Authors@Google: Kyle Johnson 'Inception and Philosophy'

Uploaded by AtGoogleTalks on 25.12.2011

>>Male Presenter: Kyle Johnson is here to talk about "Inception and Philosophy." He's
the editor of the book, among--. He's also the frequent contributor to other volumes
of the Blackwell Philosophy and Popular Culture series, including Heroes in Philosophy. And
he's here to talk today about Inception and why--. What's the premise of the--?
>>Kyle Johnson: It should've won Best Picture.
>>Male Presenter: Why Inception should've won Best Picture. It's a very cogently argued
philosophical argument, which I think you will all enjoy. And without further ado, let's
welcome Kyle to Google.
>>Kyle Johnson: Thank you very much, Tyler. So, just to make sure, who's seen Inception?
Good. All right. 'Cause if you haven't seen it, you almost can't spoil Inception because
it's unclear what's going on in Inception, right? So, there's no ending to spoil necessarily.
But what I do wanna argue today is that Inception should have won Best Picture. And I should
warn you that there's gonna be a lot of stuff flying at you here. The words on the slides
are really for my benefit. The pictures are for your benefit, so don't feel like you need
to read everything.
The Power Point is designed such that you can just go through the Power Point by yourself
and understand it. So, don't be overwhelmed by some text-heavy slides as it were. But
I'm going to argue that Inception should've won Best Picture. Now, I really don't actually
care that much about whether or not it won Best Picture.
Like, I wasn't crying the night the Oscars were on, whenever it didn't win. But the reason
I think it didn't win is because the Academy didn't understand it. I think it went right
over their heads.
And so what I'm really attempting to do here is I'm attempting to explain, by telling you
why it should've won, I'm going to explain the movie. I'm gonna help you understand the
movie about what it was about, about even what happened in it. Like, what actually is
going on in the plot.
And I'm gonna show you how philosophy can help you understand the movie. And I think
maybe you can even really truly understand the movie without it. And so, that's a lot
of what the book tries to do is help you use philosophy to understand Inception. And then,
once you understand it, we go off and we explore other philosophical issues that are raised
by the movie.
So, some things that they may have missed. One thing that the Academy probably missed
about Inception was that the movie itself is an analogy--it's an allegory--for movie-making.
That the dream team, each element of the dream team has an analogous element to those who
make a movie.
So, Cobb, who orchestrates everything, he's the director. Ariadne, who designs the dreams,
she's the screen-writer. Saito, who bankrolls the whole thing, who buys the whole airline
instead of just buying out first class, he's the production company. He's the bankroll.
Arthur, who organizes everything. He's the producer. Eames, who puts on characters--literally
portrays the sexy blonde--or Browning, the Godfather, he's the actor. Yusuf, who has
the technical savvy to chemically concoct the chemical they use to put themselves under
to make the whole thing possible, he's special effects. Fischer, the mark, he's the audience.
And we even see things like this, where we see Eames as Browning. You see Eames in the
mirror there. He's actually sitting at an old-time vanity mirror like an actor would.
And so, we have this direct analogy with movie-making itself where Inception is actually an analogy
for movie-making itself. Here's something else that they probably missed.
[music plays]
I believe it was Hans Zimmer who did the music for Inception, has admitted in interviews
that it's not just the intro. Every piece of music all the way throughout the film is
based on different parts of that Edith Piaf track, either sped up or slowed down to different
And he just took those elements, took it, sped it up, slowed it down, and then composed
the music for the film based on that. That is cool. That is really cool and it's something
that most people missed about the film. And in fact, Inception itself is an inception.
You may think that Inception is impossible.
In fact, they even talk about that in the movie that it's impossible to get into someone's
mind an implant an idea in there and make them think that it was their own idea. But
that's just what movies do. That's all movies do is--. It's not all they do, but that's
one big thing that they do is they incept ideas into us.
Inception probably incepted into you the idea that reality may not be actually real, but
instead is a dream. Inception happens all the time. And that's what the whole point
of advertising is. Inception. And so, but these are not even--. This is just, this is
tawdry stuff.
This is just little tiny things that you may have missed. This is not even the big stuff.
Kinda cool, but not the big stuff. Here's the big stuff. Or at least, starting with
the big stuff. Just, just getting started. On the surface, the movie is a great action
film with some cool special effects and a clever cliffhanger.
At the end and he spins the top to see if he's really in reality and they fade to the--.
They go to the top. Is it gonna fall? And they cut out. You don't know. That's kinda
cool, right? Unraveling the movie would seem to simply require discovering the answer to
the question, "Did the top fall?"
