Like Memento, I think I'd probably need to see it several more times to begin having a real grasp--or as much a grasp as Nolan intends the viewer to have--on it.
Although the top appears to be losing momentum at the end--and it certainly sounds like it's beginning to wobble--the ending, I think, is an inception on the viewer, the idea that what appears to be Cobb returning home to his real kids may really just be another dream. But he doesn't seem to care one way or the other because he never stays around to watch to see it if stops; his kids turn to him, and he runs outside to embrace them.
Reading people's takes on whether the end is a dream or reality, I haven't come across any of the pro-dream theorists noticing some parallels to Memento. In Memento, before Leonard kills Teddy., Teddy explains that Leonard had already killed his wife's attacker. Being that Teddy. isn't the most trustworthy guy, it's hard to accept what he says until it's revealed that Leonard intentionally duped himself into killing Teddy (the most recent of multiple John G.'s) so he could continue on this quest he's created to give his life meaning. When Dom and Ariadne find Mal in the world he and Mal had constructed, she tells him what he believes is reality--the globetrotting, the working for powerbrokers, etc.--isn't. Her explanation may be nothing more than his guilt and subconscious pulling at him, or it could be--if he's still in a dream at the end--that she isn't dead in reality, that she enters his dreams trying to pull him out. She does stab him, after all. Or she could still be a projection of his subconscious but one that's connected to the part of his mind that knows he's dreaming.
Towards the end of Memento, especially during Teddy's revelation to Leonard, Leonard's memories begin shifting between what actually occurred and what his mind has construed: he sees himself in the mental institution instead of Sammy Jankis, he sees himself playfully pinching his wife, but then sees himself giving her an insulin shot. In every flashback to Dom and Mal's dream world, the two of them are young. But when Mal says, "You promised we'd grow old together," Dom says they did, and then there's a cut to a brief scene of them walking hand-in-hand in their dream world, but they're old. This wouldn't seem that odd except in flashback to them killing themselves on the train tracks in order to wake up, they're young and at that point they've lived in the dream world for 50 years. (Someone on imdb said there's a shot of their hands looking old before the train hits them. Did anyone see that?)
As for the "back to reality" interpretation, the fact that Dom wears his wedding ring in dream sequences and doesn't in what's supposed to be reality suggests there is a reality he returns to throughout the film. Also, as many reviewers have noted, it's not coincidental Ellen Page's character is named Ariadne, an allusion to the woman who leads Theseus out of the minotaur's maze. If reality is where Dom winds up at the end of the film, then Ariadne has been the one who has helped him navigate through his deep-seated guilt surrounding Mal. Some reviewers have noted that two sets of children played Dom's kids, which would seem to indicate his return home is a real one since the kids would've aged some since he's left. Also, if the whole movie were a dream--or he's in a dream at the end--at some point he's going to wake up, and not much time would've passed in reality. For it to be otherwise, a whole storyline would have to exist outside the movie--he's in a coma, he's in the Matrix, etc.
I lean towards the reality interpretation, (I think someone could make a strong case for him being in a dream from the basement scene on) but I don't think it's as big an issue for Nolan as it is for the viewer. Leonard, in his few minute segments of full awareness, knowingly perpetuates his quest, embracing what gives him purpose. With Saito's proposal, Dom finally has a means to get back home to his kids. Ultimately, he does that in reality or in a dream level, and his walking away from the top seems to indicate he doesn't care which one it is.
A couple of miscellaneous things I'm hoping you know the answers to:
The conversation between old Saito and Dom is different the second time. Is the second conversation supposed to be the tail end of the one they start at the beginning of the film or has Dom actually been there before?
Did you make out what any of the documents Dom pulls from Saito's safe say? I suspect the only significance is what's blacked out since in the next dream level up Dom says Saito was holding something back from him.
Did you notice if his passport stamp says anything out of the ordinary?
Oh, one last thing. I think it's interesting how even fundamental editing and storytelling techniques add to the film's ambiguity. For example, in an ordinary film, when a character says he's going to, say, catch a flight from Chicago to L.A., and boards the plane in one scene and in the next is somewhere in L.A., the viewer finds nothing strange about not showing the actual flight. But take the end of Inception, for example. In one scene Dom's father-in-law is greeting him at the airport; in the next they're at Dom's house and the kids are playing outside. At least twice in the movie, Dom explains to another character that in dreams you find yourself in the middle of a situation but don't recall how you got there.
