Somewhere between fiction and reality, there's life.
WARNING: This post discusses the endings of the film Inception and the game Limbo.
The only detail in Christopher Nolan’s Inception that struck me as truly dreamlike was not an intentional one on the part of the director. Actress Marion Cotillard famously played Edith Piaf in the film La Vie En Rose, and here, the Piaf song “Non, je ne regrette rien” is featured. This struck me as the sort of association our subconscious might make while we sleep, and suggested to me that cinema might be akin to a shared societal dreamscape. On the whole, though, while I found Inception to be a fascinating mechanical puzzle, I also found it cold, lacking in both genuine human emotion and in a willingness to embrace the full potential of the concept of dreams, presenting dreams that seem much more like levels from a richly detailed but sterile video game than from anything I ever encounter while sleeping.
In another bit of purely unintentional cultural intersection, the term “Limbo” is very important in Inception, referring to a state of pure subconscious, and it is also the title of an exceptional new game which creates an experience that’s infinitely more dreamlike than anything in Inception.
One thing Inception gets right about dreams is the idea that we just find ourselves in them, never really knowing or stopping to think about how we got there. In Limbo, you find yourself in a forest; spooky, hazy, geographically only somewhat defined, a far cry from the elegant precision of Inception’s dreamstates. As you press on, the landscape slowly shifts and you encounter new areas and obstacles, all with a simple, dreamlike iconography to them—boats to cross little pools of water, shadowy, malevolent figures, terrifying spiders. The simple but beautiful visuals and the sound, creating moods with menacing tones but rarely if ever forming into what most of us might call music, create a kind of reverie. Each time the boy dies, it shocks me awake, Inception-like, but immediately I’m transported back to the dreamworld of the game.
Never in my journey through Limbo did I find anything as symbolically straightforward as an elevator down into the deeper levels of the mind, or some documents locked in a safe. And I found its ending—which I thought was perfect—shared a surprising parallel with that of Inception, leaving the same questions open at the moment of being reunited with loved ones: Is this moment real, or still a dream? And does it matter?