(Double Feature is a series of “double length” (400-word) posts where I’ll discuss two related pop culture artifacts)
Inception was a critical and commercial success, a cerebral blockbuster nonetheless filled with action. It’s unique in that it’s successful, high budget film from the last decade that’s based on an original idea. The film has even shifted producer expectations somewhat – it’s hard to imagine films like Pacific Rim or Oblivion being produced five years ago with such large budgets.
But how original is Inception? Many have commented on Christopher Nolan’s film’s similarities to Satoshi Kon’s Paprika, a hallucinatory anime which uses dreams as a stage for a convoluted thriller plot. In Inception, dreams provide a way to steal and – ultimately – implant ideas. In Paprika, the “DC mini” allows for dreams to be entered, recorded and modified: initially for psychiatric purposes, but it isn’t long before the device is used for more nefarious means.
But despite significant similarities – how many films use dreams as the canvas for an action-packed adventure film? – the two films are very, very different, with Inception using dreams as a platform for an intelligent but straightforward action film, while Paprika embraces dream logic wholeheartedly.
Nolan’s film may not be conventional per se, but with its substantial budget it doesn’t want to alienate its audience; the first half of the film is mostly exposition, explaining to Ellen Page’s audience proxy the particulars of dream incursions. Inception has a lot of rules: time travels slower in this layer of the dream! If you die in this particular dream, you’re stuck in limbo forever! If you’re falling in one layer of a dream, it’ll wake you up in the layers below! These rules keep Inception interesting and reward rewatching: there’s a lot of intricacies to puzzle out, even if the rules aren’t entirely consistent.
Inception uses dreams as a jumping-off point: it’s really a film about corporate espionage and regret: substitute “virtual reality” for dreams and you could have made an ‘80s movie with a similar plot. Paprika, on the other hand, abandons rules almost entirely for an enthusiastic embrace of dream logic (often at the expense of a coherent narrative). Characters appear in classic movies, or swing out of billboards, or rant about ceiling fans and chrysanthemums. It’s less dense than Inception but substantially harder to follow – and of course, that’s the point! Inception is about dreams but Paprika is a dream, filled with rousing surreal imagery and an exhilarating, childlike energy. After all, whose dream has rules?