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7 Reasons Why Techies Love Inception

With opening weekend box office receipts of $62.8 million, it’s clear that the film “Inception” appeals to a broad audience, but Silicon Valley in particular is burning with love for this movie. And I can see why: I loved Inception because I am a geek and a techie at heart. Why does being a geek mean that this movie appeals to me?  True to the spirit of the movie, let me address that question on multiple levels. (Don’t worry — I’ll try to do this in a way that doesn’t have too many spoilers). [digg=]

First, and most superficially, this is a mashup of movie genres that resonate with geeks: The movie combines science fiction, espionage, con games and action movie elements, with requisite car chases and gun battles, spiced up by some excellent special effects (Paris folding in on itself is to die for).

Second, the hero is a good-looking geek — and so is his female colleague. Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) works with a team of hackers — including a really smart, beautiful female geek (I am officially in love with Ellen Page) — who together set out to hack wetware, rather than software. He is deeply passionate about his work and unable to draw a line between his personal and professional pursuits. That’s something geeks can all relate to. But it gets better.

Third, they are attempting a hack that no one else has done before — implanting an idea in someone’s brain so that the person truly feels it is his own idea. If you’re the kind of geek who yearns for detailed schematics of the technology behind all of this, you’ll be disappointed – there are none. This is a movie for the Dungeons-and-Dragon crowd, who are prepared to suspend disbelief in the interest of the game.

Fourth, this team of hackers creates designer dreams, defining elaborate settings and choreographing action so that the “players” end up doing things according to plan – well, at least most of the time. Many critics have put down the movie because the dreams are neat and orderly, not messy and chaotic — but that’s the point, these are geek dreams, carefully programmed in advance, like a video game. In fact, these aren’t even really dreams; they’re artificial constructs that have clear rules and complex labyrinths that must be explored in order to progress.

Fifth, these dreams have multiple layers, with clear protocols for moving from one level to the next. Sounds suspiciously like a technology stack.  But like most technology stacks, even the best defined interfaces sometimes yield unexpected ripple effects across the layers – often something happening in one layer of this dream world results in some kind of disturbance in other layers of the stack. Damn it, can’t we eliminate those messy interdependencies?

Sixth, we have a doomed love story. Cobb spends a good part of the movie yearning for his lost wife, regretting and reliving the loss. A key message of the movie, underscored by the Edith Piaf song that repeatedly plays throughout, is that regret is a draining emotion that one must learn to let go.  It is perhaps not coincidental that the lost love’s name is Mal – French for bad. What geek isn’t driven by regret over a lost love or at least a lost opportunity?

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, there are unresolved mysteries. The movie does not neatly wrap everything up in the end.  We are left with major uncertainties that trigger some vigorous debates among those who have seen the movie, with evidence to support very different interpretations of the end. The end very likely may be just a beginning, true to the title of the film. There is much more to be learned. Nothing less would satisfy a geek.

John Hagel heads a research center in Silicon Valley and is the co-author of the recently released The Power of Pull.  His website is

47 Responses to “7 Reasons Why Techies Love Inception”

  1. Not so much that layers of dreams look like technology stacks, as technology stacks are an imitation of nature. All complexity is arranged into layers/hierarchies.

  2. I loved the whole bending of time and space. The visual effects combined with the stretching of physics and extra dimensional realities was amazing. As a techie myself, I was happy to see all of these things combined.

    Plus, being able to control and live in a dream world where you can be the architect of your own space is a technical and creative paradise.

  3. Lee Blair

    Yeah, who are you kidding? Your third reason is not monumental; it is how stuff gets done! In order for any good idea to happen one must make your boss believe it’s his idea, and only then is it implemented.

    You don’t have to worry, though, since no one with a brain really cares about this stupid movie or the reasons you think tech folks will like it.

  4. I tried to like this movie. Lost interest in the story after the first 20 minutes. I wanted to doze off, but you can’t really fall asleep in movies like this. I’ll give it another shot when it hits DVD.

  5. Clearly, an article written by someone who is a geek and doesn’t know the difference between geeks and nerds.
    Hackers are most definitely nerds.
    Geeks don’t know SHIT about technology.
    The author needs to check themselves before posting about technology and complex ideas; whether or not they have the nerd-balls to justify their views.

    • Bradstor

      your comment is bullshit and is basically a sign of how moronic people get about having the need to label others they don’t know (or in this case hypothetical)

      • Ok, we’ll see who’s releasing the 0day’s for Win 7. It certainly won’t be the geek with a Mac sitting in the corner blogging to their ‘friends’.
        It’s going to be the nerd running BT4 with VMware on their homebrew OC machine.

  6. Antonio Botello

    The movie had a nice base idea, but it was not well managed the cobb´s wife thing was f*****g exhausting!! i give a f**k about that! besides the idea that they were trying to implant was not a reason for me to be on the edge of my seat. Nice CGI and the zero gravity was nice. Regards from México.

  7. Certainly worth seeing.

    —Probably some spoilers in here, I’ve been awake 24 hours and I can’t fully decipher if I’m putting out too much info.—

    Couple reasons why I like the movie? None of the ones listed here unfortunately.

