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.
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