Saturday, September 18, 2010

Inception of Confusion: A Detailed Analysis

Note: all the charts in this post are expandable by clicking on them. You'll thank me later.

This post may be a bit late to the party, but I was made aware that people are still experiencing Inception for the first time, so here goes...

I love Christopher Nolan movies. Inception has joined a fond place in my analytical mind right beside other Nolan classics like Memento, The Dark Knight, and The Prestige. The writing, cinematography, direction, tightly created philosophies...they're all spot on. I'm glad I convinced TLC to watch Inception with me - I was in cinematic heaven.

Here's a funny little video of how Inception SHOULD have ended. For those of you who haven't seen the film (...or Juno), the video won't make any sense. But for those of you who have seen Inception, well...the rest of this post may not make any sense either...

I spent at least an hour one day checking out Great stuff.

Many, many people have reported feeling very confused about what was going on in Inception. Personally, I don't see where the confusion is coming from...and I'll tell you why. In a well-made film with a cohesive plot and story, there are really only two ways to confuse the modern audience: non-linear storytelling, or alternate timelines.

Nonlinear Storytelling:
(TLC wants me to inform you that I've only seen the edited version of this film and, consequently, cannot recommend the unedited version for your viewing pleasure.)

I'm not talking about a simple flashback when I say nonlinear storytelling. Flashbacks are devices used to show the explanation or thought of a past event in the present. Nonlinear storytelling is a deliberate device to obfuscate the story for an audience or increase suspense and drama, not enlighten as the flashbacks in Inception do.

An early Christopher Nolan film, Memento is a beauty of nonlinear storytelling. The protagonist is a former detective with no short-term memory (which is a real condition) who is trying to get revenge for the murder of his wife. In order to put the audience through the same experience as the protagonist, an elaborate edit of the story is used:

The opening scene is the last event in the story. The second scene (which is black and white) is the first event in the story. Then the next scene (back to color) is the second to last event and the scene after that (B&W again) is the second event in the story! So the movie switches from telling the ending of the story in backward order and telling the beginning of the story in the correct order but in black and white. The movie eventually meets at the middle of the story (and transitions from B&W to color), and that's the closing scene. The plot versus story editing is so masterfully done and so CONFUSING that the following graph was produced to illustrate what's going on.

I had to spend a few minutes just trying to understand the graph!

If you've got a really keen eye, you probably already saw that the first scene (the upper left-most red line) is moving in a different direction than all the other lines. That's because the first scene is played out in reverse, so the first frame of the film is literally the final second of the story. Wow!

In comparison, Inception makes use of nonlinear storytelling, but to a MUCH lesser extent. The opening two minutes of the film is close to the last thing to happen chronologically. I'm not even sure why, it's a nice touch but unnecessary to the presentation of the plot.

But as confusing as Memento may be, it can't even hold a candle to this next film.

Alternate Timelines:

Primer was a small independent film that came out in 2004. It was shot on one of the smallest budgets I've ever heard of and is still the most confusing and one of the smartest films I've ever witnessed. Primer is about two buddies (Aaron and Abe) who accidentally discover time travel ("Oops!") and have to face the ethical dilemmas their machine (which they simply call "the box") creates in their own unique styles.

Just the method by which the time travel is depicted is extremely smart. So smart, the chart below was produced to explain it.

What? No DeLorean?

The dialogue in Primer assumes that Aaron and Abe know so much about physics that they have no need to explain it to each other, so heavy physics nomenclature is used and the audience is left out of the typical "dumbed-down Star Trek explanations" of what stuff does. For instance, you've just got to know that Palladium can be found in a catalytic converter...there's no explanation in the film as to why Aaron is cutting one out of his car.

So here's my point: a smidgen of the "confusion" from Inception may come from the use of alternate timelines. You see, there isn't just one 'reality' being played out - there are five (or six) during the climax of the film: Airplane (which is reality), Bridge, Hotel, Snow Zone, and Limbo (with the sixth timeline possibility of Cobb being placed in an artificial happy ending...though I perceived it as reality). But all events of the timelines are shown and they're all in chronological order, so it's really easy to follow.