And if you knew whether the top fell or not, then you'd know whether Cobb was home and
the movie can be nicely wrapped up. The first step to understanding Inception is realizing
that the answer to that question, "Did the top fall?" doesn't matter at all. Even if
we knew whether or not the top fell, we would still not understand the movie.
Even if the top falls, Cobb could still be dreaming. And in fact, I think he probably
is. Now, I'm gonna give you an argument for why. So first, we have to start out asking
ourselves how do totems work. 'Cause Cobb's top was not the only totem in the movie.
Arthur's got a totem. It's the die. Ariadne's got a totem. It's the bishop. There's some
others as well. You're never supposed to let anyone else see how your totem works. You
don't even want anyone else to touch your totem. Because if they do, they might feel
how it's weighted in the real world and then your totem will not be able to tell you whether
or not you're in one of their dreams.
So for example, Arthur's totem is the loaded die. If Ariadne touched his totem, she might
get inkling about how it's weighted in the real world. And she would know that whenever
he rolls it in the real world, it always comes up a five. So, he can't let her touch that
because if she touches that, then if he's in one of her dreams and he rolls his die
in her dream--.
Well, she knows it's supposed to come up a five and so she would dream it would come
up a five. So, you can't let anyone know how your totem behaves in the real world. If she
does touch it, then it will not be able to tell Arthur whether or not he is in her dream.
This is why he doesn't let her touch it. This is also why Ariadne refuses to let Cobb touch
her totem, the bishop. If he gets an inkling as to how it works and how it's weighted in
the real world and how it falls, then it won't be able to tell her whether or not he's in
one of his dreams.
So since, but here's the thing. Most importantly, what this means is that totems can only tell
you that you're not in someone else's dream. Arthur even specifically says that in the
film. It can only tell you if you're in someone else's dream. It can't tell you whether or
not you're in your own dream.
So, even if the top falls in the end, Cobb could still be dreaming because he could still
be in his own dream because he knows how his totem works. So even if it falls, he could
still be in his own dream. But it gets worse. Cobb reveals too much.
When Ariadne calls totems an "elegant solution for keeping track of reality,"--this is right
after he'd asked to see hers and she said, "No, you can't see it." And he says, "Good
job. You shouldn't let anyone know how your totem works." Right after that, she says,
"It's an elegant solution for keeping track of reality."
And asked if it was his idea. And he says, "No, it was Mal's actually. This one was hers.
She would spin it in the dream and it would never topple, just spin and spin." He just
did what he told her never to do--tell people how your totem works. He just told her how
it works.
So now, the totem is no good for telling him whether or not he's in one of her dreams because
now she knows how it works. And since she designed all the dreams of the inception,
it can't tell him whether or not he's out of the inception or not because tops would
She knows how it works in all the dreams in the inception. And worse yet, the top was
originally Mal's. That was her totem. It's not his. She knows how it works. So, it can't
tell him whether or not he's in her dream, either. So, even if the top falls at the end,
he could still be in his own dream.
He could still be in Ariadne's dream. He could still be in Mal's dream. Now, he thinks Mal
is dead of course, so he doesn't have to worry about that. But the problem, of course, is
she might have been right. And if she was, she's still alive. We'll talk more about that
in a little bit.
But it gets even worse. Those three people that it could be, that he's still dreaming
in, he's in their dream. But it gets worse. Think about how the other totems work. Arthur
only knows what number his die falls on in the real world. Only Ariadne knows how her
bishop is weighted in the real world.
There's another totem. Eames' totem, the poker chip. It's not exactly stated in the film,
but you can tell because he's always playing with it. That's his totem. And it's not quite
clear how it works, but if you think about it you can figure it out. There's one line
in the film where Cobb talks about the misspelling on his chip.
And, if you went to ComiCon this year, one of my contributors, Lance, showed me this
picture. This is from ComiCon this year. They had Eames' totem on display. And if you look,
it says "Mombasa District Casino, one hundred Shillings." It's a Mombasa Casino casino chip.
But it's misspelled. There's an extra "S" in Mombasa. And this is how his totem works.
If he looks at his poker chip and he sees that extra "S" he knows he's in the real world
'cause he put it there. But if he looks at his poker chip and it's spelled correctly,
it doesn't have that extra "S."
Then he knows he's in someone else's dream. But with each one of these totems, notice
that their behavior in the real world is unique. It's loaded. It's weighted. It has an extra
"S." In the dream, it behaves ordinarily. Roll the die and it rolls random. But Cobb's
totem is backwards.
