My Dream of Liberty Encased

I have cinematic dreams that I watch as a little sleeping movie critic. I’m sure you’re familiar with this weird state of consciousness. You know you’re asleep and dreaming; the dream is unfolding around you, but part of your mind, the part that knows you’re dreaming, is aware and watching. It’s busy taking notes, making snide remarks, lamenting poor production values and snickering at clichés.  Sometimes it’s surprised and delighted by unexpected turns. This morning I had an entertaining dream.

I was visiting the Statue of Liberty for the second time. I’ve seen the statue in my waking life and it is well worth the security shakedown you’ll get before boarding the ferry at Battery Park. In my dream I knew that many years had passed since my last visit and I was nervous about recent changes. As the ferry pulled up to the statue’s island my concerns materialized. The entire island had been “redeveloped.” The little park at the base of the statue was gone: replaced by a massive marble covered plaza. Standing in the middle of the plaza was a large, hideous, marble, glass and steel building that completely enclosed the statue. From the island boat dock you couldn’t even see Liberty! “Oh crap,” my dreaming self muttered. Large signs on the dock warned us about “demonstrative language.” We were  to conduct ourselves with quiet dignity while visiting this “shrine of democracy.” My dreaming self, and the little sleeping movie critic, both inwardly groaned. Nothing says “democracy” like shutting up and taking whatever’s doled out.

I got off the boat feeling hopeful; there had to be a good vantage point to look at Liberty. I was carrying my cameras, so I set off exploring the plaza looking for a good place to take pictures. The plaza was still under construction. Construction fencing blocked off the plaza behind the Liberty building. You couldn’t walk around the building, but you could go far enough to see that the walls were completely opaque on all sides except the front, where Liberty gazed at the harbor. Her back and sides were completely hidden and exceptionally thick steel girders buttressed the back wall. “That ought to block incoming planes,” my dream self thought. My little movie critic wasn’t happy. Liberty is about open possibilities in all directions. It’s not about being stuffed in a box and hidden from view. All my selves found it difficult to believe that some moron thought it was a good idea to completely cover the thing we were all there to see.

Determined to get a good picture, I turned back from the construction fence and walked along the base of the building. On the way I passed two little men dressed in black; they were staging a puppet show. Only the puppets weren’t little dolls on strings they were massive pantomime robots that towered over the tourists. The giant robots were exactly mimicking what the little men were doing. My somnolent movie critic thought, “Cute – the great men are really just little men putting on a big show. If you take away their puppets they’re even smaller and more pathetic than the rest of us.” I took a moment to congratulate my dreaming self for abruptly injecting this metaphor while also noting it was too blatant for refined tastes.

Leaving the puppeteers, I made my way to the front entrance of the building. It was like every visitor center you have ever entered. A fat black woman with bad breath patted me down and made me run my already checked camera bags through an x-ray scanner. I picked up my camera bags and wandered in the Liberty building until I found a dark series of escalators running up the front of the massive statue. I was suddenly happy. This must lead to a good viewpoint. I walked up the escalator steps fumbling with my camera bags. Immediately, in dream steps, I was at the top of the escalators. They discharged into a small dark brown room at the very top of Liberty. In the middle of the room, wrapped in museum display velvet, a bit of Liberty’s crown reflected dim halogen lights. Tourists were touching the exposed crown bit like they kiss the toes of bronze saints. My movie critic approved, “This is the way we do oppression. We don’t beat people up; we don’t loudly lord it over them; we don’t get in their big fat stupid faces day in and day out. No, we turn important symbols into tourist attractions, wrap them up as venerated national monuments, and because we have nasty sense of humor, we allow well frisked tourists to touch a bit of, ‘Liberty’, while doing everything we can to deny them real liberty.”

At this point I woke up and thought, “Boy John, your subconscious totally nailed it with that one!” This is how we do oppression. Being a citizen in the Indebted States of America is exactly like being a crown touching tourist in my dream. We pretend the sliver of freedom we’re allowed to touch makes us free but it really only showcases our stupidity and cowardice. A truly free people would tear down the Liberty encasing visitor center and hang the architects from the remains of the plane blocking girders.

The 20 seconds that ruined Inception

Inception Token

Last week I saw Inception with my daughter.  I was seriously considering giving this flick a miss after reading Michelle Malkin’s rant about its empty-headed actors.  Nothing ruins a movie faster than an actor going off-script!  Actors are given scripts written by others for very good reasons.  Most of them have stunted childlike minds that rarely emit ideas worth considering.  I have no patience for such nonsense and I certainly won’t pay for it. Lucky for Inception its Cineplex competitors were defining a new standard of airbending suckitude — move over Plan 9 there’s a new fetid pant load in town.

Spoiler Alert

To my relief the juvenile politics of Inception’s actors did not manifest in the movie.  Inception is a fine film but it threw away its slim chance at greatness in the last twenty seconds.  At this point I must issue an all points spoiler alert.  Do not read  beyond this paragraph if you want to preserve your faint chance of being surprised.

Inception is all about recursive nature of reality and dreams.  What is a dream and what is reality?  How does dream time relate to real-time?  Does such a question even make sense? Are we in a dream?  What happens if we dream in a dream?  The movie tackles these themes with technical gusto. The special effects are so special you forget about being impressed and just enjoy the story.  On this account Inception succeeds were Avatar sounded some sour notes.  You cannot fault this movie on technical grounds.  Nor can you fault it on cheesy subject matter.  How many Hollywood blockbusters deal with the nature of reality?

To avoid getting lost in dreams the Inception dreamers carried a personal test token. The test token is a small object that behaves one way in dream worlds and another way in reality. And, this is crucial to Inception’s plot, only one dreamer should know the token’s trick. DiCaprio’s character used the spinning top shown above.  As some readers have pointed out the spinning top is DiCaprio’s wife’s token but he knows that in dreams the top never stops spinning while in the real world it tips over. By spinning the top he can distinguish dreams from reality.

In the last twenty seconds of Inception DiCaprio’s character returns home and starts the top spinning on a table.  Throughout the film he has been trying to catch glimpses of his children’s faces.  In his dreams their faces are always turned away.  Finally, they turn their heads and he sees their faces.  Then the camera cuts to the spinning token. It’s still spinning but it’s wobbling and starting to fall.

The film ends before the token falls. I’m guessing the director just couldn’t stomach the focus group happy ending and spared us the indignity of watching the top fall.  Despite the residual uncertainty, maybe it doesn’t fall and this isn’t reality but another dream, the implication is clear enough we are safe and sound and back in the real world.   A better ending would have been no top wobbling and no child faces. Then everything would have been marvelously ambiguous and unclear.  Never pander to the audience art is to delicate for that!