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Inception: Keeping it Simple

A blog title called Inception: Keeping it Simple, might sound like an oxymoron given the incredible complexity of Christopher Nolan's masterpiece science fiction thriller. This is a film whose USP is a heist movie set in someone's mind. Yet, aside from the occasional critic of the film, most people were able to clearly understand what was happening in this film. Christopher Nolan had so much respect for his audience that he knew we would follow along, despite the complexity of the film's plotting.

One of the ways he achieved this continued engagement with the audience, was due to the fact that he knew when to pick his battles. He knew when to explain things, and when to leave things to the audience. He knew when it was too much and when to leave things be.

One aspect of the film where this is evident is in the explanation of how the dreaming hacking technology works. Rather, I should say, the lack of explanation. Aside from showing an expensive metallic briefcase, a drip like substance being hooked up to the subject's arm and a big red button of sorts, there's nothing else to go on here. And that's perfect.

Another filmmaker would feel the need to explain how this dreamscape technology functions, to the point where they would most likely create so many rules in the world that the dream would collapse (see what I did there?). An explanation of how the chemicals in the case affect your mind, how the architects in the film are able to build dreams (do they have a computer programme?) and so on, would overcomplicate the film and, worse again, create rules that would begin to contradict each other eventually.

I noticed this with A Quiet Place, a film that goes into great detail to show how the characters go about their lives living in total silence. The problem with the film though is that the rules of the world as so precise, that they must be broken from time to time to allow anything of interest to happen. There is a scene where characters play Monopoly on the carpet so that the dice don't make any noise. In a previous scene, however, a child is seen playing in an abandoned truck and miraculously emerging from the truck without making a single sound. Some of the rules make sense, but they are so precise that it raises questions that pull you out of the world.

Back to Inception, this is a film that should constantly pull you out of the world due to the bizarre complexity of everything that is taking place. However, because they never really get into the nuts and bolts of how the technology functions, and only provide the audience with the bare essentials for what characters can and cannot do, there are few if any opportunities to criticise the plausibility or fidelity of the world.

Knowing when to go all in with the unpacking and explaining of seemingly important details in the story is half the battle to getting audiences to accept what you are selling them. If you over-explain, you run the risk of unraveling everything, like a bad liar who feels the need to go into too much detail to convince someone of what they are saying. If you under-explain it, you also run the risk of people not understanding at all. It's a fine balance that even the best films trip up on. Take a page out of Nolan's book and give the audience only what they need - they'll accept the rest on the basis that it's clearly not that important.


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