Inception (2010)

Similarly, to Memento (2000), Inception (2010) manipulates time and uses complex and integrated storylines to capture the audience’s attention and requires a great deal of participation from viewers to be fully understood. Christopher Nolan uses complexities in this story by allowing the main characters to not only enter the dreams of other characters and manipulate them but also enter the dreams of people already in dreams. At one point in the film, the main characters are in a dream within a dream, within another dream. This alone is a heavily complex facet of the narrative that the viewers must keep up with. The next aspect of the narrative that is manipulated is time. Within each dream, time changes. What would typically be two days in real life may only be ten minutes within a dream. The further into the dreams the more distorted time becomes. Nolan not only uses these two metanarrative techniques in Inception (2010) much like he did in Memento (2000), but he adds another layer to this story. The audience must not only follow this disruptions in time and keep track of the difference between what is a dream and what is reality, but they must also follow the dreams and realities of the main character played by Leonardo DiCaprio. 

Jonny Diaz explains in his article, “Christopher Nolan: Postmodern Master,” that, “The first is the most obvious—Inception’s very narrative structure is a series of nested narratives (or, dreams within dreams) all taking place simultaneously and running at different speeds. To be able to follow the film’s action at all, a viewer needs to be aware of and understand the basic elements of filmmaking. Lee Smith’s masterful editing makes that a fairly simple task, but it rewards the viewer with a sense of accomplishment for solving the logistical puzzle unfolding before their eyes.” The sense of accomplishment that Diaz mentions in reference to the viewers ability to keep up with Inception’s (2010) complexities is one of the biggest reasons why Christopher Nolan’s films are so successful. Not only does he require that the audience be fully engaged in his films, he rewards the audience for their participation. Nolan’s use of metanarrative throughout Inception (2010) is what makes his viewers engage. His advanced use of metanarrative that is hard to follow is what becomes rewarding to viewers. As the audience leaves the movie, Nolan is sure to be the center of conversation for those viewers upon leaving and potentially even weeks after. Viewers can debate the depths of the movie, and argue over what “really” happened. Audiences are more drawn to a movie that requires more from them than just taking in the media. Viewers want to be a part of the media. 

Click the Polaroid to see the trailer for Inception (2010).

A key part of the viewers engagement in the film is to except the narrative being presented to them. So, while confusing and about a world far from the audience’s knowledge, viewers must except the world Inception (2010) provides. Miklos Kiss says in her research paper, “Narrative Metalepsis as Diegetic Concept in Christopher Nolan’s Inception (2010),” that, “Their offering is clear: due to the diegetic world’s, as well as the film’s “problem of underdetermination of information” (Southworth 2012, 35), meaning that neither Cobb, nor the viewer can be sure about what is ‘real’ and what is dream, the best thing we can do is to follow Cobb’s resignation and not gift against but instead accept ambiguity.” Kiss provides a brilliant point by explaining that a key factor in the enjoyment of participating in a film is it being a narrative that is easy to accept ambiguity in. The idea of being able to manipulate one’s dreams and have mind control is so compelling that the viewer does not have much conflict with this narrative. Instead, they accept what they do not know and follow the main characters lead through the film. 

Another aspect of this film’s success, once again mirrors some of the same techniques used in Memento (2000). The entire plot of Inception (2010) is centered around the idea of planting subliminal messages into people’s mind through their dreams. In Memento (2000) a majority of the success of the film came from how the audience took in the media and reflected it upon themselves. In Inception (2010) the same would be true and the audience should be receiving their own subliminal messages throughout the film. Metanarrative films are not only about the experiences of the characters within the movie but of the people experiencing the film.  Drew Winchur discusses the messages he felt were present throughout the film in his article, “Ideology in Christopher Nolan’s Inception.” What is so interesting about the ideology Winchur presents is that it may not ring true for every viewer of the film. Because movies like Inception (2010) are an experience for the audience, every viewer takes in the media differently making it personalized. There is no one conclusion to form from a movie like Inception (2010) or Memento (2000). This aids in the success of these films because the viewer not only gets to become engaged in the film but gets to have their own experience.

Click the Polaroid to see Christopher Nolan discuss some of the facets of Inception (2010).

Inception (2010) proves to be another excellent example of metanarrative techniques enhancing audience engagement and fostering a successful film. Nolan’s use of manipulated timelines and complex narrative layering rewards audiences and leaves them wanting more movies that challenge them and give them a personalized experience. Movies like Memento (2000) and Inception (2010) integrated metanarrative in such an advanced way that success in these films was imminent. 

Click the Polaroid for Serial (2014) to take a deeper look into the podcast’s metanarrative qualities.

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