Monday, May 16, 2011

Blog #48 - Interpretations of Inception

I am glad that we watched Inception together as a class because our discussions afterwards confirmed my initial feelings about the movie when I saw it last summer - that this was a movie that could be like The Matrix and be both entertaining and work on several different levels of philosophical interpretation. I'm going to toss out a bunch of questions for you to consider, and please pick two to answer before Tuesday's class.

Questions to choose from (pick two):

1. Near the end, Mal (or her projection) in limbo makes a pretty good case that Cobb is lost in his own dream and can't tell one reality from another. Do you think that this is a plausible alternative?  Why or why not? 

2. This blog from outlines six different interpretations of the film (and also five plot holes - see next question). Read it for more details on each of the six interpretations, but I'll just list each of them below. We have talked about some of them in class.

** If you decide to tackle more than one interpretation of Inception, this will count as your two questions.

a. All of Inception is a dream - are we ever really shown reality? Whose dream is it, anyway?

b. Everything after the test sedation is a dream - after Yusuf's chemical test, do we see Cobb spin his totem and see it fall properly?

c. Saito is the architect and pulls a Mr. Charles gambit on Cobb - instead of a job audition like Saito said, maybe Saito is trying to extract something from Cobb?

d. Ariadne is Cobb's therapist trying to help him get over Mal's death - This is an interesting and plausible take on the movie - found here

e. We do see reality in the movie (first train ride in Japan, Paris, Mombasa), but Cobb is in a dream at the end - could this explain why the totem never falls at the end of the movie? This interpretation apparently hinges on the idea that the children don't appear to have aged. Plus, we don't see how Saito and Cobb get out of limbo.

f. What we see is what we get - that we are presented with a reality at the beginning of the movie (train ride in Japan) and that Cobb is back in the U.S. at the end of the movie.

3. What do you think were the movie's biggest plot holes? We had discussed a few, and I wasn't satisfied with a couple of the answers - which sounded like filmmakers' excuses instead of decent rationales. Provide one or two examples (you might want to read the blog link mentioned at the beginning of question #2 to help you out if you forgot) and explain how these holes do or don't affect the movie.

4. Evil genius theory - we had discussed this in class and it didn't get much traction, but I wonder if it's possible to show that either Saito, Mal or Cobb could be the evil genius manipulating everything we're seeing. Or could it be the film maker Christopher Nolan?

5. Is Inception really just an extended metaphor for films? In a previous blog from last semester, I posted a link from Wired, and I traced it back to its source, so I'll quote the author's take on Nolan's film:
"The film is a metaphor for the way that Nolan as a director works, and what he’s ultimately saying is that the catharsis found in a dream is as real as the catharsis found in a movie is as real as the catharsis found in life. Inception is about making movies, and cinema is the shared dream that truly interests the director."

Here's a link to the whole post:

My question is, do you buy this interpretation of the movie? Why or why not? What kind of implication does it have for us as film watchers - this shared "dream space" of watching a movie together? Did Christopher Nolan just perform inception on all of us because it's now an idea, like a parasite that won't go away? :)

6. Comparing the dream/reality rules in Inception and (if you've seen) The Matrix, why do you think they're vastly different? How does Descartes' dualistic theory about the mind and body being separated work for one movie but not the other?

7. When Saito asks Cobb to take a leap of faith, he's asking Cobb to believe in him and Saito's ability to fix Cobb's problems. In some ways, Saito almost acts like a deity in this movie because through him, almost everything is engineered to work. He is the Prime Mover or causal agent - Cobb and his team are sent on their mission because they failed to extract vital info from Saito for Cobol Engineering. They are tasked to help destroy Saito's biggest competitor (Fischer), and when it's all said and done, Saito returns from limbo after many many years (remember, Mal and Cobb didn't look like they had aged when the train ran them over after just 50 yrs together, but Saito was wrinkled and withered) and supposedly sweeps away Cobb's murder warrant. What is Saito, really? Is he just a very powerful man or is he something else? Why?

8. Those of you with AP Psych experience, help us out on some of the brain / dream logistics. The way that they explain the dream rules in the movie sound plausible, but what is realistic w/ regards to dreams? Shared dream space isn't possible, is it? Any other psych insights would be greatly appreciated here.

9. Arthur mentioned it briefly on how the technology for the shared dreaming was created - by the military so that soldiers could fight/kill each other without truly maiming themselves in reality. Plus, the character played by Michael Caine, Mal's father, seems to have been the one who taught Cobb how to do what he could do. In many ways, I sense the hints of a "prequel," not a sequel for this movie. Unlike the Matrix (which probably should have been left alone instead of having 2 sequels), it might be interesting to explore how the technology for this type of thing was developed and most likely stolen. If it takes 10 years in between movies like it did with Toy Story or Tron, then so be it. What kinds of possibilities do you see in a prequel or, even if you don't agree with me, a sequel?