How does it behave in the real world? Like all tops behave in the real world. It falls
down. Its behavior in the dream is unique. All the other totems, how they behave in the
real world is unique, and in the dream is ordinary. His is ordinary in the real world,
unique in a dream.
It's backwards. And since not only do Mal and Cobb, obviously and Ariadne know that
his top would fall in the real world, we know his top would fall in the real world. That's
what tops do. Everybody knows that. If Cobb was in one of your dreams and he spun his
top, what would you dream that it would do?
Well, I'd dream that it would fall 'cause that's how I think they behave in the real
world. Cobb, even if the top falls at the end, he could still be in anyone's dream.
The top falling at the end tells us nothing. It is a red herring. It is there to distract
you to think you've got it figured out.
Oh, if I only knew if the top fell I'd have it all figured out. No, you wouldn't. [laughter]
And this is not a mistake. This is not an oversight. This is intentional. Cobb himself
is shown as an unreliable source of information in the film. "You notice how much time Cobb
spends doing the things he never says to do,” is actually a line from Arthur in the movie.
We see that. We actually see two versions of some of the events of the film that he
recounts. Like, whenever he is, when he and Mal are laying on the train track in Limbo,
the first time we see it, they're young. And then later, when we see it again, they're
Well, which is it? Cobb tells us himself that he tries to alter his memories. What is he
saying? Is any of it accurate at all? Is that really how totems work? We don't know. That's
the beauty of it. That ending was much more clever than you thought. Much more clever
than you thought.
What's clever is the magic trick that no one pulls on us. No one has misdirected you, trying
to make you pay attention to the wrong thing--the top--to try to find out whether Cobb is still
dreaming. So, what you're doing at the end of the film is like, "Oh, I wonder if he's
still dreaming."
And so, you're looking down here at the top. Will it fall? Will it fall? Will it fall?
While you're looking, what's actually going--the clue--is up here on the upper-right. You need
to be watching and listening to those children whenever they first meet Cobb after he's back
You need to be listening. That's where the clue is, but you didn't hear it 'cause you
were looking at this. Cobb has misdirected you. Now, to tell you. The children say something
here that's very illuminating. But to understand why it's illuminating, I need to give you
a little background.
And the background is this. We see in the movie that the subconscious works its way
through dreams. The most obvious example is the train in Limbo. The train from Limbo barreling
down in Yusuf's kidnap dream in the middle of that city street. The subconscious element,
part of Cobb's subconscious is working its way through a dream.
This is not the only example. Two really good examples. That random string of number that
Fischer arbitrarily gives as a combination to his father's safe. Right? They're in the
kidnap dream. He's like, "Now tell me the first five, the first six numbers that come
right to your head right now."
And he says, "Uhh, I don't know. Five, two, eight, four, nine, one." "You'll have to do
better than that." And they haul him off. Well, that five, two, eight, four, nine, one
starts showing up in the dream after that again and again and again. It's the combination
of both safes in Eames' snow fortress dream.
It's the fake telephone number that Eames gives as the sexy blonde and it's also in
Arthur's hotel dream. In addition, Mal and Cobb's anniversary suite number, where she
jumps from the window is three, five, oh, two. That number is also on the train that
barrels down through the middle of the street and the taxi they hail in that dream is two,
zero, five, three.
It's that same number backwards. So, there's a napkin. Five, two, eight, four, nine, one.
That's the phone number that the sexy blonde gives Fischer. There's the hotel room numbers
in Arthur's hotel room dream. Five, two, eight, and four, nine, one. And then if you were
to look at Fischer put in the combination for the safe, you see there five, two, eight,
four, nine, one for the safe that is in the snow fortress.
It's hard to see here 'cause the picture isn't very good, but you'd see three, five, oh,
two here on the door. Especially if you have it in Blu-Ray, you can see the three. five,
oh, two there. You can see the three, five, oh, two on the train there, as it barrels
down through the middle of the city street.
And then, the two, zero, five, three on the taxi that they hailed in that same dream.
Subconscious elements worked their way through. Well, another subconscious element has worked
its way through. Both at the beginning and ending of the film, we see that Saito dreams
of a mansion on an ocean--a house, as it is described in the script, "a house on a cliff."
When Cobb returns to his children at the end of the film and asks them what they have been
doing, they say, "They are building a house on a cliff." Turn the captions on and you'll
see it right there in black and white. It looks like a subconscious element of Saito--Saito's
subconscious--is working its way through into the dream that is at the end of the film.
