Thursday, January 06, 2011

Dreaming My Way Through "Inception"

For Wael Khairy from Tom Dark

November 27, 2010, 4:17 p.m.

Hey kids! Grab your 5D goggles, take your protein pills and strap on your Virtual Reality Helmets! Today we'll be sailing the Yellow Submarine deep into the Collective Unconscious on a Magical Mystery Tour to Psychic Adventure!

In this episode, your Astral Hero captures and beheads the massive akashic Gorgon called "Inception"! So, fasten those psychedelic seat belts and hold on! Heeeeeeeere we go:

Wael Khairy ( ) is a rare young man. His writing radiates integrity and diligence. In person, he strikes me as noble -- a rare thing in anyone. Let me be poetic: he reminds me of an ancient Egyptian nobleman.

It happens that here in reality, Wael is an Egyptian nobleman, give or take a few thousand years. Thanks to him and the ancient Egyptians, I'll write this essay, then review "Inception." Wael was impressed enough with a dream I told him about ancient Egypt that he's been prompting me ever since to see this movie, as it uses dreaming as a plot vehicle. What I wrote to Wael of ancient Egypt can be found among the comments on his blog.

At this writing we haven't seen it. We live too far out in the boondocks for a convenient drive to the theater. Anyway the nearest movie house smells bad.

We'll have to wait for Netflix, which will send it to our post office box in January. By then I hope to have put Roger's review of it out of mind. His reviews for me are so often "Roger said it, I believe it, that settles it." But for Wael's request I'll need a more independent perspective.

Many people think nightly dreams are crazy. Yea, these would back slowly toward the door, fumbling furtively for the handle, were their host to start rattling on about dreams. Yet the ancient Egyptians used them even in government policies. They lasted about 3,000 years that way. We "A.D." people, if we're lucky, form big dominant countries which last about 200 years, then fizzle out with bangs and whimpers.

We've generally eradicated dreams for being crazy. Our top institutional minds seem to prefer predictions of gloom, doom, bangs and whimpers: from Church heirophants to storefront psychics to Science bigwig Stephen Hawking. Go figure.

(I just did. There's more money in scaring the gullible with gloom and doom. A word to the wise.)

I'm beginning this essay now, late November '10, because last night I saw a trailer for "Inception." I went to bed and dreamed about reviewing this movie. Maybe that's important. Here's the dream:

In my hometown with some young friends. We're going to see "Inception." I'm not wearing a shirt. I reach into my pants pocket for some change to give the girl at the box office. She instead hands me even more change -- a quarter, a few dimes and nickels and some pennies. Good deal, I'm getting a handful of change to review this movie. I hadn't expected that. The boys and I go upstairs past the balcony, take seats on the rooftop and chat, waiting for the movie to begin. End dream.

(Roll Credits: Starring Tom Dark as himself. Dreamed on location in Ballston Spa, New York, USA, founded 1771. Pop. 5,000 at time of dreaming. Produced and directed by Tom Dark's subconscious.)

While you are digesting this popcorn-crunchy dream, do tolerate the following, lengthy, lecture from its producer-director:

Movies are mass social dreams. We watch on-screen dramas that make our juices boil or simmer or change color or what have you. Dreams are private in-head movies, where the hubbub or serenity is specific to one's most intimate, private thoughts and moods.

A movie uses common social symbols, your speeding car, your shooting gun, your limpid rose of a feisty heroine. A dream will use symbols more intimate for its audience of one.

Say there's a cigar in a movie. Crooks light big cigars when they steal a lot of money, dads pass out cigars when their wives have babies, a fine symbol of gloating. Freud and Monica Lewinsky aside, in a dream it may instead represent the cigar a man was chewing at 2:19 p.m. on May 3, 1984, in a shop at 1294 Telegraph Avenue, Oakland, California. It may allude precisely to your vivid feelings of that moment so long ago.

If unimportant to a mass audience, it will be important to you. Dredged up was the cigar-chewing man who stood behind the counter at the pawn shop where you hocked your guitar. You felt like a big loser doing that and you could tell he saw it too. Lately you feel like a big loser again, so the memory is brought up and some alterations made to give your mind a jog and your hormones a helpful squeeze.

A movie where things blow-up-real-good may liberate some rambunctious hormones. A blow-up-good dream might burn off pent-up energy built up by personal worries, boredoms, what have you. If that cigar explodes, maybe you're still angry for having let that pawn shop man cheat you out of a better price for your beloved guitar. You coulda been a contender, instead of a bum, which is what you are. Because lately you're thinking about pawning it again.

(This is not a true story so far as I know, it's just an example. I've never had to pawn my guitar. Thanks for your concern!)

