Thursday, July 29, 2010

If You Liked Inception...

If you didn't know by now, Inception is the most epic film in existence that everyone is talking about, with the ending that people will furiously debate until the end of time. And it will make your head explode.

It's also responsible for a new spate of 'ironic' reality questioning; much like how The Matrix gave us "or are we really in the matrix?", etc. Thanks to Inception we now also have "or are we really dreaming?" (and derivatives there of).

But I digress. Don't get me wrong, I wasn't being entirely sarcastic up there. It really is an amazing film, and no doubt has already earned its place in cinematic history.

As the title suggests, this blog is intended to suggest films, TV and books that go along similar lines or have similar elements to Inception. And hopefully, these will be things you'll be interested in watching or reading. (Assuming you haven't already).

This is by no means a comprehensive list. It's just a few I thought of. Feel free to suggest your own in the comments.

Now, I should forewarn - while I'm not going to explain the plot of Inception, there will be spoilers. The same goes for the other films and books I'll be suggesting. Consider this fair warning.

And besides, if you don't know what's going on in the film by now, you clearly need to go see it again!

Ocean's 11 (et al.)

I can't say I know or have seen many heist movies. The ones that immediately come to mind though are the Ocean's films. And I suppose there is similarity, in that they and Inception both involve convoluted plans required to pull of the heists/inception. But as I say, I haven't seen them. But they seem like they'd be worth a look. I certainly intend to see them at some point.

The World is Not Enough

What I do know a little about is Bond films. And while there's little to compare to, I thought I'd bring up a part of this one.

One of R's inventions in this film is a pair of glasses that create an immersive simulated reality, used for agent training. The reason I bring this up is because the dream-share technology in Inception was originally designed for military training. (I know, it's a weak comparison.)

As for the movie as a whole, its quality is a little dubious at best - as with most of Brosnan's Bond films. And it features possibly the worse line of dialogue in cinematic history: having saved the day, Bond now gets to screw the girl - Doctor Christmas Jones (played by Denise Richards). The line is "I thought Christmas only comes once a year". If you're not cringing right now, you have no soul. Or didn't get it.

But like Joel Schumacher's Batman films, is just a bit of fun, so long as you don't take it too seriously. Daniel Craig's Bond films on the other hand..!

Philip K. Dick

So setting aside reality, here's where things get more interesting. Philip K. Dick, aka the Hollywood Sci-fi gold-mine, is the man behind Minority Report, Total Recall (based on "We Can Remember It For You Wholesale"), A Scanner Darkly, Paycheck, the upcoming Adjustment Bureau and of course Blade Runner (based on the book "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?"). There may be others.

But the one in particular - the book I'd like to mention is UBIK. At it's highest level of reality, UBIK portrays a world where 'Telepaths' can be hired to read minds (and obviously steal thoughts and ideas). There are also 'Anti-Telepaths" who can be hired to block telepaths - kinda like how Cobb offers to teach Saito to protect himself from dream thieves.

But that's not even the main point of the story. As the story progresses, the nature of reality or what is and isn't reality, gets much more perverse. It's a little complicated to explain without just reciting Wikipedia's summary. But the book is definitely worth a read. And fingers crossed someone gets around to adapting it to film.

While I'm at it, I'd also like to mention Man In The High Castle. Not so much for it being comparable to Inception, but simply because it's worth mentioning. Man in the High castle imagines a world in which the Nazi's won the Second World War. Now you're probably thinking the idea isn't that unique. But where this story gets particularly twisted is where one of the characters is writing a book where he imagines a world where the Nazis LOST the Second World War. And it's also worth pointing out that this world he imagines is different from our own.

But really, any of his book are worth reading. The films, you'll get varying mileage with. But still worth considering.

Doctor Who

Doctor Who is fantastic. That is all.

Okay, I can't profess to knowing a lot about the old series (beyond a few episodes). Maybe someone can help me out there? But I do know the revival series. And while some of the episodes are duds, overall, if you haven't watched it you really should.

If you are a fan, you probably know where I'm going with this - Amy's Choice.

One of my favourite episodes of the latest series, and perhaps even of the revival. In this story, The Doctor and co. find themselves jumping between two possible realities. The villain - The Dream Lord (played magnificently by Toby Jones) - offers them the following gambit: one of the worlds is real, one is a dream. In each world is a deadly danger. If you die in the dream world, you wake up safe and sound. If you die in the real world, you're dead. Which is real?