It's working its way through. Peeking out that subconscious. Now, why think that Cobb
is in Saito's dream specifically? Not his own dream or someone else's dream? Well, here's
the thing. Think about where, if you exit Limbo. If you commit suicide in Limbo, where
do you go?
Well, we only actually have two examples in the film of where you go when you exit Limbo.
And that's Ariadne and Fischer. At the end of the film, they go down there to find Fischer.
She kicks him off the building. He falls and he wakes up. And a little bit later, she throws
herself off.
She falls. She wakes up. But where did they go? Back to the real world? No. They go one
layer up. They go to the snow fortress dream--Eames' snow fortress dream. They go one layer up
and then Fischer finishes the inception there. And when Ariadne gets back, they ride the
kicks back up the layers.
But you only go one layer up when you exit Limbo, not back to the real world--not all
the way back to the front. One layer up. That's it. So, at the end of the film--you can barely
see the picture there--but at the end of the film, whenever Saito, when Cobb finds Saito
in Limbo and he's got his gun, if he were to shoot himself in the head, where would
he go?
Or wouldn't he go where everyone else goes when they exit Limbo, one layer up. And that
would be to Eames' snow fortress dream. But everyone's already left that dream layer.
So, he would find it empty, ready for the taking. He would fill it with his own expectations,
his own assumptions, his own subconscious, and that would be to find himself on the plane
after the inception was complete.
Once Cobb shoots himself after that, he would pop up to that same level, find Saito's airplane
dream and would go back to his kids in that airplane dream. And notice that they could
be there for ten years--the way dreams work--before they finally realize that they were still
So it's entirely possible, based on a consistent interpretation of the film, that Cobb was
still dreaming. Even if the top fell he would still be dreaming. He'd be in Saito's dream
as a dream that he created once he got Eames' snow fortress dream layer that was empty once
he woke up from Limbo only going one layer up.
So, Inception is more complicated than you think. What's clever about the ending is not
the fact that it's a clever cliffhanger. It's clever because it tricked you into thinking
it was a clever cliffhanger when it wasn't a cliffhanger at all. You should've already
suspected that he was still dreaming and realize that the top was a red herring.
That's what's clever about it. Nolan misdirected it. At first, you were confused. Then, you
thought you had it figured out. But then, you start to think about it and everything
you thought you figured out, you're not confused about, you actually misunderstood. That's
what's beautiful about it.
It lends itself to multiple interpretations. Are we convinced that it was better than The
King's Speech yet?
Come on. But we've only scratched the surface. If we think about Saito and where you go when
you exit Limbo, if when you exit Limbo you just go one layer up, like Ariadne and Fischer
Then where did Mal and Cobb go when they exited Limbo, when they put their head on the train
tracks and they exited Limbo? Would they have done what everybody else does? Go one layer
up? Well, what would be on that layer? Would that be the real world?
Well, Cobb actually tells Ariadne, whenever he's recounting the events that preceded their
meeting, that they entered Limbo after experimenting with--. Let me get the quote exactly right
here. "After exploring the concept of a dream within a dream." They were doing multi-level
dreaming and he pushed them too far.
He went too deep and they landed in Limbo. But that means that they entered Limbo after
going through a multi-level dream. So, when they woke up from Limbo, where would they
have gone? Would they have just gone one layer up of that multi-level dream? We see them
awake on this apartment floor hooked up to a passive device, but is that the real world
or wouldn't that just be the lowest level of the multi-level dream they used to get
into Limbo in the first place?
The real world in which the whole plot of the movie takes place could actually be a
dream. Maybe the whole movie is a dream from beginning to end. Forget about the end. The
whole movie looks like it may be a dream. And in fact, Nolan leaves us many clues that
suggest exactly this.
So, if you look at the Mombasa chase scene that's supposed to happen in the real world,
it has very many dream-like elements. The overhead shots establish that Mombasa is like
a maze. The agents that are after him literally pop in and out of nowhere inexplicably.
And the walls of buildings literally close in around him just like they do in dreams.
So, we see that it Mombasa is like a maze. We see Cobol agents that come out of nowhere.
It's a blurry pic, but if you look at when he's in the cafe and he gets called out and
he starts to run, literally from out of nowhere, there's an agent that comes and tackles him
from the right.
There's no way. He was just there. Literally appearing out of nowhere [whispering] just
like they do in dreams. And the walls close in around him. They look like they're fine
here and as I try to go through it squeezes and squeezes and the walls literally are closing
in around me. Just like they do in dreams.
Eames--clue number two--Eames is a dream forger, but looks like he forges in reality. Eames
as a dream forger, appearing as others in dreams and magically lifting Fischer's wallet
in Arthur's hotel room dream as the sexy blonde. If you look closely, whenever he's lifting
his wallet in the hotel room dream, he doesn't actually touch him.
