A few days ago, I wrote a scene where my protagonist dreams she’s in a huge cake maze, like a maze made out of gigantic cakes. This was her dream birthday party, but there was no way for anyone to eat the cake, so she ran to the kitchen to get spoons, spoons for every mouth! Inside, she faced a second labyrinth: an ocean of tarp that bit at her, obstructing her from the silverware drawer.
A few years ago, I had a dream where I was under attack in this poet’s house. It’s a big house, red brick, gorgeous really. Out of nowhere, an older writer strolls in drinking a beer. Nothing else happened. The attack stopped. I was safe. Later, I told her about my dream. This was years ago. She told me she was a recovering alcoholic. I was so embarrassed, I don’t even remember how I reacted.
I can’t tell you how many short stories I’ve read that end with “and then he/she/it wakes up.” It’s the lamest kind of trick.
Which is why I found Inception potentially very interesting but in the end quite disappointing.
Whereas I just wrote a dream sequence into my ms, in general, I find dreams to be too easy of a trick. In fiction, anything can happen, right? You go from the landscape of fiction, where anything can happen, into the dreamscape of dream, where anything can happen. So why do you need the dream? Dreams offer writers and readers an even more infinite possibility than fiction, where possibility is already infinite, and dreams in fiction, well, it makes my head hurt thinking it all through. So why use dreams in fiction if fiction can already do anything the dream can do? Seems redundant to me. Why add that layer of surreality?
Furthermore, dreams in fiction are often too telling, and if not telling then intentionally revealing, like the writer couldn’t manage to reveal something buried so deeply in the subconscious through a scene or monologue or whatever, so they had to employ a dream sequence.
Maybe I’m being harsh on dreams.
So back to Inception. This is a movie all about dreams. I like Christopher Nolan. I crush on Joseph Gordon-Levitt. I like cool movies with cool special effects. I also like smart movies. But in the end, despite all the things the movie had going for it, it stopped short of profound. And for a movie like this, to stop short of profound is to fail. At least to me.
A.O. Scott agrees:
Admirers of Ridley Scott’s “Blade Runner” and Stanley Kubrick’s “2001” will find themselves in good company, though “Inception” does not come close to matching the impact of those durable cult objects. It trades in crafty puzzles rather than profound mysteries, and gestures in the direction of mighty philosophical questions that Mr. Nolan is finally too tactful, too timid or perhaps just too busy to engage… It is more like a diverting reverie than a primal nightmare, something to be mused over rather than analyzed, something you may forget as soon as it’s over.
Also, of the two people with whom I went to see the film, one fell asleep and the other declared it was one of the worst movies he’s ever seen. I’d say that’s extreme. It was a good enough film. Lots of visually stunning effects. Conceptually, it could’ve been tighter, sure, but it felt just like that story (all those stories) I’ve read in workshop that end “And then he woke up.” That’s not the ending of Inception, fyi, so I haven’t spoiled the movie or anything.
And: it’s almost like Hollywood has just caught on to metafiction and Post Modernism and Freud. Yes, I understand how different it is to describe something in words v. making a spectacle for the eyes in film.
What do you think about dreams or dreams in fiction or dreams in Inception or Inception as a whole or whatever?