So as it turns out, both 'realities' were really dreams, which may seem like a bit of a cop-out, but that wasn't entirely the point of the episode. Watch it. You'll see what I mean. I promise it'll be worth your while.

Another pair of episodes worth mentioning are Silence in the Library and Forest of the Dead (written by God among men, Steven Moffat). In particular, these episodes involves a simulated reality, created to keep a little girl's mind alive. And when a major catastrophe happen in the library it resides within, instead of all the visitor are 'saved' by being taken into the simulated world. The people within this world aren't aware their world is simulated, and some of the inhabitants are in fact projections (the children in particular).

Again, that's not the whole story, and it really should be watched.

Michael Gondry and Charlie Kaufman

Between them, they've created some of the most magnificently insane films you will ever see.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind - Following a particularly painful break-up, Jim Carey and Kate Winslet decide they want to erase all memory of each other (though each doesn't know the other is doing the same). The film overall is fantastic, if a little confusing in places. But what we get to see, in relation to Inception, is inside Carey's dream as he tries to hold on to his memories of Kate - by hiding her within other memories (not meant to be erased by the process). It's hard to explain. Just watch it.

Science of Sleep - Don't be put off by the subtitles. It's quirky, it's romantic and it's bizarre as hell. What's not to love? What you also get are occasional cut-scenes where the protagonist explains 'the science of sleep', in his own quirky way. It's really best watched, rather than me trying to summarise it. [I'm not just too lazy to explain. Honest.]

Being John Malkovich - is batshit insane. That is all.

Chris Nolan

The man himself. Really, any and all of his films are worth watching. Between the writing, the cinematography, whatever. It's all fantastic. You should definitely watch them.

The one in particular I'd like to point out though is Memento. The protagonist suffers antereograde amnesia, meaning his short term memory can only hold the previous 3 minutes. The film, then, basically runs backwards, starting at the end, and ending with a twist beginning. Once you realise what's going on (in terms of the plot running backwards), it really is amazing.

The Matrix

Much as I hate these knee-jerk comparisons - and even more so the claims that Inception is a rip-off - I do have to mention The Matrix. Surely everyone's seen it by now?

Basically, it turns out the world the characters 'live' in is really a simulation, and humans are really just batteries in the real world - a robot ruled dystopia (or something like that). Neo, "the chosen one", having seen the true world must now fight some sort of battle for some reason to save the other rebels who have also seen the true world.

The interesting comparison, besides the obvious interacting in a simulated reality (which can also be manipulated), are the agents. The agents act as a sort of anti-virus software within the dream who take human form and seem to have minds of their own. Also, they're complete and utter bastards. Their job is to kill the rebels - if you die in the simulated reality, you die in real life; contrary to the rules of Inception. The parallel then is to the anthropomorphic defences within the Fischer's mind, who are also determined to kill the intruders.

But despite my derogatory remarks, it is worth watching - if only because it's considered "culturally significant". The sequels I haven't seen. Most reviews say they're crap, but obviously I can't judge.

Okay, while we're on The Matrix, I would also like to bring up a book - Illusion, by Richard Bach (more known for writing John Livingston Seagull). Illusions centres on an unlikely 'messiah' (Don) and the protagonist (Richard), his self-appointed apprentice.

What Don tries to teach Richard is that the world is really just an illusion, and performing miracles is just a matter of being fully aware of the illusion and learning to manipulate it - such that you can walk on water, walk through walls, think things into existence or make them disappear (and so on).

I'll be honest, I think this book is fantastic. Slow start, but the philosophy in it..! Buy it!

Shutter Island

Now, here's an interesting one. In Shutter Island, Leonard DiCaprio plays a cop investigating an impossible escape on an island-based lunatic asylum. But here's the interesting part - while on the island, Leo has to fight within his own mind to try to distinguish reality from fantasy, all the while being haunted by visions of his dead wife. I know, right?

Okay, I'm not suggesting either ripped off the other. The two films are actually very different. Just thought I'd point that out.

The Prisoner (Remake)

Hated by almost everyone who held the original series too dear to judge this mini-series on its own merit, the remake ended up getting far less respect than it deserved. Outwardly, the premise is the same – protagonist, Number Six, quits important job, suddenly wakes up to find he's a prisoner in 'the village'. He's constantly trying to escape and the main antagonist, Number Two, is constantly thwarting him.