He doesn't actually get anywhere close to him. He just has the wallet. It just appears.
Which is fine. He's dreaming. He can do that. He's a dream forger. He can just forge the
wallet. Yet in the real world, Eames forges casino chips and he lifts Fischer's passport
in the airplane in exactly the same way.
So, Eames picks pockets in the real world just like he does in a dream without even
touching him. Watch the scene and you'll see he can't even come close. It's like, Eames
is there. They're sort of close. And the poof, he has the passport inexplicably. Eames bets
his last two chips in the real world and the script calls them his last two chips.
And he's broke. He even says, "You've gotta buy if we're gonna bring over beer. You gotta
buy." And then he goes to the cashier and just magically poof, here's chips. Cashes
them in. He's literally dream-forging right there in the real world. The script even describes
He mysteriously produces two stacks of chips that he then cashes in. Clue number three.
Mal's suicide. You can't see it here. Consider where Mal sits during her suicide attempt.
What supposedly happened was she trashed their hotel suite and then climbed out on the ledge.
But if she did that, she would be on the same side of the building as their room. He would
be able to look out the window and look and she would be out there on their side of the
building. That's not where she's at. She's in the window of another hotel room across
the way.
And it is another hotel room. If you look behind her, you'll see the same things that
are behind Cobb. It's another hotel. I mean, the window of another hotel room. That doesn't
make any sense. How did she get over there? And in fact, Cobb doesn't even realize it
doesn't make sense.
He's asking her, "Please come back in. Come back in." As she can just walk across that
gap? It doesn't make any sense. That's exactly the kind of thing that you watch and you don't
really think about it, but then you think about it a little bit later and that doesn't
make much sense.
Just like in a dream. Weird things happen in dreams and they seem perfectly normal,
but then when you wake up you go, "Yeah, that didn't make much sense. How did I not know
that I wasn't dreaming? How did I not know that I was dreaming?" How do you not know
that he wasn't dreaming right there?
He's gotta be. His father-in-law, Miles, even tells him to "come back to reality," at one
point. And this is my favorite clue. The song the dreamers use to herald the end of a movie
is that Edith Piaf song that we listened to before. It means "No, I regret nothing" in
When the song is done, the dream is over. That's what heralds the end of the dreams.
The song is done, dream is over. The running time of the original recording of that song
that they use in the film is two minutes and 28 seconds. Inception is, to the second, two
hours and 28 minutes long.
Exactly. Watch your Blu-Ray player. Watch it click down. Exactly two hours and 28 minutes
long. Could it be, just like with shared dreaming, when the movie is done and the song is done,
the dream is over? The entire movie, I think, is a dream. Now, the thing is, you can't--.
There's always two sides to every coin. No clue is gonna settle this one way or the other.
And there are clues that suggest that the real world is indeed real. This is a good
Nolan--. Anybody know where this is from? It's a Batman reference 'cause no one does
Two. But there's two sides to every coin. Let's look at a couple of clues that the real
world may actually be real. So for example, if you look at Cobb's kids, whenever he's
flashing back they're younger. And at the end, they're actually wearing slightly different
clothes and they're older.
And they're actually played by different actors and actresses. Two different actors there.
So, some may suggest that they really did age and he's back in the real world. Others
have suggested that Cobb's totem is not really the top. It's his wedding ring and that whenever
he's in the real world he doesn't wear the wedding ring, except the flashbacks.
And then when he's dreaming, he's still wearing the wedding ring. And this includes the end
of the movie. If you look at the end of the movie, whenever he's checking in with the
ISA agent, he's not wearing his wedding ring. That's gonna indicate that the end of the
movie is also real.
But the truth is, pointing to the movie and clues in the movie is never going to settle
anything. The movie is ambiguous and Nolan, himself, has admitted that he intentionally
made it ambiguous. It's supposed to be open to interpretation. Nothing will definitively
prove anything one way or the other.
The dream clues could merely indicate that Cobb is losing his grip on reality. But now
the dream clues could merely reflect Cobb's assumption that he's not dreaming when he
really is. The answer to the question of whether or not the entire movie is a dream is what
philosophers would call "under-determined."
There's not enough evidence there to settle the issue. But this is where philosophy can
come to the rescue. Philosophers and scientists know how to deal with under-determination.
For example, any scientific data can be accounted for by many possible hypotheses.
But we're not just stuck. We have ways of delineating and deciding which ones we should
prefer. Scientists prefer the most adequate hypothesis, the one that's most fruitful and
simple and wide-scoping and conservative.
