Saturday, July 24, 2010

My interpretation of the Inception ending

I don’t think that I’m going too far in saying that Christopher Nolan’s last two films were very heavy on themes of philosophy. In fact I can say that this is actually a flaw in the Dark Knight as he spent so long trying to dial up the difference in Harvey Dent’s carnation of Kantian rationality with Bruce Wayne’s Hegelian reasoning that the film ran twenty-five minutes too long and knocked it out of Oscar contention. I think that Heath Legder’s Joker, not unlike his best supporting actor predecessor (Bardem’s Anton Chiggur); act as a point of reference for amorality, which actually earns some minimal sympathy from the audience as both the Coen’s and Nolan illustrate the difference between amorality and immorality. But the Dark Knight’s best moments come not during Nolan’s explorations of moral philosophy, but the sweeping panoramas, the tensions (particularly the game theory exercise on the two boats), and the great performances by everyone not named Christian Bale. Furthermore it was a technical masterpiece that won several technical Oscars while being shut out of the marquee nominations.

Inception is only somewhat different. Instead of an action movie with themes of philosophy, it is an all-out exploration of postmodern philosophy with some great action scenes. And I think Nolan even one-upped himself making a film even more technically breathtaking with this one. Analytically, despite several smaller themes throughout the 148 minutes, the over-arching theme, to me, is that of blurring the line between perception and reality. Cobb’s sub-conscious projection of Mal, a character who appears in almost every dream, is obviously not real in the sense that she is a living breathing organic organism, but she is “real” in the sense that she is involved in almost every plot turn, and more pertinent to this discussion, she is real in the sense that Cobb treats her as if she exists. He makes decisions based on how they will affect the not-so-real Mal.

To take this one step further, real Mal was consumed by the idea that her perception was not reality, so much so that it eventually killed real Mal, only to spawn “real” Mal who has accepted her perception (limbo) as reality and is comfortable with that. I think what Nolan is using “real” Mal to do is show Cobb’s subconscious struggling with his own grasp on reality.

Inception explores this question. Unlike the Matrix, which, based on Beaudrillard’s Simulacra and Simulation, argues that nothing is real and one cannot truly be free until they learn that, Inception merely asks the question “What makes real?” To me, this question comes from the ideas of Juan Luis Borges, which not-so-coincidentally was the primary influence on Beaudrillard’s philosophies. So, instead of coming outright like Lawrence Fishburn’s Morpheus in the Matrix who illustrates that despite perception, your reality is not real, Nolan is asking a simple question: If one perceives reality to be real, does it even matter if it’s not? Or in other words: at what point does perception become reality? See, real Mal questioned reality and paid for that with her life, but in Nolan’s world, she didn’t so much die, as change worlds. In one world she questioned her own perception of reality; in another she had no choice but to accept her perception as real. This theme is the overarching theme of Inception.

This brings me to the ending (or at least my own interpretation). I’m fairly certain Nolan wanted to leave the question as to whether or not the top was still spinning ambiguous. It definitely looks like it’s going but there are several clues that it might not be, in particular sound designer Richard King’s audible clues that it might be slowing down. It should be mentioned that King won one of those aforementioned technical Oscar’s for the Dark Knight for sound design in that film, and could very well win again for Inception. King is obviously a master and it’s not a coincidence that the audience hears SOMETHING happening to that top as the camera cuts swiftly and without mercy to the title card. Nolan wanted us questioning what was happening. However, there was one very conspicuous person unconcerned with the fate of the top and that was Cobb. He spun the top, not unlike he had done several previous times, but unlike those previous times, he walked away not bothering to question his own perception. And this, I believe is the coup-de-grace: IT DOESN’T MATTER. Whether or not that top falls and Cobb is truly home to his same-exact-age-as-the-were-before-he-left children, or if he is in a dream created by Ariadne to believe he’s home is irrelevant. He is home because he perceives he is home. Unlike The Matrix in which perception is merely a figment of someone’s imagination, Nolan is saying that Perception=Reality. What we believe to be real is real not on the merits of its existence, but it is real because of our acceptance of it as “reality.” It’s a question that seems to be asked throughout the film and I think he doesn't use the ambiguity to leave the audience guessing, but instead to illustrate that any conclusions the audience come to are irrelevant as Cobb has accepted this perception as reality.