But realistically, the remake is, in fact, more of a re-imagining. This becomes abundantly clear when you get to the big reveal ending. It this version, the village in fact doesn't exist in the real work. What it is, is a higher state of consciousness - held inside the mind of one 'dreamer' - into which the villagers are brought. But while the shared consciousness in Inception was used for the redistribution of information and ideas, The Prisoner uses this world as a sort of rehabilitation centre - Six having been brought in to eventually be broken and to take over for Two, being a kinder sort of leader than the devious and malicious Ian McKellen.

Regardless of how you felt about the original series, this really should be seen as something distinct. And while it is a bit slow to start and very baffling in places, it deserves at least a chance.

Nightmare on Elm Street.

As far as I can tell, in these films dreams can be shared. Okay, you probably already know the story - Freddy Krueger was killed by these parents, so now as some sort of un-dead being, he takes revenge by attacking their children in their dreams. Or something like that. Okay, I haven't seen it.

Anyway, the major way this differs from Inception is that any injuries inflicted in a dream is translated into the real world - and that includes death! Other than that it's a fairly bog-standard horror film, but still worth seeing by virtue of the fact it's a classic. And I don't know, maybe it (or its remake, or its sequels) are good. You'll have to ask someone who knows.

2001: A Space Odyssey

The final part. What the fuck is going on there!?

Explanations in the comments, please. Best I can tell... I.. I don't even know. It's like a weird dream or hallucination or something, well outside the bounds of reality. And did I mention it's completely inex-fucking-splicable. Magnificent, marvellous piece of cinema though! The whole film is. And Nolan did give it as one of his influences.


The critically acclaimed graphic novel series by geek God, Neil Gaiman. "It chronicles the adventures of 'Dream' of 'The Endless', who rules over the world of dreams" [wiki]. I haven't read it yet. But I swear to God I will!

While we're on Neil, one work I have read is Signal To Noise, which includes Dave Mckean's gorgeous illustrations (see also:  Arkham Asylum). Signal To Noise is the story of an old man, dying from cancer, but who's determined to finish writing his last film – an apocalyptic tale, set in 999AD. Along the way you get general blurring of reality as his condition deteriorates. I know I'm not talking it up much, but trust me, it's amazing.

Oh, and also, Stardust – fantastic. Film and book.


Okay, I'm starting to run out of steam here. So to finish off, here is a list of films and books where reality is distorted; whether by drugs or madness or just in general weirdness (all of which I would recommend):

The Machinist
Truman Show
Requiem for a Dream
Trainspotting (Irving Walsh)
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (Hunter S. Thomas)
American Psycho (Brett Easton Ellis)
Fight Club (Chuck Palahniuk)
The Wall (Pink Floyd)
The Atrocity Exhibition, by J.G. Ballard
Mobius Dick, By Andrew Crumey
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, by Lewis Carroll
Various works by Edgar Allan Poe

Feel free to suggest more of your own.

Special Mention - Jorge Luis Borges

I haven't read any of his work myself, but I've heard people recommend Borges' work time and time again. Rest assured I will read some of his eventually. And you should too.

The reason I mention him is because Nolan has stated in interview that Inception shares some basic ideas from some of Borges' shorts stories, including in particular The Circular Ruins and The Secret Miracle.

Now I'm not going to try and summarise them, because I'd just be rephrasing the summary from wikipedia. But they certainly look interesting, and if I ever get my hands on copies, I shall add them to my reading pile.

Anyway, that should be enough to be getting on with. There are other works that Nolan himself gives as inspirations and influences, and I'm sure you have your own suggestion. Do share.

And if I've got anything wrong above, feel free to correct me. I, by no means, claim to be 100% accurate.

Anyway, enjoy!



abooth202 said...

Great post, Oatz. I really want to read the Sandman series too, I also need to read Stardust.

I think I agree with most of the list and those things I haven't seen/read sound like I'd be interested. But...I dislike James Bond with a passion so I'll give that one a miss :P

Keep posting, will you? I miss your blogging, I think my myspace profile still has a sticker saying 'only here for Oatzy's blog.' haha.

Oatzy said...

It's mostly a matter of cost with Sandman, unfortunately. And I did have a copy of Stardust, but I lent it to my sister and haven't seen it since.

Not even the Daniel Craig ones? Glad you liked my suggestions, otherwise :]

Ha! Those were the days. So long as I can keep thinking of things to blog, I will do (Y)