    1) The Hallway fight scene… having heard of Nolan’s love for live-formed visuals rather than CGI practices leads me to think that perhaps, that hallway was built on an axis that was slow rotated during the choreography. The lack of seems in their movement from wall to floor to ceiling just… seemed too perfect. Unlike when Cobb begins walking perpendicular in the box-Paris setting which felt like an old fashioned bluescreen trick :/ [not going into more detail here]

    2) The movie was good, not great. It entertained and provided action but was certainly moderately predictable, and cutting the ending short half a tick to create ‘suspense’ doesn’t really work with me. Otherwise, it was good and it had good moments… though a bit too much liberty with slowing movements. [Van off bridge?]

    3) A fair amount of carelessness from Cobb’s point. Arthur’s blind trust which resulted in everyone joining into this ridiculous mission really makes me wonder why NO ONE stopped and said “Yo… Mol[ly?] is haunting this dude, he’s unstable for this.” [My own theories in terms of devices as to why they went along]

    4) I felt, emotionally/performance speaking… DiCaprio never managed to escape his standard behaviors… and having watched Shutter Island recently… there were moments where his delivery was giving me flashbacks.

    5) Joseph Gordon-Levitt did a great job actually… though Ellen Page’s quick grasp of the entire “Dream-Share” process irked me to no end… though it’s entirely dismissible if you presume the ending implies what it seems to show.

    6) All in all, effects wise it was great and I’ll probably buy it on release if just to try out/breakdown some of the great shots and compositing that was accomplished throughout. [But that’s probably only because I’m currently attending college and studying Digital Visual Effects and Media Arts… ]

    7) It left “unresolved mysteries” yes, but they were quickly forgettable if you take it at face value which, frankly, when making a film… you’re encouraged to firmly believe your audience is made up entirely by idiots who will do just that.

    If there weren’t enough prior… Spoiler alerts ahead…

    If we function that Mol did in fact escape the limbo through her ‘leap of faith’ then we can continue to perceive every person as a projection. Ellen Page represents Cobb’s need to create and explore, she represents his original architect. Arthur is his calculated self, the projection that shows why Cobb is “The best extractor”. The forger, Saito, the chemist… they all play reflective rolls. The Chemist creating a new sedation that will let them go 3 layers deep. Everyone’s protest is a proof of the rational still remaining in Cobb’s mind however in himself he feels a need to move forward with it. The sedation created is Cobb’s inability to let go of the ‘secure’ dream he’s formed for himself. The forger is representative of Cobb’s need to manipulate, his need to alter and recreate as it is necessary when possible. Saito is the business side. He’s the side that got Cobb into the business of Extracting and in this world he presents “A New Possibility” yet again, by offering up the chance to try Inception, the next logical step forward from Extraction.

    Overall it ends up as 2 things;
    Either Cobb is asleep and living out this world and Mol’s recurring is her visiting him in what could be presumed a comatose state at some hospital [which is created to manipulate Fischer, if we recall] and him bringing Saito back is him feeling as though he is accomplishing that which he can’t do for himself.


    Cobb is finally awake, the top does fall and Mol is dead as nails, Saito’s fine and Cobb is better than Morpheus at convincing vanilla-life creators to abandon all reason, risk their lives and take a leap of faith for just a taste of “intensity and raw creation”.

    :/ Seriously… Ellen Page’s incredibly fast understanding and need to ‘understand’ Cobb is probably the one major problem I had with this film.

    Still enjoyable, definitely worth seeing.

  8. hmmm leonardo di caprio…now when that guy is in a film i wanna go see the film, specially after Shutter Island and The Aviator. I am sure this is gonna be one heck of a mind ride.

  9. shekharonline

    The thing is, it works. Dreams and films are so much related – as they many a times explore the unknown things with known surroundings. Finally as per the thought in the movie, Nolan does an “Inception” on our minds for 3 hours or so and effect stays for some weeks – after you wake up from the dream (movie). Superb graphics and effect. Infact this movie in 3D would have made a huge $$$ than Avatar. Just a thought…

  10. Tarnzi

    I really like the movie, many shots was done really well but simple enough! Concept of the movie as well as the way things rolled out, was not ‘over complicated’ and it has a pretty good weight to it. But you know what~~ I think the name of the movie really fits the movie!!! I really like it LOL …

    You maybe see ‘dream vs reality’ in maybe movie before, but none really give you the ‘real feels/ possibility’ like this one~~ I think~~

    Give it a chance and go see for your self!

  11. Have not seen the movie and will probably wait for the DVD or Netflix streaming…same as with anything Hollywood produces. The trailer and main idea are highly reminiscent of “the cell”, albeit a more “sanitized”, family friendly version…

  12. I really loved this movie. To break it down I am going to use some programming logic. Imagine a while loop with nested loops which represent all the levels of dreaming in this movie. This nested loops exit successfully but the while loop itself which represents Cobb’s dream does not have an exit condition.