I get a boner for this type of philosophical exploration and I think this is one of the reasons I find myself thinking about the film more and more as the days go by. Of course I could be way off and trying to inject my own overly-academic mental masturbation into a 160-million-dollar action flick, or I could be onto something. At this point, I think I’m onto something not for any other reason that I perceive things this way, hence—at least in my own deranged consciousness—it is real.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

I'm a mess

Dear Future Matt,

First off, I want to make sure this letter gets to the right person. When I say future Matt, I don’t mean fifty-five-year-old Matt, getting prostate exams and trying to lower my cholesterol Matt. I mean near future Matt. I mean the Matt that will start tonight, and exist forever Matt. Now that that’s out of the way, one more disclaimer: I’m not OK right now. I’m not drunk, I’m not high, I’m slightly delusional, but I’m definitely not “right.” My heart rate is over 120, my mind is doing triple axels around itself as we speak. The last place I should be right now is at a keyboard typing my thoughts, but I’m doing it for posterity. If I don’t have a memoir of the innocence right now, I might forget it as quickly as it disappears tonight. So I might misspell some words, or say something that doesn’t make sense, but I want to have said some things. When I say innocence, what I mean is that a potentially life-changing moment will be occurring in 120 minutes, and yet I don’t know what it will be. In fact, I have no clue as to the degree that I will be affected by it. But as of right now, as far as the fate of my life as a sports fan is concerned, I am innocent.

Which brings me to my point: to anyone who thinks that the admiration of a sports figure to the extent I have engaged in over the past seven years is shallow, or trite, or even foolish, I need you to take a step back and understand some things. For one, about two years ago, I was published for the first time in my academic career. The paper was a thesis on Midwestern regionalism in which I hypothesized that the character of children of the rust belt, particularly those in my generation, have the curse of Cleveland area sports ingrained in them. The narrative of our story, the lifeblood of our character, the common bond in all of our consciousnesses is, unfortunately for all of us, intertwined with the fates of the Cleveland Indians, the Cleveland Browns, and the Cleveland Cavaliers. It’s not something I woke up one day and chose to dedicate massive amounts of time to, it is in my fucking blood. Secondly, this athlete, is not one I merely chose to admire because he was good, or the way he wore his hat, or he batted like me or something. This athlete is someone I first watched playing against my brother when he was fifteen years old. I watched him fucking grow up. Unlike Kobe, or Favre, or Jordan, he was already one of us. We had the same friends, we went to the same mall, we braved the same fucking atrocious winters, and the same disgusting summers. We rode the same roller coasters at Cedar Point, at the same wings at the Winking Lizard, it was like watching a friend or family member “make it.” There is something intimately special about that relationship. He was fighting for us, because he was one of us. And finally, and perhaps most applicable, it should be mentioned that for nine months a year, the equivalence of a school year, I, my friends, and my family have spent our evenings with Lebron James. Not in an intimate setting, and no, he doesn’t know, and obviously doesn’t care for us. But anyone that doesn’t understand the emotions of participating in the roller coaster (first time I’ve ever used the words “roller coaster” in the same paragraph twice) of a professional sports season, can’t really get it. You care, you give, you rejoice, and you cry. And then when it all comes crashing down in the cruelest and most twisted of ways, you shrug your shoulders, say “We’ll get em next year,” and get ready to do it all over again.

Until Now.

This time is different because this time there may not be a next year. This time there may not be a relationship. And that’s why this is so important. There is a decent chance that tonight, he comes on TV with Jim fucking gray, and says “I’m coming home.” If that is the case, then the last two months will merely be another memory to add to the growing banks. Seriously, this “decision” will merely be a slide in the powerpoint presentation. But if he chooses to end the relationship, to go off to some bigger city, then this is the only thing we’ll have. The bitterness of tonight will envelope the shot over Turk, it will eat the 25 in a row, it will destroy the first Wizards series, the triple doubles, the SI covers, the draft, the lottery, the “You see, we’re gonna light up Cleveland like it’s Vegas” promise. It will all be for naught. And that’s really the magnitude here. The memories can live on, or they can explode in our minds on national television. And here we are, innocent as a child, and yet shaking and guessing and hoping and trying to reason with ourselves that tomorrow the sun will rise, and same goes for the day after that, and reminding ourselves that there’s oil in the sea, and there’s lunatics screaming for the president’s head, and this fucking guy isn’t one of us anymore. But in ninety minutes, we’ll know. We’ll no longer be innocent, no longer be left to wonder. It’s either wait til’ next year, or fuck him in the ass.

By the way future Matt, at 4:26 PDT on the day he makes his decision, my guess is “STAYS.”


Fucked up, crazy, wants this all to be over so I can laugh about it Matt.


