Epistemology, Dreaming, Inception

Chistopher Nolan’s imaginative and visually stunning thriller Inception is looking more and more like the hit film of the summer, if not the year. I won’t write here about the nature of the film as danielwilson’s post already does that. Instead, I’ll be concentrating on the ways in which the movie draws on epistemological problems first raised by Descartes.  (Guaranteed spoiler-free!)

Unusually for a commercially successful movie, Inception raises a number of engaging (if well-worn) questions. Indeed, publishers have been quick to see the appeal of the film for philosophers and their students, with open calls for abstracts issued by both Open Court and Blackwell within just a few days of each other.

The central question raised by the film is familiar from a number of sci-fi films, most reminiscently evoking the epistemological conundrums of The Matrix. How does one know when one is dreaming? Pinch me?

Cinematic Narration and Inception

If you haven’t seen Inception, the latest movie spectacle written, produced and directed by Christopher Nolan, then find the largest cinema screen that you can, book your ticket, and read this blog entry after you’ve watched it because I’d hate to spoil the plot. If you’re still reading I’ll assume you’ve seen this visual extravaganza that tells the story of a team of individuals who are enlisted to plant an idea in the mind of the heir to a gargantuan business empire. The film tracks the team as they collectively make their way through different layers of the sub-conscious, battling various sub-conscious defense mechanisms, and adapting to radical changes in physical laws amongst other conditions that also helpfully make room for some stunning visual effects.

In Inception the plot is split amongst several layers of the subconscious and the deeper the characters go into the subconscious the quicker the experience of time. For example five minutes of real-time asleep may be experienced in a subconscious state as an hour of elapsed time. In our own cinema experience we are in the theatre for a couple of hours and yet somehow we can track days, months, and even years of narrative time (and in the case of Inception we can even track nested temporal orders). Just how we accomplish this is one question in the philosophy of film. Continue reading “Cinematic Narration and Inception”