  13. Inception is an extension of the old Matrix idea of multiple parallel universes, of which only one is supposedly real, and the other(s) are either (a) virtual, through digital technology (Matrix) or (b) virtual through psychedelic? technology (Inception). I am leaving out Avatar from this comparison because two parallel worlds BOTH of which were clearly physical.

    In fact, the existence of illusory parallel worlds is a key ingredient of Sankara’s Advaita Vedanta view of the world as shown in the movie “Are You Real?”

  14. This was a good movie, this article makes no sense though. Why geeks like inception is the most tenuous and poor article I’ve seen about this movie.

  15. But if you are a geek, you can predict how the movie would end since the first time you know that the movie is about dream. At least I did. It was a good movie, but how it ended was predictable and it lacked some twisted plots for me. Having said that, it’s much better than any movies released recently.
    And thank God it wasn’t in 3D :D

  16. “Third, they are attempting a hack that no one else has done before — implanting an idea in someone’s brain so that the person truly feels it is his own idea.”

    Anyone who has ever tried to get anything done in the workplace that requires approval knows that this is attempted and achieved perhaps on a daily basis.

  17. Artruro Jayson

    I’ve yet to meet someone who liked or has even seen this movie. All the techs and geeks I know only do real tech and don’t watch movies. Everyone can do CGI on their own computers that’s better than the movies. Buy Vue 8 or download Anim8or for free and you can make your own CGI better than any movie. You’ll never have to see a movie again. Pretend you’re a drunk detective trapped in a video game. :)

    • True, nobody that I know likes movies either. We should all create our own garbage CGI because that’s all movies are, and is the only reason people see them. All the techs and geeks you know only “do real tech”? Have you ever talked to a person before? Please remove yourself from the internet immediately.

    • Bradstor

      I used to do real tech. I became a real tech addict. My family and friends were tortured by my love of real tech. I withdrew from the world. Didn’t go to movies or watch TV. I did real tech all day long. When the urge for movies came up I made my own CGI for free which was better than the movies I never watched. Fortunately, I got counselling. I don’t do real tech any more. I don’t do CGI. I got help and now all I do is life!

  18. I saw it today. It was ok.
    The top spins at the end but it wobbles.
    To me, this means Cobb is no longer dreaming.

    That being said…

    Fischer is about to dismantle the business empire and Saito benefits when that happens.
    This just doesn’t make any sense.
    First of all, how do they know for sure Fischer will dismantle it?
    Why would Fischer think it’s a smart idea to dismantle it?
    If he dismantles it, it will be a stupid business decision.
    And if he dismantles it because it’s better for the world, it’s stupid as well. If you want to create a better world, you stay in control, and you make others do the right thing.
    If Fischer dismantles it, someone else like Saito will go after the monopoly.

    Geeks like things that make sense. Try to make sense of this, pls.

    • Qwerty

      Did you watch the movie? The whole point was that they weren’t trying to convince him that it was a good business decision or good for the world to split up the company, but that his father loved him and wants him to be his own man by creating his own legacy and not using his fathers.

  19. Nergol

    Frankly, I wasn’t that impressed. Mostly this was because I’d seen the main concepts from this movie done better in previous movies. Satoshi Kon’s anime movie “Paprika” covered the same ground, and was more visually interesting. Mamoru Oshii’s “Urusei Yatsura: Beautiful Dreamer” also touched on the same subjects, and had better pacing and a more interesting plot. Not to mention “Dreamscape” and “The Cell”, which did the same thing. Hell, the situation with Cobb’s wife killing herself because she didn’t know if she was in a dream is exactly what happened to Sam Tyler in “Life On Mars” (the BBC original, not the American remake). So, yeah… not so impressed.

    • That’s not why Sam Tyler killed himself.

      Just because an idea has been explored doesn’t in itself any less appealing. How many ways have we seen a Shakespeare play reworked?

      Solid film that did us all the favor of treating us like we had a brain to tell a fun story… really not much more too it than tat. I thoroughly enjoyed watching it.

    • Seraph

      All of those movies (especially Paprika) are more concerned with the distortion and blurring of the line between dreams and reality. Inception is quite clear about what is a dream and what isn’t, and is more concerned with the psychology of the target and of Cobb. The movie begins and ends with the idea that an idea is the most dangerous of all, and with the revelation about the projection of Mal the audience comes to an understanding of why that might be.

      Cobb’s first act of Inception has repercussions in both Mal’s and his own mind, so much so that his subconscious actively works to trap instead of expel. The story is more about his personal manifestation of guilt than about layering dreams. The blurring of the line between dreams and reality is only presented at the end as a mind bender, not a central idea of the film.

      Also, you could find any number of examples of things that happened in Inception that happened in other movies, such as your comparison between Sam Tyler and Mal Cobb. Individual scenes and events can be compared to an infinite number of like stories that have been told. What is important is under what context they are presented. The suicide of Mal is important not because she believes that she’s still dreaming, but because Cobb put the idea in her head that it was true. His entire character revolves around the idea that it was his fault.

  20. Loved the movie. Saw it twice. It is a story that if pitched to me @ a bar, sober, I would laugh and say “Huh?”. 2 Drinks in and I am sold.. 2 tickets stat! Good work Christopher Nolan creating new mythology.