Movies have a way of leaching out into reality. For instance, Mickey Rourke's on-screen persona is infectious. I'll get up and strut around like Popeye ready to sock Bluto the way Mickey does. I've mentioned this to friends and have discovered I'm not the only one who does that after a good Mickey Rourke movie. So! You hometown boys 'fess up: some of you have also marched around mechanically flipping your head from side to side since "Robocop" was released in 1987, haven't you?

Dreams too leach out into one's reality. In the above dream I sat on a rooftop jawing pleasantly with some hometown friends waiting to see this movie Wael wants me to see. Figuratively speaking, that's what I'm doing this moment. I'm jawing with you friends, waiting around for January to see it.

Did I mention this rooftop was on my hometown post office? That's because you're all electronic postal correspondents and I write you from the hometown of my mind. Back at Ebertfest, you all felt like hometown relatives to me. I'll be posting you this e-mail from my home town psyche.

I wonder how the unarguably great film critic Roger Ebert would rate this dream, now that I've released it to you, my imaginary yet independently cognizant public. Not only was there no plot, us characters didn't do much, the cinematography wasn't anything to speak of, not even fancy special effects as dreams go.

I expect Roger might give it only one or two stars, and only then because maybe his boss at the Sun-Times forced him to review it at all. "Tom Dark Dream Debut Shirtless, Pointless," might go the lead-line. At least it wasn't full of mayhem and immorality, so I'm pretty sure he wouldn't slap it with zero stars.

A good movie critic will tell what a movie's about and give a few impressions of its more salient meanings. That's sufficient for an intelligent decision on whether to see it. A good dream critic will do the same, although he alone could see it.

A bad movie critic will maunder off into a maze of implications and associations and movie rules and theories; we hope this entertains him while he fatigues our attentions. A bad dream critic will also botch up a perfectly good dream that way. With that in mind I'll review my own dream about my reviewing "Inception," which I believe in fact deserves three stars.

How's that? Reviewing my own dream production, starring myself? And rating it higher than Roger Ebert would? Yes. A good movie critic oughtn't review a film he has made, but only a bad dream critic would not review his own productions. So as a matter of artistic integrity, it's up to me.

Why did this dream take place in my old hometown? Because back in my hometown, we had a sense of humor. Us boys often sat on rooftops musing on the absurdity of things as they were and the hilarity of things to come. Grownups would have been scandalized over what we thought was out-loud hilarious. Therefore, I predict: I'm going to find things hilarious about "Inception" that I'm not supposed to, just like us teens on a rooftop.

I had no shirt on. That's because, whatever else it may be about, I saw from the trailer that "Inception" is a rough and tumble gun-cocking man-punching movie starring dead-eyed heroes and bosomy heroines. It was the kind of shirtless gusto I've always thought Kenneth Branagh put into his Shakespeare performances. Rough-and-tumble actors are more convincing with no shirt on, so I followed suit. Had I anticipated a more sophisticated movie, I'd probably have kept my shirt on. I predict: I will not think this movie is sophisticated. I will think of it as a movie full of shirtless men swinging their fists and cocking their guns at each other.

Lastly, if I get so much as a handful of change for writing this review, like the box office girl gave me... that... that... would be a dream come true. I doubt it. This movie will be "small change" to me, and despite this priceless jocular wisdom here, so would be my payment for it in any form.

So there is my three-star review of my dream about waiting to see "Inception" in a month or so, plus a free lecture for which you'd pay enormous amounts to some dream-gooroo with workshops, coiffed hair and possibly Shirley MacLaine hanging wantonly on his arm. This said from my lofty hometown rooftop, I'll now wait for the movie.

Seeya then.

PART TWO: The Movie Proper


January 4, 2011, 2:48 p.m.

Good old Netflix, right on time. Following the simple Good Movie Critic's rules roughly stated back in November, I will now review "Inception" itself:

A. What this movie is about: You all already know what it's about. If you don't, here is Roger's review, which leaves me off the hook.

B. And now for a few salient impressions sufficient for intelligent dream-artists trying to decide whether to watch it:

2:52 p.m.: My wife just called from the other room. "Yeah... I watched another five minutes and it's still 'The eeeeevil subconscious must be locked awaaaaaay,'" she hissed in sotto voce. Most of this highly unsophisticated movie is hissed in sotto voce. She dozed off. End salient impressions.

Missus Dark is an awful handy wife to have. She not only bakes great, she supervised at big movie studios for a couple decades. Her job was to make great big movies like this one sound great. Before you public even saw a trailer, she'd have been over the whole movie hundreds of times in detail. She garnered more patience for film watching than I ever will. I can depend on her patience to tell me whether the thing ends the way I guessed it would. Sometimes I've had enough after 3 minutes.