In my 12th grade English class, my teacher would occasionally play us recordings of poets reading some of their most famous works. Some, like W. B. Yeats and Dylan Thomas, were mesmerizing. But others were so odd or deadpan they all but sapped the life from their poems. E. E. Cummings sounded like a swaying drunk at times. T.S. Eliot had all the life of a British automated customer service prompt, and Elizabeth Bishop could've passed for a bored waitress reciting the day's specials. I still find it sort of strange how such brilliant poets couldn't do justice to their own work. But then again, it's not like gifted playwrights are necessarily good actors.
Um, Jason, what about the conference? Well, I've always believed an English teacher needs to have the ability to bring a work to life when you read it aloud. I don't mean being over-the-top, just conveying the tone and nuances of the text. (If you lack inflection or any sense of natural rhythm, don't blame the students when they've got their heads on their desks, drooling all over the work of your favorite writer.) During today's session we read several excerpts from noted essays, as well as student writing, aloud. Let's just say I'm not convinced everyone in there shared my conviction.
Most who read were excellent, but a few only made our time in the would-be meat locker seem that much longer. The worst, a lady who read through end marks and stumbled over several words per line, reminded me of the time I inadvertently assigned one of my worst readers the part of Mercutio--I'm not sure he's finished the Queen Mab soliloquy yet. When somebody is all-out butchering a passage, though, there's always the prospect of unintentional humor.
She didn't disappoint.
In the essay she was reading, the student cited an author who described his handwriting as "exotic, anonymous scrawl." Before she came to this phrase, she'd found her footing for a sentence or two. But no sooner did it seem she had finally stopped careening through the text than she said, "erotic, anonymous scrawl." You know, it can't be often a writer goes from self-publishing on bathroom stalls to being included on AP tests.
The one thing staying on-site has over staying at a hotel is breakfast. You're not going to get gourmet fare either place, but a college cafeteria in the early morning offers the peace and quiet you just can't get when you're cramped into a continental breakfast space with thirty-seven other people, jostling your way past harried parents and hyperactive children to pour yourself the few flakes of cereal that will fit into crappy styrofoam bowl, douse it with lukewarm milk, grab a mushy apple and an oily muffin, pour a glass of the aforementioned milk or a cup of tasteless coffee, and then perform a balancing feat the likes of which plate spinners would marvel at as you weave to find an open table, stopping for a moment to consider making yourself a waffle until you notice a plump, bushy-haired woman in spaghetti straps who is no match for the technological sophistication of a waffle iron is holding up the line, at last plopping down at a table sticky from syrup to eat your disappointing breakfast.
I had no such experience this morning. I strolled into the cafeteria, poured myself a bowl of Total (crappy styrofoam bowl but cold milk), grabbed a plate with two of the morning's hot breakfast offerings--eggs that looked like couch stuffing but tasted decent and some steak fingers--and a fresh apple, poured a glass of ice water, and then had about fifty tables to choose from for a seat. Delightful. And, did I mention I ate steak fingers? They've been a cafeteria staple since at least 1983 when I was in kindergarten, but I suspect cafeterias were serving up those tasty, breaded, amorphous chunks of mystery meat long before I was even conceived.
So with food in my belly and memories of Lincolnshire Elementary in my head, I decided to kill the forty-five minutes before the opening session exploring the Student Union building. It's quite a nice building, really. The front is almost entirely windows, so plenty of natural light shines in. Each floor (there are three) has several seating areas with deep, cushioned chairs, and the third floor has a veranda overlooking the central part of campus. There's a campus book store, of course, and a career counseling center (depending on how the week goes, maybe I'll drop in) among other offices, but what really caught my attention was a sign indicating the Sun Belt Lounge was located on the second floor.
