The Most Persistent Parasite…

…is scientifically probably the tapeworm.  Economically, it’s more likely a poverty-stricken relation.  From a social perspective, it can be an ex with rejection issues, and from a gastronomical perspective it can be those Mexican beans you had the misfortune to eat three weeks ago. If you’re a reform-minded politician, the most persistent parasite is probably a bureaucrat.  Actually, scratch that, if you’re ANYONE, the bureaucrat is probably the most persistent parasite.

Mentally, the most persistent parasite is probably that weird little ad jingle you heard three years ago.  This week, for some reason, I got the Step in Time song from “Mary Poppins” stuck in my head, and moved from there on to all the other songs.  It actually kinda bothers me that no one at work even noticed I was whistling It’s a Jolly Holiday.  They may be getting TOO used to me.

I told one of my smart-aleck friends about this, and he told me he knew the cure for that.

“Oh?” said I.  “What’s that?”

A spoonful of sugar.”

Smart aleck.  Anyway, Mary Poppins isn’t the WORST movie to get stuck in your head.  Disney did a pretty good job with it, especially considering the source material.  If you’ve ever read the Mary Poppins books, you know they can tend to be a little creepy and more than a little bizarre.  One time the kids stay overlate at the zoo and learn that at night the animals lock up people.  Another time they’re out shopping with Mary and they bump into a naked little pagan god.  One particularly creepy chapter has Jane nearly getting trapped in a magical painted plate.  Not exactly Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.

If you’re an artist, the most persistent parasite is probably that one popular piece of work that has NO redeeming quality whatsoever, but everyone seems to love.  And keeps loving.  Like, say, Twilight.  Or maybe “Cats.”

I borrowed the music to “Cats” last week and spent the trips to work and back listening to this oh-so-famous musical, and I really can’t see what’s so fantastic about it.  It’s a bunch of songs listing the various cats there are in the world.  “Here is Grumpletrin the GLAMOUR cat.”  “Here is Spike the GINGER cat.”  “Here is Mr. Mephistopheles the really really CLEVER cat.” 

Mind you, they’re nice songs.  Well written, evocative, and parasitic enough to stick in your brain for an hour or so, though not, unfortunately, long enough to overwhelm “Mary Poppins.”  So it’s probably unfair of me to say the play has NO artistic merit.  Shoot, the way art is these days, maybe the thing is LOADED with artistic merit and I’m just a soulless slob who can’t see it.  Or maybe it’s just because I’m not really a cat person.  But I can’t get around the play’s pure lack of anything resembling a story.

Electronically, or more accurately temporally, the most persistent parasite is almost definitely a flash video game about zombies.  There are tons of them, probably because the AI to zombies is really really simple, but the most addictive I’ve played yet is a game on Kongregate called ReBuild.


MAN, that game ate up my week.  Apparently, it did it to a bunch of other people too.  I was planning to write and draw and maybe learn some martial arts… (well, write and draw, anyway), and I basically got jack squat done, because I was too busy trying to drive out zombies from the cities.  On a positive note, it IS nice to play a game that actually has you beating the zombies instead of simply gunning them down or trying to escape from them.  And since the game is all RTS, you never actually SEE any zombies, so a lot of the obligatory gore is spared you.

Again, zombies and their new popularity represent an interesting trend in popular culture and I’d love to study it in further depth, but I can’t because I decided to write this blog about something else.  In any case, zombies are probably pretty persistent parasites in and of themselves, seeing as how they follow the living EVERYWHERE.

If you’re Dom Cobb, though, the most persistent parasite is an idea.  And that wins coolness points, both for how well it’s phrased and because it’s from “Inception.”

I’m a little leery of reviewing “Inception,” partly because it’s such a complex movie and I’m not sure I can do it justice, partly also because I just watched it on DVD and am probably a little biased.  But I’ve got to review it sometime, and what better time than when it’s fresh in my mind?

“Inception,” for those of you not in the know, is a mind-bending thriller by Christopher Nolan of “Batman Begins” fame.  It depicts a world where people can steal other people’s ideas through their dreams, and follows a specific team tasked with “inception”—the planting of an idea, a supposedly impossible task.  If you haven’t seen it, stop reading here because there are going to be a couple spoilers in the next few paragraphs.