There's another reason my wife was handy for watching this movie. She once had a dream that she should visit some people in Australia. They had called her in a dream. She looked 'em up, and sure enough, they exist in reality: the Yolngnu people of Arnhemland, Australia. They say they've been around for fifty thousand years and their whole culture has been based on their dreams all this time. A sweet, pleasant culture it is, too. You can look 'em up on YouTube. Yolngnu chiefs gave her a name and adopted her as part of their dream family. Now and then she and they dream of each other. You can say they meet in dreams.

Go ahead, start backing toward the door. Whatever mutant weirdness may be running up your spine about it, this is as natural as breathing. It's an art. You practice, you get good. I'm pretty okay at it. Decades now. (Advice: never EVER pay anybody for it. You need only patience, and it does pay off. "Dream workers" can be worse hucksters than the gun-toting dream-lothario Leonardo DiCaprio plays here. The Yolngnu don't go around charging each other.)

I got up and wandered away from "Inception" about thirty-five minutes into it, give or take a little dozing. True, this film was more fun than getting caught in a bag of spiders. That phrase occurred to me as my mind began drifting during some scene of something blowing up, or turning upside down, or whatever that was. They were hissing hogwash in sotto voce, so it was hard to tell.

I'd managed that long because I'd promised Wael I'd review it from the perspective of the art of dreaming, which just about nobody in Western Civilization does nowadays -- so busy are they with their dead-eyed gun-cocking and weaving tangled webs and stealing each others' ideas and so on.

And all this scary pulse-pounding music! To Jungianize a Mark Twain quip: my subconscious hadn't heard such a racket since the orphanage burned down.

As I waited for the the scary pulse-pounding music to make the movie start, before we cut to Leonardo rising woozily from the subconscious-surf-hog-wash with his little pistol, a short story by James Thurber sauntered into mind: a man dreamed every night that Aaron Burr was challenging him to a duel. Finally, he took a pistol to bed and put it under his pillow. He'd get that s.o.b. for sure tonight. The next morning his wife found him dead of a heart attack. I chuckled at the memory.

First movie laff, more or less predicted in my three-star dream last November: DiCaprio languishing face down on that beach, that pistol stuck in the back of his pants. Guess Aaron Burr showed him a thing or two as well. Second laff: He's telling a stereotypically inscrutable oriental gentleman (should I spell it "steleotypicarry insclutabre?") how he's paid to sneak into people's dreams and steal their ideas. It's what he does. For evil. Omniscient. Corporations. Dunt dunt dunnn.

This later expanded into a laff about... Dunt dunt dunnn indeed, there's apparently some kind of nuke-level dangerous gizmo that can plant an idea in somebody's head! Then again, how many of us have discovered that a reasonably convincing e-mail isn't enough after all? What's this guy charge, again?

The laffs went on and on, until they mysteriously transformed, dream-like, slow motion... I kept meaning to note them on my clipboard. Yet my body had become inexplicably paralyzed by a strangely appealing torpor, deep unconscious forces making my pen seem far, far away... perhaps... on one of these snow-covered craggy... mountains... around... here... and miles to go before I sleep... and miles to go before I... zzzzzzzzPOP! Huh? Wha? Hoozat?

Damned if I'd back the CD up to catch what I'd missed. Instead, in that minute moment of snoozing subconscious endeavor, I dreamed a solution to my critic-predicament. Each line that sounded hilarious -- most of them did -- could be summed up this way:

"Obstreosis of the ductal tract. Tertiary."

James Thurber again. Ain't real dreams just wonderful? In a microscopic flash, mine reduced every line of dead-eyed psychogobble in this gooey overblown flickmare to a single famous utterance in Thurber's "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty."

Mitty made up fantasy terms for his fantasy of being a Highly Respected Surgeon, see. This movie is all goofy made-up lines like that, but dead-eyed and gun-cocking. Thurber's perceptions echo the nature of dreams better than this humorless extravaganza could.

I only rarely interpret people's dreams for them. It's a dumber idea than occult or psychology traditions proclaim. In truth, sorting out one's own dream image-language by oneself finally reveals that the only thing "sub-conscious" is that face in the mirror staring back at you in foggy non-comprehension.

Here I'll interpret "Inception" as the dream of an imaginary individual, perhaps like certain of my passing readers.

I myself would back away cautiously toward the door from this imaginary individual. I would fumble furtively for the handle. He is rattling on with a paranoid fantasy about extravagant, selfish control freaks obsessed with injecting magical powers into Rubik's cubes and can't tell wool or polyester rugs apart. I'd recommend therapy: put 'em in a bag of spiders. That'd wake 'em up.

To conclude: the wife and I both dozed off trying to watch this oo-ee-oo turkey in the middle of the day. Boredom is a subconscious menace. A nap is the cure.

