Stories That Give You Options: Good or Bad or Just Driving Me Mad?

Posted on 05/10/2012 by


The first time I watched Inception I wasn’t a big fan of it. I think because I’d seen the trailer and I loved the premise, so when I actually saw the movie I was disappointed that they didn’t spend a lot of time really exploring the possibilities inherent in the idea.

A couple of years later I watched it for a second time.* I went into it thinking of it as a heist movie with a particularly cool piece of tech. And I loved it.

So obviously my response was partly to do with expectation. But ultimately I think I was disappointed and then loved it for the same reason — the fact that it raised this wonderful idea and then barely scratched the surface. Because while I wanted them to explore it further, the fact that they didn’t, that they just threw this thing up into the air, codified practically nothing about it, and the left it… it leaves so much up to the imagination.

An artistic rendering of several scenes from the movie "Inception", showing incomplete images of the characters of Arthur and Eames in black and white, looking in opposite directions, a green-washed image of Arthur's back as he takes and emergency exit, and an image of Eames in full-snow gear and blizzard background firing a gun into the air. Caption read: Don't get any big ideas. They're not gonna happen.

Actually the whole movie is like that. You’re presented with pieces of a number of different stories, sketches of characters and pasts and relationships with none of them entirely filled out. And that can be frustrating, but it has its charms. Because it allows you to fill in the gaps with whatever you want. It lets you write hope or tragedy or drama or whatever you want into the silence.

It’s one of those things I always have a really conflicted reaction to (like purple Fanta). Because as a writer I like being given options, being allowed the god-like authorial control of those decisions. But as long as I’m making those choices rather than the creators they’re not really canon, so in some ways they’re not as satisfying. On the one hand I can always go back and watch (or read) again and alter my interpretation of what I’m seeing, on the other, there’s no single answer I can embrace.

It’s exactly like reading books that have multiple endings and let you (or force you to) choose.** I’m always left with this vaguely unfinished feeling. And I don’t know if I like it. But I keep drinking the purple Fanta, trying to figure out if I like it or not. And I’m equally drawn to those deliberately incomplete stories, poking at the gaps to see what monsters might be in the darkness.


* And again recently because for some reason it was in the Classics section on one of the fifteen planes I’ve been on in the last few months. And it’s a great movie to watch when you’re taking a long haul flight from Sydney to LA.

** I don’t mean choose-your-own-adventure books, although they do it too. More like The French Lieutenant’s Woman. Or Beyond the Labyrinth, which actually asks you to roll a dice before you read the last chapter to decide which ending you get.


Posted in: Kandace