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Inception as a Surrealist Film?

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I know Inception is old news–it came out in 2010 and has now been largely reduced to that Hans Zimmer “wong” sound so overused in action-adventure trailers. However, I recently showed it to my film classes and while looking for good video essays to pair with it found a true gem that was constructed just last year.

A fairly well-accepted interpretation of Inception is that it’s a metaphor for film-making and movie-watching. Cobb and crew construct a shared dream space for their mark to plant an idea in his head. Likewise, the film cast and crew construct a movie to plant ideas in the audience’s heads. The audience sits in the dark, together, in a trance-like state, allowing the projected reality to become more real than their own for the duration of the film.

But to see the layered and nuanced ways Nolan executes this idea is something else entirely. Kyle Kallgren of Brows Held High shows many of Nolan’s apparent influences in surreal and classic cinema. The connections Kallgren makes between surrealist films and Inception are fascinating in themselves. While there are no absolutes that Nolan was actually inspired to reproduce aspects of, say, Twin Peaks, the similarities aren’t exactly used that way. Instead Kallgren shows what surrealist cinema is, and what it isn’t, while ultimately blurring the line between the two.

This video essay is a joy to watch for any cinephile or fan of Inception.


Author: Erin Perry

I'm a high school English teacher specializing in AP Literature and Film Analysis. I'm interested in most things geeky, including superheroes, vampires, zombies, teen culture, postmodern philosophy, pop culture analysis, and combinations of the aforementioned. Follow me on Twitter @eriuperry.

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