Intrigued, I headed to find it. The Sun Belt Lounge. The name conjured up thoughts of an oasis of relaxation, the sort of place I've always wanted as a teachers' lounge. Yes, I could see it--lounge chairs encircling a small pool, a jacuzzi, a retractable sun roof, waiters dressed in white carrying trays of mixed drinks to people sunbathing by the pool, and a calypso band playing off to the side. Ready to call out my drink order, I turned into the Sun Belt Lounge. But there was no pool. No jacuzzi. No mixed drinks. Not even a recording of a calypso band. Just a Starbucks stand closed for the summer, more of the chairs found elsewhere in the building, and a slew of computers on tables along the walls.
The school really needs to change the name of the "lounge." I'd go with Sunlit But Empty Email-Checking Haven That's Only Anything Remotely Like a Cafe from September-May. I guess that would be too long to fit on one of their signs.
Finally it was time for the opening session. As you'd expect, it was far from exciting. The fellow in charge made a few remarks and a woman who works for some institute/organization/association that goes by some acronym I can't remember rambled about a study someone conducted that found students who take AP classes in high school have higher GPA's in college than students who don't. Wow! Who could've guessed? Of course, now whoever led the study can add "demonstrates the ability to state the obvious through superfluous research" to his or her resume.
Boring? Yes. But I appreciated the opening session for what it didn’t have. I’ve attended about a dozen conferences in my ten years of teaching, and each one before this has included two things I abhor: tote bags and ice breakers.
Now, I realize my ineptness with power tools, my dislike of driving big vehicles, my inability to grow a beard, and my affinity for high-priced hair gel all preclude me from ever being labeled “rugged,” but I’m a heterosexual man, and no heterosexual man wants a tote bag, free or not. Especially one with the hokey name of the conference on it like “Ropin’ Up Dreams.” Whenever I’ve been really unlucky, I’ve received a t-shirt big enough to completely clothe the mother in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape along with the tote bag. Just give me a free pen or two and leave it at that. Please.
As for ice breakers, some people might argue I don’t like them because I’m an introvert. But that’s not it at all. I just prefer getting to know someone I’ve just met by simply engaging in a conversation. I can’t believe there’s ever been a friendship in all of history that began when two people learned they were born in the same month, had the same last digit of their SSN#s, or raced each other while balancing ping-pong balls on spoons they held in their mouths.
But I digress.
Once we broke off into the subject-specific groups we’ll be in the rest of the week, our instructor did have us introduce ourselves by telling our name, where we teach, and what we teach. It was during these introductions that I got an idea for a research study of my own that would measure whether teachers in small Arkansas schools have higher rates of depression, alcoholism, and suicide. I’d say ¾ of the people in my class (we have 30) have at least three or four preps, often in two or more subject areas. One lady has six preps! I hope her school stocks the teachers’ lounge with Prozac and Valium.
If I ever conduct a conference (yes, I know that will never happen), I’ll have the instructors pass out their myriad of lesson plans and teacher resources, and then give teachers the rest of the day to peruse the material. Then teachers will come to a session the next day where they can ask the instructor any questions they have after reading the material.
Obviously the folks at the College Board don’t think like I do. Our session today (Tuesday-Thursday will be the same) ran from 8:30-4:30, with two 15-minute breaks and an hour break for lunch. I don’t care if you’re in a class that’s co-taught by every teacher who’s ever had a movie made about them, that much sitting and listening in one place gets tiring quickly.
So I’d be hard-pressed to describe today’s session as interesting or entertaining (parts of it were), but our instructor, who has taught AP for years and served as a test grader many times as well, did provide us with a wealth of good material, including a three-ring binder as thick as a phone book with most of her activities and handouts for a school year and a free book. We’ll be receiving three more books later in the week. The only real downside to all that, though, as any teacher who’s been to a conference knows, is that so much information can be overwhelming, especially once you try to determine what of it you can manage to incorporate into your classes. It’s like to trying to catch a tidal wave in a teacup.
Seven hours of sitting and downing a caffeinated beverage or left me with quite a bit of pent up energy, so I changed into a t-shirt and gym shorts after the session and headed to the fitness center. In just over an hour I managed to squeeze in two exercises per upper-body muscle group (3 sets each), 150 crunches, and a hard, 12-minute run on the track. I think I could’ve given someone on speed a run for his money.