[Kyle Johnson coughs]
Excuse me. This is what we did whenever we were debating about the heliocentric versus
the geocentric view of the universe, or the solar system at least. Is the sun the center
or the Earth the center? Well, the Earth being the center required all these weird retrogrades
and planets were revolving around points and blah, blah, blah.
And it's really complicated. Or this was simple. They all go around the sun. Very simple. And
so, we ended up selecting that, after we killed a few people. Apart from that--
we ended up selecting this even before we could experimentally identify that it was
definitely the right one as opposed to this because it was simpler, because it was more
adequate. And so, philosophers--. We really can't do that with an interpretation of Inception.
And philosophers have more guns in our arsenal. Philosophers, when presented with ambiguity,
like ambiguous statements--that kind of stuff--we employ the principle of charity. When it's
unclear what someone means, you choose the most charitable interpretation--the one that
entails the speaker is not an idiot, or not misinformed.
So, which interpretation of Inception is more charitable? Which one makes it a better movie?
I think it's the all-dream interpretation that makes it better. And the reason why is
because if it's not all a dream, there's some significant criticisms that can be leveled
against the movie.
For one, all of the characters, except for Cobb, are completely one-dimensional. Arthur,
Ariadne, Fischer, Saito. They don't even have last names, much less a past. They're all
just there for Cobb. They just do what Cobb wants them to do. Even Ariadne, who shows
just a little sliver of free will when she initially rejects the idea of being an architect--"I'm
outta here. I can't share my subconscious with someone like you."--and she walks out.
Cobb just says, "Oh, she'll be back." And then what does she do? The next thing? She
comes back. They're completely one-dimensional. They're only there for Cobb. That's not good
writing and Nolan doesn't usually do one-dimensional characters. Even, somebody gives me Batman's,
his butler.
>>MALE #1: Alfred.
>>Kyle Johnson: Alfred. Right. Even Alfred's got a past and he's a complicated character
in Batman. That's not Nolan's style. The editing in the real world is sloppy. There's quick
jumps from here to there and you're not quite sure how you got from here to there and why
are they doing this now?
There's all these really weird jumps in the real world in regards to just mere editing.
And that chase scene in Mombasa and he's got all the agents on him and then Saito shows
up out of nowhere. What are you doing in Mombasa? "I had to protect my investment." Really?
That's a little cheesy. That's not exactly the best way out of that situation. But if
it's all a dream, the characters are one-dimensional because they're just projections of Cobb's
subconscious. They each represent a different aspect of Cobb. And if you watch the movie
with that in mind, you'll see that each one of them plays a different role in his subconscious.
One's the planner. One's more daring. One's the moral conscious. You can even divide it
in id, ego, and superego. You see all of these elements. The sloppy editing? Well, we see
that same sloppy editing when we know that Cobb is dreaming. You jump from place to place
to place in a dream not realizing how you got there because that's what you do in dreams.
He's doing the same thing in the real world, jumping from place to place to place. And
yeah, that Saito line is a little bit cheesy--I have to protect my investment. But as a subtle
clue that Cobb is actually dreaming, that is brilliant. A much more charitable interpretation.
Now, you might think that it's not too charitable 'cause if the whole movie is a dream, well
then why would you care? Why would I want to watch a movie about a dream? Nothing's
really happing so I don't really care. Well, that's the thing. It's a movie. It's fiction.
Yeah, it doesn't really happen 'cause it's a dream. It doesn't happen anyway. It's a
Why would you care more about a movie about a dream than about a fictional movie about
events that didn't happen anyway? They all didn't happen. This is the paradox of fiction
that Tyler was talking about a little while ago.
Why do we care about events that we don't know are happening? Well, I'm not exactly
sure how to solve that paradox, but I know that the paradox arises whether or not the
movie is about a dream or not. And so, it doesn't make it a worse movie.
In fact, it makes it pretty cool 'cause it could be a metaphorical story about how a
disturbed mind handles its own dementia. I mean, there's all kinds of cool interpretations
that can go with it I think that are really, really interesting. Now, you might wonder
if we could solve all this if we just asked Nolan himself.
Is the whole movie a dream or not? And Nolan's even said that he does have a view. Like,
I approached him with a certain interpretation in mind and I know what I think is real and
what's not.
But does that matter? Does Nolan get to dictate how his film must be interpreted? Or, if he
makes it ambiguous, is it open to us? If he wanted it to be interpreted a certain way,
he had to put in something there to make it be interpreted that way. And if he intentionally
makes it ambiguous, then my interpretation is just as valid as his.
