-interest issues would likely still have bothered me.)

  8. @Glinda Solidarity!

    @Anika, Okay, that view of it makes a lot of sense to me, thank you!

    @Jennifer I couldn’t tell if there was no characterization or if I merely kept reading a book whenever no women were on the screen ….

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