While I was working out, surrounded by a bunch of college kids, it struck me that it’s been ten years since I graduated from college—ten years since I was in some of their shoes, deciding where I’d live, how I’d live, what I’d do for a living, what aspirations I’d pursue, who I wanted to be. That wasn’t the first time I’d pondered those questions, though; that’s just when I realized, “Crap, I have to figure this out-now!” Those questions emerged years before in my early teens and took on a more definite shape my last few years of high school. But I wasn’t the only one asking them of myself. My parents asked them. Spiritual mentors asked them. Teachers asked them.
Occasionally my teachers asked me straight out, but more often it was indirectly, through engaging me in thoughtful discussions, through encouraging me to utilize my talents, through knocking me down a peg or two when my head swelled to where my 158 lb frame could hardly support it or offering an open door and a listening ear when typical high school emotional turmoil weighed heavily on me.
Not to sound sappy, but the opportunity to ask those questions of my students is a big reason why I teach. That and the free tote bags.
The AP conference I'm attending at Arkansas State University doesn't even begin until tomorrow morning, but I've already learned something vitally important: If your district gives you the choice between staying at a hotel and getting reimbursed or staying on-site at a college, whatever you do, choose the hotel.
That was the lesson Kim and I learned the hard way this evening as we wandered helplessly across ASU's campus, guided only by vague directions, looking for where to check-in. Following the instructions we received in an email, we wound up in a nearly deserted parking lot next to a building that's under construction. No problem, we thought. We'd just walk until we found the check-in. So we walked. And walked. And walked. All the while we never saw a single soul. The campus had all the makings of a ghost town. All it needed was a few tumbleweeds rolling in front of the student center. No, scratch that. The buildings looked too new to be a ghost town.
It was more like the Stephen King story "The Langoliers," where a plane passes into some other dimension and lands at a deserted airport. Of course, we were short an Australian hitman, a blind girl, a crazy guy who stabs another passenger, and the strange, static noise in the distance of the langoliers coming to devour us.
I am convinced Jonesboro is in another dimension, though.
Eventually we spotted three campus security guys cruising around in a golf cart. Once we explained our predicament to them, one guy called the head of security who told me, "All you have to do is go over the hill to your right about three hundred yards and then you'll go to the Commons Building at the North Quads to check in. There are lots of signs up."
Okay. Simple enough. So we headed back to the car and drove in the direction he'd told us to go. We saw apartments that we supposed could have been the elusive North Quads, but we didn't know for sure because there were no signs. After we turned down a road not even listed in the directions, we found the entrance to the complex, and what do you know, there was a sign (the only sign anywhere on campus mentioning the conference)! Not the sort of sign you'd expect to see, mind you, one large enough to see from a distance, brightly lettered, welcoming teachers to the AP conference. Nope. Apparently they didn't enlist an undergrad in graphic design to tackle this sign--a white sign about 14'' x 20" sitting two inches off the ground that read "Check-in for Summer Conference," with an arrow pointing straight ahead. Thanks, that was really helpful.
Well, at least we'd found the North Quads. Now it was just a matter of finding the Commons Building . . . the Commons Building . . . the Com . . . oh, come on, where in the @@#I%%U!@#%U*%!!!!! is it!
The only building we saw besides the dormitories was the laundry mat. Dejected, I spotted a sign at the far end of the parking lot that read "Commons Building." At last!
Sweaty, tired, hungry, we lumbered up to the door where a college-age guy greeted us.
"Are you guys looking for the teacher conference check-in?"
"That's in the Commons Building. This is the Red Wolf Inn. Don't feel bad. You guys are like the fourth group in the past hour that's come here."
"You know, this building has a sign right in front of it that says . . . Oh, never mind. Could you tell us where the Commons Building is then?"
"It's that building right down there."
Yep. The laundry mat.
There, in the back of the laundry mat, sat two bemused-looking college girls at beige formica table, with a hand-made sign behind them that said "Welcome, Teachers to the AP Conference." I felt a bit like I was at a voting site in a third-world country, but without a few stray goats eating dryer sheets in the corner.
"Do you have any information packets?"
"Do you have a map of the campus?"
