Sunday, October 2, 2011


A couple of weeks ago I wrote a long piece about Zach Snyder’s flawed movie Sucker Punch, one of the big influences on the WILD RPG. This time, I’m going to look at the biggest influence on the game, Christopher Nolan’s Inception.

Okay, I confess, I’m a huge fan of Inception. Just about everything in the film is what I want from a narrative – it’s multi-levelled, good action, clever, has a nice twist that you can sort of work out on the way, it’s ambiguous in its ending which leaves you discussing it for hours on the way home. It’s just awesome. Saw it a few times in the cinema, then had to go again when the local IMAX reran it just to get the huge screen and deafening levels of soundtrack.

I guess it helped being a Nolan fan, especially after Memento and The Prestige (both awesome, multilayered acts of smart storytelling). It also helped having a great cast - Leonardo DiCaprio was great, which was a really pleasant surprise after seeing Shutter Island a couple of weeks before (which I found incredibly predictable), and the rest of the cast were suitably awesome.

Maybe it’s just my usual movie failing that I really love films that I can’t see how they’re going to end. If I get about an hour in and I can consciously feel myself thinking “I have no idea where this is going” then I’m kinda sold. I had a similar moment about an hour into a low budget movie called Ink (which I’ll write about later) when I suddenly realised the twist and thought, “wow, it took this long to see how it’s going to finish, that’s a sign of a good film.”

Anyway, back to Inception. It does have its faults. Just a couple, in my opinion.

The first is The Rules.

Unlike Sucker Punch, Inception set out the rules clearly in the 1st act. As an audience we’re told how time works in the dream, how if you die in the dream you wake up unless you’re under the sedatives the PASIV device (the dream machine) require to maintain multiple layers of dreams. We’re also told how the “Kicks” work, and how the environment around you influences your dreams.

This means in the 1st layer of the dream, when Yusuf is driving, when the van is flipping about or screeching around corners, the dreamers feel a sense of gravity shift. This means that when the van is driving off the bridge, acting as the Kick from level 1, the dreamers in level 2 are thrust into weightlessness, and Arthur has to come up with a way of triggering a Kick to get them back from the dream of the mountain fortress.

So after spending so long establishing the rules, why did they break them? If the van’s in freefall off of the bridge, and Arthur can push the unconscious dreamers around in zero gravity, why does the feeling of weightlessness not continue into the 3rd level? In the mountain fortress dream, there’s no weird gravity shifts or anything. If the rules were behaving completely through all of the levels, the final sequence (not including Limbo, as it’s understandable if that defies the rules) should all be in zero gravity, with Bond-style commandos floating above the base and being catapulted about by recoil…

Guess that would have been tricky to film. Awesome looking, but tricky…

Anyway, the second thing - that’s not so much of a problem with Inception, more just a disappointment – is that we’re shown the potential and it never really comes to being.

There’s a great and memorable sequence with Ariadne being shown dream architecture for the first time where she bends Paris in on itself, and then creates corridors with mirrors and stuff like that. It really shows off the power of lucid dreaming – being aware that you’re dreaming and being able to manipulate your environment.

While Cobb warns her that too many changes will cause his subconscious to fight back to suppress the changes and remove the foreign element in his mind, we’re shown the real potential of what Ariadne could do – not just to create the mazes and mindscapes for the dreams they’ll enter, but also to bend stuff around like The Matrix or Dark City.

However, once they’re within the dreams in the mission, nothing like this happens. Sure Arthur gets to play around with some Penrose Stairs to defeat some armed goons, but that’s about it.

I guess Nolan wanted to go for relatively mundane dreams as most of the people who were hosting the dreams were not wildly eccentric characters. After all, Robert Fischer’s mind is filled with the troubles of big business and the death of his father, so his imagination is more like a Bond film, and not, for example, steampunk Nazis, dragons and mech-suits like Sucker Punch.

I guess that’s where the game came in. I really wanted to be able to merge the two together – to have the rules, the technology and the multiple layers of something like Inception, and have the scope and bizarreness of the fantasy-scapes of Sucker Punch.

Again, I must point out that while I’ve been mildly critical of some elements of Inception, it is one of my favourite films of all time. It’s up there with The Matrix, Fight Club and Dark City for me, my top 5. I really hope that Nolan goes for a sequel, or that his plans for a video game come to fruition, so that we can see the potential of going into some wilder dreams and being a little more experimental with dream-logic – more like the film that heavily inspired it, Paprika (another movie I’ll discuss at a later date).


Tim said...

Loving the blog so far, Frankie! WILD sounds fascinating.

If you're still looking for inspirational media, I'd check out a film called The Fall. It's not so much about dreams as it is about storytelling, but it has some wonderfully surreal, dreamlike moments, and a lot of the representational connection stuff you mentioned in your Sucker Punch post.

David F. Chapman said...

That's the one by Tarsem isn't it? The guy who directed "The Cell" (another inspirational source for the game). I keep meaning to check it out, but hadn't heard from anyone who'd seen it, so definitely will now. Yes, anything inspirational, let me know!!