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Dream Sharing: Inception

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Memories of Titanic, Shutter Island and Edith Piaf In A Stream of Consciousness

At the beginning it sounded like the name of a website I had missed at a seminar a day earlier for journalists on how to use the web.

In the film "Inception," the website would have been called Dream Sharing, a Facebook from the mind. And like Facebook there would be a risk of people stealing information.

The idea for extracting information, according to the movie plot, was an idea called Dream Sharing that was supposed to have originated from the Army.

Soldiers would be able to share dreams for some purpose. And by internet standards that sounds like a very intriguing idea. Why? Well, figure that out later.

Defense and science agencies are famous for developing products that can be used in the civilian world. From the start it is clear to see it would make a great video game. Unfortunately, in this case, the first such use was to pry information out of minds and put ideas them in them without being detected.

Leonardo DiCaprio's character in the new Christopher Nolan movie is the first to use it. A skilled user would have much more power than any hypnotist or "Manchurian Candidate" brainwasher because the target would be convinced it was his/her own idea and not repeat statements that made him sound like a Zombie. That was one reason Frank Sinatra was able to convince Army investigators that Laurence Harvey had been turned into a Communist killer waiting for the right moment to be turned on.

Although the extraction approach has been made to work in "The Inception," no one is known to have planted an idea. Slowly it emerges that DiCaprio has and that it created a personal hell in which he becomes a virtual Flying Dutchman, forced to travel the world and abandon his small children because he is believed to have killed his wife, played by Marion Cotillard, who won an Oscar for her portrayal of Edith Piaf.

Even pariahs have to make a living so DiCaprio and partners attempt to steal information from a Japanese billionaire for his competition by getting into his subconscious. Caught, DiCaprio is given a choice of taking on an assignment for Ken Watanabe that if successful would make it possible for him to get out of the U.S. criminal database and return to James and Phillipa.

It is one of many references to leaps of faith in the nearly 2 1/2-hour film. Audiences have to take their own leap in deciding whether such a complex story is worth taking seriously.In fact it is not such an exotic set of beliefs. Digital machines can now track what is going on in a brain to a certain extent, even showing what a person is seeing through his or her eyes. For example, it could transmit data that would reveal the object was a Picasso painting.

Psychotropic drugs were developed because they could cross the brain's built-in barriers. A simple use is to make a person disregard the Circadian rhythm and sleep when the body wants to be awake.

That it is easy for people to get confused when they are deep inside someone else's brain shouldn't be so difficult to believe. At any given moment how does a person know whether their present situation is a real or a dream.

A sleeper deep in REM sleep can wake up, realize that the dream was just that, and then fall asleep and return to it.

Things expected and unexpected are inevitable because the subconscious mind, an idea that even predates Freud, has so many levels, as does sleeping, and depending on how it is approached can react in different ways. Subjects must be completely sedated, but with one portal, or what programmers might call a backdoor, left open to wake them up. Compare it to a password that opens a locked computer.

Timing is everything. Worst case, if awakened too late a dream traveler could end up in a sort of electronic limbo of 1s and 0s like a defragmented or unpartitioned part of a hard drive. But there is no backup of the person's essence and no tech out there to find the data and restore it.

Once DiCaprio decides to take Watanabe's offer, he assembles a team of associates, past and present, who not only are experts at various technical skills necessary for the mission but several multitask by being experts at using their James Bondian/Ninja/acrobatic skills for mortal combat.

It makes for an intense film, with the usual battles taking place but with the actors sometimes upside down, sliding up or down walls, dodging unexpected events triggered sometimes by one of the participant's subconscious or other invaders of the psyche.

Hydraulics and special cameras are used in some scenes. Imagine a Paris street vaulting straight up into the air. People walking on it are not affected because the street didn't move anywhere except in the mind of the sleeper, who projected it there just like a sorcerer would have done in earlier literature.

Freud believed the mind had an effective way for controlling how people act when they are awake. When they are dreaming all bets are off.

For Debussy's faun, daily life was little more than hours of tedium. Once it fell asleep, annoying insects became beautiful nymphs.

"Afternoon Of A Faun" came from a poem by Stephane Mallarme about what went on inside the head of the animal, represented by a flute in Debussy's music.

Mallarme wrote:

"I would perpetuate those nymphs.
Their rosy
Bloom's so light, it floats upon air drowsy
With heavy sleep.
Was it a dream?"

Who hasn't had the experience of futilely trying to understand a dream, especially how it began? For DiCaprio the mind's anti-virus software is weakest on dealing with the beginnings of dreams.

Perhaps serving as a bridge to make it easier to try follow all of this director Nolan introduced several scenes that can make a viewer feel like he has been here before. Several scenes make it difficult to not think of previous DiCaprio movies, "Shuttler Island" and "Titanic." The former probably makes viewers suspicious, wondering what is real and what is a dream.

Edith Piaf songs are used to send signals via headphones to the team as its members sleep, a procedure that was once used to teach people things while they slept. The music is from "La Vie En Rose," for which Cotillard won an Academy Award for her portrayal of "the little sparrow." This can be make the terrain a little more friendly.

While it may be difficult to find a seat with no one on either side, that would give you room to squirm around a little to deal with the tension. See it on a big screen if at all possible. The length makes the tension almost unbearable, not boring. Had this been a 3D movie ushers might have had to take people out on stretchers.

Much has been made of whether viewers could be confident they understood the ending. Nolan has denied that it was meant to be that way, and has described it as like a heist movie.

Many will surely rent the video or download the film to go over scenes such as the one in which DiCaprio explains that each person participating on the team will pick an object, such as a die (single dice), to help them distinguish between whether they are dreaming or conscious.

The most important such tool in the movie, a small metal object that can be twirled and spins for quite awhile, is the most curious. It looks like something that might have come from Tibet where dream analysis has been practiced for thousands of years.