Lebron is no Curt Flood

I think Lebron has really misjudged the sports landscape. This whole thing, start-to-finish, was more than a ploy to garner attention, to “build his brand,” to do what’s best for him and his family; no, this is too much, this is too heady, even for the most doted-over superstar of the times to think is ok to do. I don’t think that even he thinks that hijacking the sports media and his home city for the sake of his “brand” is morally comprehensible. Nor do I think that Lebron is a selfish maniac who doesn’t understand the havoc he has created. On the contrary, I think he is one of the most self-aware athletes of the time, a child of the post-Jordan, post-ESPN News, post-internet sports landscape. I think what Lebron is trying to do here, is to change the power structure within the world of sports. I also don’t think that this is necessarily a nefarious motive. Not only that, but I also don’t think this is the alpha moment of this plan, but actually the culmination of what he thinks he started several years ago by jettisoning his management team to make way for his own creation.

Several years ago, Lebron came into a power structure that was, let’s face it, somewhat outdated. In the mid-1980s, David Stern, Michael Jordan, David Falk, and Sonny Vaccaro literally changed the way that we view individual athletes. Furthermore, they augmented the limits to what the individual athlete can accomplish. Jordan actually absorbed more of a “bigger-than-the-team” backlash than we would care to remember. Jordan was often criticized for being selfish and losing sight of the concept of “team.” Six rings later, everyone seemed to forget how selfish this immature ball hog was. But what Jordan and Falk couldn’t accomplish in one generation was the structure of how the money and power was distributed. Jordan still answered to Nike, still was somewhat of a politician, unable to fully capitalize on his own brand without the support of the league or Nike. Jordan’s recent purchase of the Charlotte Bobcats speaks to this: he wanted to be the one that not only scored the touchdowns, but also the guy that called the plays.

Enter Lebron. Lebron is not merely a product of the Jordan era, but an honor student. He has studied and remapped everything about the Jordan era to fit this new post-Jordan landscape, and he has, from day 1, been interested in building on Jordan’s legacy. He is the Plato to Jordan’s Socrates, or the Lennon to Jordan’s Elvis. Lebron wants not only to be the guy that shows up on the Wheaties box, not only the iconic silhouette (whether he is flying through the air or throwing up chalk), but he wants to be the guy who makes the cereal, names the shoe, and calls all the shots. Why should he merely be an admittedly extremely-well-paid tool to make other people money, when he can do it himself? I really think this is, and has been, Lebron’s thought process during this whole thing.

Not only that, but he has anticipated this backlash. He thinks of himself as a modern-day Curt Flood, absorbing the brunt of the force so that those who come after him will not have to. Existentially, there is something radically unselfish about those motives. However, paradoxically, his motives are to create a world where selfishness is more acceptable. It’s weird that many in the media, and millions of bloggers and commentators have called him selfish and a glory-hog because they think he is merely doing this for attention. That he is losing sight of his own mortality and trying to become some sort of post-modern media demi-god. I’m sorry, but after watching him for the last ten years, and observing him as one the most self-aware, cold-blooded characters to come to the stage in this media era, I find it hard to believe that he, only now, needs to create some sort of stratospheric “buzz” around his brand. He knows what he’s doing, he’s just wrong.

You see, the landscape that he has perceived as in need of fixing is not broken. I will agree that it is not entirely fair. We still live in a world where NFL Owners make gross profits by limiting guaranteed contracts to the players and exploiting the fans. We still live in a world where baseball players have it in their best interest (often their only interest) to abandon loyalty to teams and cities that reared them for greener pastures elsewhere. And we still live in a world where even the most successful athletes owe answers and money to agencies, management teams, ownership, and sponsors. But Lebron trying to knock down these barriers with one fell swoop, in an attempt to remodernize the power structure of athletics by hijacking the media and the hearts of the millions of northeast Ohioans who have adored him for the better part of the past decade is not only disingenuous, but it is downright mean.

Tonight, when Lebron announces on national television that he is leaving for Miami, he truly believes he is changing the way athletes are seen. He is thinking, why should ESPN, the news-media conglomerates, and a league made up of Donald Sterlings and Clay Bennets get to break this story, sell ad time, and put up the marquee for the biggest news of the summer. Why can’t he? And to some extent, he’s not wrong. But, unfortunately, he has left many Ohioans, most notably myself, sleepless over three days. He has created far more of a shitstorm than he ever could have anticipated in the national media, and he has altogether destroyed his precious “brand.” He set out on a mission to change the sports landscape, and for all intents and purposes he actually may have succeeded. Unfortunately it was at the cost of millions of fans, and years of dedication and admiration. I will now go put the finishing touches on my rooftop launching pad.