Is that the way art works? Or does authorial intention matter? That's what the first chapter
of my book is about. It raises this issue about whether or not the entire movie is a
dream and then talks about whether or not the authorial intention view is correct. Inception
should have won Best Picture.
Either the Academy didn't understand it or they didn't interpret it charitably. If they
had done either, they would have realized that it was much better than a film about
a stuttering English monarch. Clearly a better film. But even though it didn't win Best Picture,
Inception still wins Plato's Academy Award--it looks like Rodin's Thinker--because of its
philosophical depth, because of the plethora of philosophical questions that it raises
and, of course, I tackle in my book, "Inception and Philosophy: Because It's Never Just a
Dream,” published by Wiley Blackwell.
So, some of the other--not all of them--but some of the other topics that we cover in
the book. If we can't tell whether or not Cobb is dreaming, can we tell whether we're
dreaming... right now? Could this be a dream? Can you be certain? The answer is no, you
This is a classic, philosophical, skeptical problem. And once we realize we can't tell
for sure whether the real world is real, how do we deal with that angst? How do we deal
with the kind of tension, the kind of mental anguish that causes us? Coleman's got a chapter
about that.
Perhaps we should just have faith that the world is real. Maybe that's a way out of it.
But when is faith rational? Is faith ever rational? Faith is belief without evidence.
A lot of times, that's not rational. Like, I could believe without evidence that there's
an elephant behind me, but that's not rational.
When is faith, if ever, rational? Cobb doesn't think it's always rational. Mal asked him
to take a leap of faith right out that window and he refused. So, when is it rational to
take a leap of faith, if ever? That's what my chapter is about. Can you be held morally
responsible for what you do in your dreams?
You might think they don't have real-world impact, but what if you thought it was real?
Don't sometimes your intentions matter if you thought it was real and you had that chance
to cheat on your significant other in your dream and you did it? Aren't you a bit morally
Wouldn't they be upset if they found out that's what you did in your dream? That's another
good chapter. Are real paradoxes, like the pin rose steps, possible? That's Tyler's chapter.
Is Inception really possible? Isn't that, for example, what advertisements do?
And if it is possible, what are the kind of ethics that go along with that? And does that
threaten free will? We don't think that Fischer gets moral responsibility. He doesn't freely
choose to break up his father's company. But if inception happens all the time in the real
world, are we morally responsible for what we do?
Do I really freely choose to eat that McDonald's hamburger when I'm bombarded with advertisements
all the time that make me want a McDonald's hamburger? What is time? What exactly is time
and can it really slow down in a dream, or speed up in a dream?
Would you really want to live in Limbo, a utopia, a perfect world? Or would you eventually
get bored with that? Are utopias even possible? Those are all issues that I talk about--that
I and my authors, of course--, my contributors talk about in the book. So, that's my presentation
and I thank you so much.
I'm ready for questions. I'd love to hear what you think.
>>FEMALE #1: I'm just curious. You mentioned Freudian psychology or it sounded more Freudian,
but I have a writing teacher who really got enthralled with it. He actually has a really
good blog.
His name is Scott Myers and he was talking about it from a Jungian perspective with the
dream interpretation and it seems to lend itself a lot to that. I'm just wondering if
you get into that in your book at all.
>>Kyle Johnson: No. I'm sorry. I don't. I'm not familiar with it at all. I wish I would've
known about it so I could, but I don't.
>>FEMALE #1: Well, you might, since you're so into this, you might look into some Jungian
stuff. I can give you a list of books or whatever.
>>Kyle Johnson: Great.
>>FEMALE #1: Yeah, cool. OK.
>>Kyle Johnson: Cool. Thanks.
>>FEMALE #2: That's OK. I don't need a mic.
>>Male Presenter: You do for the recording.
>>FEMALE #2: OK. I was wondering if you had a link to the Power Point presentation at
>>Kyle Johnson: I'm sure we can do that. I could--. I'll tell you what. When I get home,
I will post it on my website, so just google David Kyle Johnson. My webpage for King's
College will pop up and you can download it there. Cliff, can we make it available somehow
>>Cliff: Yeah.
>>FEMALE #2: OK. Awesome.
>>Kyle Johnson: Yeah, I'm hoping that I almost bombarded you a bit. And really, almost everything
I covered in there is in here. So.
>>FEMALE #3: So, how many times did you have to watch the movie to get all this?
>>Kyle Johnson: Yeah. That's a good question. So, quite a few times. I also took to just
watching specific parts as I was editing the book and seeing what I needed to see. A number
of other things were also, like--. Here's I think a really fun, cool part of the book.