"No, but I think there might be a book in the other room that lists things to do in Jonesboro. Oh, before you go, Matt has to go over some things with you."
Matt, who had been manning the registration table for a bio-tech conference, stepped up and greeted us with a look serious enough that I didn't know whether he was going to give us a few helpful tips about the Quads or entrust us with classified government papers someone may try to kill us for while we're sleeping.
"Okay, just a few things I need to go over with you. Make sure you don't lose your keys. They're $135 to replace. The smoke detectors are very sensitive. Don't spray hair spray or light a match under them. Don't throw anything at the smoke detector or sprinkler."
Really? 'Cause I'd been pretty psyched about throwing my shoes at the sprinkler while I smoked a cigar and styled my hair.
"And don't hang any clothes from the sprinkler either."
So, I should use the clothes rod in the closet for that, right?
"And, give a hoot, don't pollute."
Okay, he didn't say that. He did hand us a trash bag and tell us to come back for more if we needed them, though.
So after that tutorial, we were off to our rooms. Well, we would've been, if we'd known where they were. Oh, our key envelopes had room numbers, it's just that no one at the laundro-check-in-o-mat told us which of the two dozen or so buildings we were in, and none of the buildings were numbered. So, it was back to the laudro-check-in-o-mat to find out which building. Thankfully, it was the building right behind it.
My colleague and I were/are staying on the second and third floors respectively, and, naturally, the building doesn't have an elevator. A short work out later, I arrived at my room. I'm not sure what exactly I expected my room in the quad to be like, but let's just say I found the roughly 8' x 8', linoleum-tiled space with a yellow overhead light, a small desk, and a bed set four feet off the ground a wee bit disappointing. It appears you can adjust the bed height. The problem is the conference's "what to bring" list didn't include a tool kit.
As I write this, I'm lounging atop Mt. Mattress, listening to the man in the adjacent quad who's snoring so loudly I can feel a faint vibration when I put my hand to the wall.
And, just to think, the conference hasn't even started.
I finished the book all of fifteen minutes ago, so I haven't reflected on it enough to muster a thoughtful response to it yet. In short, I laughed some, nodded in assent numerous times, and even cried a bit. Boyett's story as a doubter is very much my own. These are but a few of the passages that really resonated with me:
After acknowledging the sensibility of arguments for and against the existence of God, he concludes, “God is hard to prove. God is hard to disprove. The existence or nonexistence of God is unprovable.”
Later, comparing “spiritual heavyweights” explanations of mundane occurrences with his own, he writes:
“These super-believers are so full of God that there’s no room for doubt. They rarely ask questions, and when they do, the answers are not the findings of science. The answers are supernatural. The answers are usually the same: God.
God is rarely my go-to explanation. On the contrary, my life is so full of doubt that I can’t find room for God. Does that make me a bad Christian? Am I a bad Christian because I do ask hard questions? Am I a bad Christian because explaining every detail as “God at work in my life” seems like religious narcissism instead of profound faith?
I don’t know. I honestly don’t know.”
“When it comes to matters of faith, I find more in common ground among atheists and agnostics than I do with doubt-free Christians.”
“I am not an emotional person. I’m an introvert. So in a Christian subculture that equates emotion with the presence of God, I shouldn’t be surprised that I ‘experience’ God less than everyone else . . . I don’t experience God very much at all, and I think it’s because I’m hesitant to automatically equate an emotional high with the presence of the Almighty.”
“Apologetics can only take a person so far, and it hasn’t taken me far enough. For some people, intellect may be an exit off the doubter’s road. For me, it’s the center line that keeps me on it.”
“What does authenticity look like when it comes to doubt? In almost all cases, it looks like humility.”
“There are few things that turn me off more than people who speak with absolute certitude about complex issues (like eschatology or the Bible) or deep mysteries (like God or the saving work of Christ).”
“I’ve seen brief glimpses of God, bits of glory and slivers of grace, but never the big picture. This frustrates me because the our world needs the big picture. For all the happy talk about God’s blessing and favor on Christian TV, you don’t have to look very far to find a God who seems less available than we’d like . . .”
Like Boyett, I try to "own up to doubt and keep moving."