Tuesday, January 4, 2011

More on Suspension of Disbelief; Why Inception is a Good Movie

An observation regarding suspension of disbelief, from the source of all knowledge
Some find it strange that while some audience members took issue with the flimsiness of Superman's disguise, they didn't take issue with the idea of the existence of a superbeing whose only weakness was kryptonite. One arguing from the theory of suspension of disbelief would contend that while Superman's abilities and vulnerabilities are the foundational premises the audience accepted as their part of the initial deal; they did not accept a persistent inability for otherwise normal characters to recognize a close colleague solely because of changes in clothing.

Gary Larson discussed the question with regard to his comic strip, The Far Side; he noted that readers wrote him to complain that a male mosquito referred to his "job" sucking blood when it is in fact the females that drain blood, but that the same readers accepted that the mosquitoes (in "fact") live in houses, wear clothes, and speak English.
We sort of tell the author/producer, "We'll allow you to break these rules, but everything else must be realistic." So science fiction writers are allowed to postulate the existence of faster-than-light travel, but not witches, for example. As I wrote earlier, when the author surprises you and tells you you need to suspend more disbelief, it pulls you out of the story and lessens your engagement. Also, a mid-story request for more suspension of disbelief is poor storytelling technique.

This is why I liked Inception. (I watched it one and a half times on the flight to California.) If you haven't watched Inception, then I fear you won't get the rest of this post. Oh well. Your loss. The loss is mutual.

From the first (real) scene (after the introductory stuff which you cannot understand the first time watching the movie) you know exactly how this movie world is different from the real world: people are able to climb into other people's dreams and fool around. Everything else in the movie makes perfect sense once you accept that premise. If extraction were possible, dreams within dreams would also be possible, the "kick" would work the way it does, the strange aberrations of the laws of physics when the van bounces would be unavoidable, the projections would act the way they do, and all that. It's really a well-thought-out movie.

But wait! Not only is Inception as good as realistic fiction, it's better! In fiction, there's this idea that if you really, really want something, the universe conspires to make it happen. For example, if a snowstorm keeps your mother-in-law from getting the birthday card you mailed her, the literary critics will blame it on your dislike of your mother-in-law. Or if you really are "misyached" with the person who locked a safe, you'll be able to correctly guess the code. That's non-realistic and stretches my suspension of disbelief. But in Inception it's totally legitimate that Cobbs' issues with his wife mess up his work and that they expect Fisher to remember a code that's never been told to him. They're in the dream world, so of course the "universe" brings about whatever the subject's and the dreamer's subconscious wants.

So I was able to get really involved in Inception. When they get on the plane, my heart was pounding. When they landed on the first level (in the pouring rain) I almost died from nervousness. And when Cobbs finally sees his kids, my eyes were wet. It was just so right.

On a side note, I'd be very appreciative if anybody could shed light on Arthur's role. Is he really just a dumbass like Eames (the forger dude) makes him out to be, or is there some sechel behind his sharp suits and formal, know-it-all talk?

21 comments:

  1. I never said we're lost. I said there is a mutual loss.

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  2. I only saw the first 10 minutes or so, I guess I should see the other 138 now.

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  3. Arthur was just good at what he does, despite the lack of avocation. He was crucial as a team member. Remember, they needed someone to remain awake in each level in order to coordinate the kicks.

    Here's where I found it hard to suspend disbelief in the movie. If these extractors keep making appearances in the dreams and sub-dreams of Robert Fischer, how does he have no waking recollection of their faces? I know that we can quickly forget dreams after waking up, particularly from a deep sleep. But come one, Fischer woke up immediately to find himself sitting next to the whole cast of characters from his dream. (I don't recall if they were face-masked or not on level 1.)

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  4. That's Aurthur's job description, but what does he add to the story? What does his oafishness add?

    Aha! I thought of that. Fisher assumed he dreamed about these people because he saw them right before falling asleep. The problem is that if he had had anti-extraction training earlier, he wouldn't accept that and would be suspicious.

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  5. Yeah, especially because his supposed trainer at the second level is sitting there with him in the plane. But the chochma of the dream within a dream is that at that level, ideas can already be implanted. That's why Cobbs, who presumably looks nothing like the real-live person who gave Fischer the training, was so easily able to convince Fischer that he was the trainer, even identifying himself by the trainer's name. I'm bothered more by the first level, which would seem more typical for people to remember details.

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  6. I would think that when he woke up he'd only remember the last level. So he wouldn't recognize the faces of the people left on the earlier levels.

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  7. Oh no, you're right. The attacks began as soon as he was kidnapped at level one. He was subconsciously aware of his kidnappers there and should have remembered the faces.

    Uly yesh lomar because he was coming up from the depth of level 4/limbo so quickly, with the simultaneous kicks, that he forgot the dreaming in level 1.

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  8. right. When you wake up, you only remember the end of the dream. The end of the dream is in the bottom level and in the earlier levels for a split second.

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  9. My shitah is that you are so deep in the bottom levels, l'matah m'taam v'daas, that it is impossible to remember any details there - except that ideas penetrates one's subconscious thinking. Only the first level can/should be remembered.

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  10. BD"A, when you wake up from the top level. But when you haven't been in the top level since the beginning of the dream, even the top you don't remember.

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  11. That's what I'm saying somewhere up above.

    Anyhow, I want to correct where I said l'matah m'taam v'daas to l'maalah. Now that I think about it, I distinctly remember some maamar somewhere expounding on how dreams allow one to see nimna ha'nimnaus, including an elephant crawling through the eye of a needle. Or something like that.

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  12. Ta'am v'da'as it's not. I don't see any distinction between higher and lower than ta'am v'da'as.

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  13. Correct you are, Nemo, I distinctly remember learning that as well. It's a moshol for golus.

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  14. I assume you all knowJanuary 12, 2011 at 11:06 PM

    the original quote about the elephant and the needles is in the Talmud.

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  15. hmm. missed a post, eh?

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  16. do you subscribe in reader?

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  17. You will be pleased to learn of this site. it contains all these sort of things that make movies unbelievable, but are done to make it possible...(includes snark in an unsightly abundance)

    http://tvtropes.org

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  18. I read about that site in Wired.

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  19. oh, I had learnt of it on 3/17, however I am unsure of where.

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Forth shall ye all hold.