Inception (again) of women as hysterical

As usual, I’m a little late to the party, but I saw Christopher Nolan’s massively successful new film, Inception, this weekend and wanted to put out my two, feminist cents.

The film was all things Hollywood blockbuster–ensemble cast, lots of action sequences, “deep” plot designed to make one reflect on psycho-philosophical concepts like memory, lucid dreaming, the contagion of ideas, relationships as worlds onto themselves, the power of perception etc. Though I have to admit that I tired of the more egregious shoot-em-up, indulgent action sequences, I was fairly engaged for the entire 148 minutes of the film–inspired to reflect on a lot of the themes and stunned by the visual originality of the film as a whole.

It was hard not to notice that the only female member of the team, played by Ellen Page, is also the one who is the most emotionally-attuned, and charged with holding the lead male, played by Leo DeCaprio, responsible for his subconscious desires and emotional recklessness. The rest of the male ensemble, though way more experienced with the sort of subconscious travel that they are engaged in, plus apparently sharing a history with DeCaprio’s character, appear largely oblivious.

It’s also hard not to notice that the wife in the film, played by Marion Cotillard, is a sort of prototypical hysteria figure…the wife who drives herself to madness because of her fragile disposition and vulnerability (spoiler alert) to be manipulated by her husband. It brought me back to my grad school days when I read Phyllis Chesler’s Women & Madness: “Women are in a continual state of mourning—for what they never had—or had too briefly, and for what they can’t have in the present, be it Prince Charming or direct worldly power.”

Cotillard’s character is sort of a stand-in for the manipulated female lover, who can’t locate her own grasp on what is real and what is fake, what is her own legitimate worldview and what is male-constructed dream state. Ultimately, she tries to turn the table by manipulating the man herself, not a legitimate seize for power, but a desperate, clawing attempt at not being left alone. Ugh.

In any case, I’ll be thinking about the themes and visual ingenuity of Inception for a long time to come, but the gender dynamics were less than dreamy.

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