So there we have it, Wael. Dig around among those ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs. I'm dead-eyed certain there's a lot better stuff on dreams there than was cobbled up for "Inception."

You will observe that my innocuous brief dream about reviewing this movie turned out to be God's-honest precognitive! And these quips are exactly the kind I'd make while not wearing a shirt! Every dream is prophetic, once you pay proper attention!

"Self-fulfilling prophecy," you say? What other kind could you want? Self-fulfilling prophecies are the best. Though I didn't take my shirt off to watch this movie. That might have changed things, I admit I don't know how.

Leonardo DiCaprio should have been shirtless. This would have made hissing all those "Obstreosis of the ductal tract. Tertiary." lines more fun.

I saw in the previews that he or Matt Damon (sometimes can't tell them apart) will be in another of this kind of movie this fall. If Wael asks me to review that too, I've predicted the title: REAL PSYCHICS DON'T BLINK.

(Tom Dark burbled up briefly from his shirtless adventures of derring-do among uncharted Ductal Tracts of the Unconscious to write this for Wael Khairy)


Anonymous Ed Fugg said...

THIS IS THE BEST MOVIE REVIEW I'VE EVER READ. Inception sucked exactly like that! May the people involved get their tits and balls caught in a dream-machine.

11:42 AM  
Blogger Frances said...

Hey I had the choice of Vera Drake or inception Mike Leigh or stuff I already knew about in advance.Of course Drake was my childhood and it won if Judy Dench is the best actress in the world what does that make Imelda Staunton?
Then I got converted to Ebert his review really did sum it up .
The class system is back in the uk I wish I was back in the ussr. Best

3:41 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have to say I've never been so entertained while reading a review that I agree with (as regards actual dreaming), but disagree with (as regards the film's quality).

I'm only hoping that, now that I've read this, you won't be appearing in my dreams shirtless, Tom.

12:27 PM  
Blogger Tom Dark said...

Yeah. I came in really determined to like this movie, even if the stuff about dreams would be high-tech baby poop.

But man, to me, it was like every character was trying to imitate Kenneth Branagh hissing importantly.

10:52 AM  
Anonymous Ivana said...

Still giggling from the review.
I came to the movie out of boredom one evening. Finished it at about the same mark you and Catt did, or somewhere there. Rolled my eyes so many times I am glad they are still coordinated.

Part I and Part II - delicious. It was worth going through the movie for that many minutes to have ended with the concept of shirtless and rooftop fused together for eternity.

I love to read RE's reviews, but disagree with them quite frequently.

9:44 AM  
Blogger Tom Dark said...

A woman after my own heart!

9:43 AM  
Anonymous Bill Hubbub said...

"Shirtless gusto" ROFLMAO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Question: if you didn't watch the whole movie, how do you know it was all whispered in sotto voce?

10:53 AM  
Blogger Tom Dark said...

Bill writes: "Question: if you didn't watch the whole movie, how do you know it was all whispered in sotto voce?"

---Why... er... I dreamed it. Yeah. That's how I know.

3:39 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

An excellently enjoyable review. I thought INCEPTION was an entertaining heist film crossed with a mind game video-type thingie. But to take it seriously as a Deep Picture worthy of immortalization is quite beyond my dreaming ability.

BTW, why does everyone in these heist films wear three-piece suits or slinky dresses at all times? How about a heist flick where people wear T-shirts, blue jeans and Nikes? I'd go.

10:44 AM  
Blogger Tom Dark said...

Dang, now I'm gonna have to rewrite this thing and put "3-piece suit" where "cigar" is.

Yeah, that's the ticket. And replace the cigar-chewing pawnshop guy with a record company executive.

OR I could get a life. XOXOX

3:57 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

How come nobody knows who you are?

5:19 PM  
Anonymous S M Rana said...

One of the silliest films, I agree.

To quote Me on Inception:

.."The present film seems to belong to the same genre of quackery as the latest breed of self-help books and self proclaimed jet borne sages, with or without flowing robes/beards."..

For the rest, people and objects criss-cross the screen at high velocities accompanied by appropriate noises, and folks (unless they happen to be apparitions) bashing or shooting at each other for reasons best known to themselves. They wear grim expressions (who ever heard of humor in a dream) and Ellen Page in particular has both eyes and mouth wide agape probably signifying architectural precocity, in contrast to her unforgettably innocent portrayal in Juno. The script itself is a desultory running commentary on the self manufactured logic needed to make sense of the psycho-neural skulduggery....

The pseudo-profundity and undecipherable plot accounts for it's mass appeal and one can imagine the heated discussions among the nouveau intelligentsia, on the drive back home, or over a drink, to dissect the plot thread by thread....

2:21 AM  

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