You see things; and you say, ‘Why?’ But I dream things that never were; and I say, ‘Why not?’
George Bernard Shaw
I adore ‘reality films’ (such as Dark City, Groundhog Day, Bladerunner, The Matrix etc.) So when Christopher Nolan’s Inception came out, I was psyched.
I was in a coma for 5 months and my dream life was my reality. My book You Never Know: A Memoir uses many of the dreams as a theme and I was very interested to see how dream-life manifested in this film. Nolan’s take on Batman (The Dark Knight) was innovative – marvelous. He set the bar high.
Not bound by the laws of physics, the subconscious is a fertile landscape where anything is possible. My own experience where I lived a life of warped dimensions makes me a biased expert.
Inception takes dreaming to a whole other level and it had very little to do with my own occurrence but of course, there were commonalities: “In a world where technology exists to enter the human mind through dream invasion, a single idea within one’s mind can be the most dangerous weapon or the most valuable asset.” (IMDB) My cup of tea for sure.
My 5-month coma was filled with a lush landscape of hyper-colourful dreams in distorted dimensions. This was my life. In my book You Never Know: A Memoir I let my dreams speak about alternate realities: I had brain surgery in a thick green forest, the intensive care unit turned into a rustic country cabin with hospital beds, there was a thin, dark canal just outside etc. In my book Who Knew? I say that I still might be in a coma.
I also say; “People wonder what it is like to lose time. Essentially time froze for me; I was in suspended animation.
In the uber-cheesy film Mammoth, this discussion takes place:
Agent Powers: [Your grandfather is] frozen; all of his vitals are normal, a kind of suspended animation.
Jack Abernathy: Well, The Empire Strikes Back was always his favorite movie! [referring to Han Solo being frozen in said film].
Think about when you are asleep—time becomes meaningless. It is only when we are conscious that we realize that time has passed. The Leonardo DiCaprio character, ‘Cobb,’ in Inception basically says the same thing. It was validating for me to hear this articulated on screen.
My friends and family were worried that I might have Locked-In Syndrome; they thought that maybe I could not indicate that I was aware. I have no recollection of anyone or anything. I was in my own capsule of reality, with just vivid dreams, most of which were set in nature, like forests and beaches. There was a narrow lake and a country cabin that substituted for a hospital.
Now this is going to flip out people around me because I have never mentioned it before now. I do not know if I am still in a coma. In You Never Know, I say I expect to wake up in an institution. I mean it. I choose to believe this is reality, but I am open to the possibility that it might not be. One might wonder how it is possible to live with uncertainty. Look, my worldview is far from the norm anyway. My ideas of reality are strange and bizarre to most people.
In Inception, Mal, (played by Marion Cotillard) questions her reality which leads to an extreme reaction. I don’t care if mine is real or not. In the film, I think that the reactions the various characters have to the dream-world speaks volumes. I personally think that attaching oneself to the apparent ‘real’ is doomed.
In Again, I described that quantum physics is considered weird, but I ascribe to these theories. Like “faith,” much of my reality is not based in proof or facts. I do not feel confused or disassociated in any way from my surroundings. Because my life has always been spectacular, the reality of my present almost unreal, circumstances do not faze me one bit.
I was watching the American television series Life on Mars, in which essentially a cop is hit by a car in 2008 and wakes up in 1973. He often says that he thinks he is in a coma. Reality—what a concept.” (pp. 38, 58)
While now my reality is fairly conventional and obeys physical laws it is, as always, fantastical. In You Never Know: A Memoir I say; “I sometimes expect to wake up in a medical institution. Like in that Buffy episode, I do at times think that I am in an institution somewhere and I am dreaming all of this.
In The X-Files they say, “Dreams are answers to questions we haven’t yet figured out how to ask.” At times, all of this really does feel like a dream. The reality of having survived brain surgery and a lengthy coma is truly full of meaning to me. The resulting hardships seem benign in comparison.” (p. 128)
Inception might be a ‘mashup’ of other films (Live For Films’ review) but the emphasis on alternate realities works my buzz. The person I went to the film with said that the layers of various styles made the film dream-like. Interesting. It was Bournesque with dashes of Bond and of course The Matrix.
I like that an action-thriller explored alternate realities. You just don’t see that. In my opinion Nolan did a good job. I mean, if you’re going to borrow themes from other films this one does it credibly.
I appreciated the idea of a constructed world vis a vis an actual architect. As usual Ellen Page is wonderful here.
The uncertainty if the world is real is very familiar to me.
Bladerunner. Dir. Ridley Scott. The Ladd Company. 1983.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the television series. Creator: Joss Whedon. 20th Century Fox Television.
Dark City. Dir. Alex Proyas. Mystery Clock Cinema. 1998 (USA).
Groundhog Day. Dir. Harold Ramis. Columbia Pictures Corporation. 1993.
Inception. Dir. Christopher Nolan. Warner Bros. Pictures. 2010.
Life on Mars, the television series. Creators: Mathew Graham, Tony Jordan, and Ashley Pharoah. Kudos Film and Television. 2008–present.
Live For Films “Inception: Review – A disappointing mix of many other films.” Accessed July 19, 2010.
Mammoth. Dir. Tim Cox. Castel Film Romania. 2006.
Shiller, Romy. Again. Victoria, BC: Trafford. 2009.
——————-. Who Knew? Victoria, BC: Trafford. 2010.
——————-. You Never Know: A Memoir. Victoria, BC: Trafford. 2008.
The Matrix. Dirs. Andy Wachowski, Larry Wachowski. Perfs. Keanu . Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, Carrie-Anne Moss, Hugo Weaving. Groucho II Film Partnership1999.
The Dark Knight. Dir. Christopher Nolan Christopher Nolan. Warner Bros. Pictures. 2008.
The Empire Strikes Back. Dir. Irvin Kershner. Lucasfilm. 1980.
The Internet Movie Database.
Thinkexist.com. Accessed July 15, 2010.
The X-Files, the television series. Creator: Chris Carter. 20th Century Fox Television. September 10, 1993 – May 19, 2002.
Romy Shiller is a pop culture critic and holds a PhD in Drama from the University of Toronto. Her academic areas of concentration include film, gender performance, camp and critical thought. She lives in Montreal where she continues her writing. All books are available online.
Romy Shiller is a 3rd Wave Feminist according to the book Third Wave Feminism and Television: Jane Puts it in a Box by the head of women's studies at South-Carolina U.