If you add up all the times that all my contributors and I watched the movie, it's gotta be hundreds
and hundreds and hundreds of times. And one of the ways I took advantage of that was I
created a Google Doc--Google Docs are so cool--and I gave a link to every one of my contributors.
And I started a little appendix of cool things that you might have missed about the film.
And I let all my contributors just dump stuff on there. And after they were done, I went
through and edited.
And so, the end of the book is an appendix that is the result of like, hundreds and hundreds
and hundreds of watchings of the movie that have all these cool, little things that you
may have missed upon the first watching of the film. So, off the top of my head, a cool
one is the fact that Dom--one second--Dom, Robert, Eames, Arthur, Mal, Saito, put them
in the right order, they spell dreams.
Those kind of cool things. The stuff about Inception being analogy. There's all kinds
of stuff. We even have a catalog of exactly what those two kids were wearing before and
after, at the end of the movie and see exactly how different their outfits were. It's very,
very detailed. That's in the appendix. Go ahead.
>>MALE #2: So, about the kids. You didn't mention this specifically, but I suspect you
probably did turn it up that you never see the kid's faces until the end.
>>Kyle Johnson: Right. Until the end.
>>MALE #2: So, I don't know what the significance of that might be.
>>Kyle Johnson: Yeah. I mean, that could be a clue that he's really awake. It could be
just a clue that he thinks he's really gotten back home. And so, he can finally see his
kid's faces at the end. I mean, it could be a clue either way.
>>MALE #2: Cool. So, the other deeper question that I had is I read that clue about the wedding
ring months ago. I don't know if you read "The Last Psychiatrist."
>>Kyle Johnson: I don't think so.
>>MALE #2: It's a great blog. It's worth checking out. But he did a thing in there where he
mentioned it. And so, I was talking this over with a bunch of friends and one of them had
to watch the movie again. And his claim, the way he interpreted that, was that Cobb actually
destroyed his totem in the real world.
Because he knew it so well, he didn't need to actually have it present. He only knew
that it behaved the way he didn't expect it in the dream, then he was in someone else's
dream. And there's no reason to actually have it. And the whole thing about having Mal's
totem was just in remembrance of her and wasn't actually his totem.
>>Kyle Johnson: Interesting. So, he doesn't have a totem at all. So, his wedding ring's
not even his totem, or his wedding ring is his totem? He destroys it in the real world.
>>MALE #2: His wedding ring was--. He doesn't need it because he knows how it behaves and
he doesn't want anyone else to discover it, is one way of interpreting that.
>>Kyle Johnson: Right.
>>MALE #2: And I don't know if that's actually--. I don't know if that affects anything said
>>Kyle Johnson: I mean, it still doesn’t cause--. It still doesn't solve the problem
because he could still be in his own dream.
>>MALE #2: Yeah. But it's an interesting thing though about that.
>>Kyle Johnson: Yeah. Absolutely.
>>MALE #3: Did you circle back with Christopher Nolan to validate any of your observations?
>>Kyle Johnson: No, I haven't. I wish I could. I'd love to sit down and talk with Christopher
Nolan. I wasn't able to do that. We did scope through his interviews and that kind of stuff
to see what he said.
So like, one thing I know then--but this raises the issue of whether or not Arthur can determine
the meaning of his movie or not--one thing I know is, one other kind of dream clue is
the fact that the company that's after Cobb is Cobol. C-O-B-O-L. Cobol, Cobb, Cobol.
He's after himself? That really looks--. And Nolan himself said, "Yeah, that's just a coincidence.
We had to change the name of that company multiple times for legal reasons." It looks
like that's just a coincidence, not really a clue. Right? But again, maybe it could still
serve as a clue if the author doesn't get to determine the absolute meaning of his film.
But I wish--. If you've got some contacts, let me know and I'd love to sit down and talk
with him.
>> Male Presenter: Last question.
>> MALE #4: So, do you think the fact that Mal's and Edith Piaf was both played by Marion
Cotillard was also a clue?
>> Kyle Johnson: I don't think it was a clue. No one actually talked about that as well.
And he basically said something like, I don't read too much in this. It's kind of a cool
thing. But don't read too much into it. It's not--. But that is--. The actress who plays
Mal also plays Edith Piaf in the movie about her life. It's the same actress. She's pretty
>> Male Presenter: Very cool. We'll have some time afterwards for more specific Inception
and Dragon Tattoo questions. Thank you very much for speaking at Google.
>> Kyle Johnson: Thanks.