Some additional points and counterpoints to theories in the movie -

Blog #48 will be due Tuesday, 5/17. 150 words for each answer, 300 words total.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Blog #47 - Science and Religion - Incompatible or Two Sides of the Same Coin?

I don't like making either / or arguments nor posing them so I will try to leave some wiggle room in the blog, but as we read through the cautionary tales of the scientists of the Renaissance, it makes one wonder (from a 21st Century perspective), what all the fuss was about.  Just because science discovered new things did NOT mean that religion was less relavant to peoples' lives, but the Catholic Church perceived it that way, and in many ways, evolution today is that old battle in a new disguise. 

Let's see what had happened to some of the Renaissance thinkers and scientists:

A statue stands at Campo de Fiori in Rome where
Bruno was burned at the stake in 1600. 
 1. Giordano Bruno - (1548-1600) - he was an Italian friar and mathematician / astronomer who proposed that our Sun was not only at the center of our solar system (building on the work of Nicolas Copernicus) but that it was a star and that the universe was infinite.  He also developed an amazing memory based upon mnemonics (word games used to remember things - HOMES for the names of the Great Lakes), but his opponents thought he used magical powers to enhance his memory.   During his lifetime, he alienated and offended the clergy and prevailing scientists wherever he went by challenging Aristotelian science and many aspects of the Catholic religion including:
  • Holding opinions contrary to the Catholic Faith and speaking against it and its ministers.
  • Holding erroneous opinions about the Trinity, about Christ's divinity and Incarnation.
  • Holding erroneous opinions about Christ.
  • Holding erroneous opinions about Transubstantiation and Mass.
  • Claiming the existence of a plurality of worlds and their eternity.
  • Believing in metempsychosis and in the transmigration of the human soul into brutes.
  • Dealing in magics and divination.
  • Denying the Virginity of Mary (
The Vatican and other historians debate whether Bruno was killed b/c of his scientific beliefs or his contrary beliefs in the Catholic Church.  Looking at the list above, it's safe to say that he questioned just about everything that was divine within the religion (if these charges are true). 

2. Galileo - In 1610, the famous Italian astronomer published one of his more famous books, The Starry Messenger, in which he described some of his new-found discoveries using an improved telescope.  He found mountains on the Moon, four moons of Jupiter, possibly nebulae, the phases of Venus, and the potential existence of sunspots.  All of this, again like Bruno, contradicted prevailing Church and scientific beliefs (especially the idea of a permanent, unchanging perfect universe made by God).   Galileo's sarcastic and very blunt style of destroying his enemies through his writing did not do him any favors, and in fact probably created more enemies or prevented people from defending him. 
  - By 1615, a whispering campaign had become a shout, and Galileo was summoned before the Roman Inquisition to defend himself and his beliefs.  The cardinal who heard the case, Robert Bellarmine, was willing to settle for accepting Copernicus' heliocentric universe as theory but not as a physical fact, in a compromise to save Galileo.  Early in 1616, the Pope and the Inquisition Board found the Copernican system to be heretical "prohibiting, condemning, or suspending various books which advocated the truth of the Copernican system" (  Galileo agreed to the terms b/c he wanted to live and continue to find evidence to support his beliefs and his own personal works would not be banned. 
 - In 1632, new pope Urban VIII asked Galileo to publish a book discussing the heliocentric and geocentric systems but not to advocate for the heliocentric one.  Galileo structured the book as a dialogue between three scientists, one for the Copernican system, one for the Aristotelian system and one who is impartial.  The geocentric / Aristotelian scientist sounded like a dunce while the Copernican scientist scored points after points on the geocentric system.  Galileo could have eased up in his argument, but he buried the geocentric system it - see animation link here and the problem with Mars' orbit -  Pope Urban banned the sale of Dialogue b/c he felt that he had been portrayed as Simplico, the Aristotelian scientist, though Galileo may not have meant it that way since he and the Pope were supposed to have been friends.  It's a possibility that Urban was also under fire for not going after heretics enough to the Spanish cardinals' liking, and by allowing the publication of Dialogue w/o rebuke, the Pope may have compromised himself. 

In his trial in 1633, Galileo was found guilty of having promoted the Copernican system and was sentenced to house arrest for the rest of his life.  Also, none of his book, past or future, would be published for the time being.  Three theologians sat in judgement of him, not scientists. 

Your job:  you can use modern day examples, but explain why you think that science and religion either are or are not compatible with each other

Minimum 250 words.  Extended due date to Tuesday, May 10.

Sorry about the delay.  This wikipedia link examines science and its compatibility with several religions.