“Inception” is, in a weird sort of way, a heist movie.  And an action movie.  And a psychological thriller.  And, obviously, a sci-fi movie.  It is also a enormously complex movie that uses special effects in some of the most innovative ways you’re likely to see anywhere.

Let me start by saying that the major weakness of this film is its complexity.  The technical background to dream-sharing and the different implications of that takes nearly half the movie to explain, and even after the job starts there are new twists that need continual explanation.  The whole movie is exposition on the initial technical concept.  So much explanation makes it easy to get lost in all the details, and the time spent trying to make it clear leaves little time for the side characters.  The side characters ARE interesting—Saito would make an awesome CEO—but we don’t really get to know them well enough.

“Inception” is not setting out to make any moral points.  Okay, they need to plant this idea in the guy’s head so that his corporation doesn’t take over the world’s energy supply, but that’s essentially a business matter that only conceptually relates to good and evil.  It does mean that there’s more to this job than the money and politics involved, but none of that really matters to Cobb, because all he cares about is getting home to his family.  For Cobb, it’s personal.

And that’s key to understanding this movie, because in a big way, this movie is all about personal matters, especially Cobb’s.  The worlds and scenes are literally playing grounds for Cobb’s personal emotions to manifest themselves.  And (and this is what people tend to miss) Fischer’s as well.

Fischer is easy to overlook, because he’s the target and, again, he gets shortchanged on all the exposition.  But he IS key, because he IS the target.  Half the story is his reconciliation with his dead father, and if you pay attention, the worlds themselves give a good sense of how he thinks about the people in his life.  The first level shows mostly the unvarnished aspect… how his relationship with his father actually was.  The second level begins to get more into Fischer’s doubts—that his godfather might be playing against him—and his hopes—that his father actually wanted him to make his own life.  And, of course, the third level shows the fulfillment of his desire for reconciliation.  At the end of the movie, Fischer is a man who’s come to terms with his father’s life and death, albeit through the agency of some manipulative dream-thieves who built up a purely conceptual image of his father.  But hey, that’s therapy for you.

The other half of the story is Dom, who’s still coming to terms with his wife’s death.  This guilt, embodied (enminded? Envisualized?) in the mental projection of said dead wife, keeps him from working effectively and throws the whole job into jeopardy.  It’s an interesting thematic touch that the major obstacle keeping Dom from final reunion with his family is his guilt.  For him to redeem himself—in both a legal and familial sense—he needs to come to terms with his guilt and learn to let it go.

This is central to the movie and has a lot to do with the final “spinning top” scene.  Theoretically, Dom doesn’t have to come to terms with his wife’s death.  He could just live in “limbo,” alone with his “guilt.”  A sort of purgatory, in a way, but also an escape from responsibilities.  And as his wife points out, what’s the difference?  Dom’s current trackless existence is hardly any more real than his plethora of fabricated dream worlds.  The scene with the dreamers under the chemist’s shop give an object lesson of this—people who live only in dreams, and believe the real world to be a sort of dream itself.  As the attendant there says, “Who are you to judge?”  He and Mal (Cobb’s wife), put forward an subjective vision of reality.  Dream?  Real?  Who cares?  LOVE is real.

But Cobb, to his credit, rejects this subjective interpretation.  Love is real, very real to him, but so is the world, and so are people.  He realizes that the world is not simply as he makes it, it’s infinitely more complex than he could ever envision.  As he says to the guilt-projection of his wife, “You’re not good enough.  You’re the best my subconscious could come up with, but I could never imagine you with all your complexity, all your perfection.”  Cobb rejects the subjective vision of the dream world and returns to the objective reality.

Or does he?

My belief is that he does.  The movie uses that ending because it’s taunting and it underscores the central questions of “what is reality,” etc., but when it gets down to it, Cobb is probably back in the real world.  He’s come to terms with his wife’s death, he’s saved his benefactor, he’s redeemed himself.  From a purely storyline point of view, he certainly was in the real world BEFORE he started the job, and unless he simply went from limbo to a lower level of dreaming, he returned to it.  He’s not one to stick around in a subjective world.

If you’ve read this far, I hope you saw the movie already, because I gave a LOT away, and a lot of the fun in this movie is its twists.  But if you haven’t, go out and see it, at least once (possibly twice so you actually can understand it).  It’s a wonderfully complex movie that will stick in your mind for a long while.

Like a very persistent parasite.


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