Primer has NINE timelines. I can't designate them by different locations like in Inception as they all happen in the same geographic area. The timelines aren't presented in chronological order (...I think?), and only seven timelines are shown in the film! The initial timeline isn't even in the movie - it's just assumed!!! It's so completely confusing that (are you noticing a trend?) there's a graph of the various timelines below. Only the yellow sections of the graph are in the movie - all the blue is just implied. I spent at least an hour thinking through the graph...and I'm still a little fuzzy on how a minor third character, Granger, found out about 'the box'.

I was hopelessly lost through the final 20 minutes of the film. And I still loved it. If you have Netflix Instant, I highly recommend spending an evening trying to figure out Primer. You will never, ever again be confused by a wide-release film like Inception.

By the way, Primer is so confusing that it was even used as a punchline in the following comic (which is extremely well-done) from the uber-geeky xkcd.

Friday, September 17, 2010

First Days

Ahh, Autumn. How I love thee. I love the pomegrantes, pecans, and pumpkins. I love the fall leaves and hot chocolate evenings. I love the smell of stoked chimneys in the neighborhood. And I love the structure that returns to our household when the kids are back in school!

The patriotic first-grader.

Jordan loves the idea that now he has homework. No idea how long that excitement will last.

Carter also started preschool this year! Unfortunately it's not a state-funded program in Oregon, but I still think it will be worth the tuition. Carter already had a field trip where he collected fruits and vegetables from a local farm. He seemed very pleased when we put out his produce as a centerpiece on the dinner table and then tried them all.

Can you tell he's a naturalized cheesehead?

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Better Board Games Part 2: Exclusives

I think I'm writing this because I'm getting depressed that I can't find any local board-gaming couples to play games at our house. On Sunday we called about 6 families to invite them for dinner and games. The first 5 didn't answer their phones, the sixth couple said 'yes', but then canceled. Do they hate having fun? Don't they know how well I cook? Should I just take a hint?...

Anyway, as I've stated before in the first Better Board Games post (which is practically required reading around here), we have a large collection of designer board games not found in the average American household. To reiterate, a better board game has the following characteristics:

  1. Most important, it has to be FUN.
  2. It should be EYE-CATCHING. Just like with great cuisine, the gaming experience is enhanced if it's pleasing to look at.
  3. It should require players to make CHOICES. This is what draws people into games. No roll-and-move games accepted here.
  4. It should be EASY TO TEACH in less than 5 minutes. Any longer, and most people will shut off their ears. True story.
  5. It must be SOCIAL. In board games, you're meant to have fun with other people. The best games promote conversation among those playing.
I listed five examples in the first post. Here I'd like to highlight five more examples, but this time the games are rare finds even by collectors' standards. So if you'd ever like to play these games you MUST COME TO OUR HOUSE...please???


Crokinole is simple flicking game reminiscent of shuffleboard on a round surface. This is one of my three favorite games and we play it more regularly than anything else. I love the above photo because it really shows the spirit of Crokinole: generations playing together, a well-worn surface from MANY games, and excitement over every single flick.

Why it's rare: A typical board can cost $150-$500. I decided to make my own board instead of pony up the cost.

Mississippi Queen

Mississippi Queen was the 1997 winner of the 'Oscars' of board games: Spiel des Jahres. It's basically a steamboat race down the Mississippi River, but you don't know what's coming next on the river, and you have to slow down to pick up passengers on the way. I never know what to expect on this one (except fun). 

Why it's rare: This game has been out-of-print in the USA for many years. Boo. You can still find it internationally, but the price is much higher than when it was in print. I was lucky enough to find someone on Ebay willing to sell it for less than 1/2 of its value.


Go is the greatest game ever made. Let me repeat that, Go is the greatest game ever made. One philosopher stated that God's closet has one board game - Go. Simple enough to learn in 5 minutes, yet mastery takes a lifetime.

Why it's rare: Truth be told, this isn't a rare game but most Westerners haven't heard about it as it's of Oriental origin. Instead, we perceive a European game, Chess, as 'the master game'. I hate Chess, but love Go. Also, it can get pricey. Really nice sets can cost $10,000+ but my still-quite-nice set was 1/100 of that.

PitchCar / PitchCar Mini

Another flicking game like Crokinole, but this one has a building component. You build a race track out of various curves, straights, and jumps before flicking wooden cars around three laps. The best games come unbelievably close to the wire and have a few wild shots that jump off the table. Lots of funny moments here. I made some custom Nintendo character discs and a new rule set for my copy...I call it Mario PitchKart.

Why it's rare: Well, first of all, this isn't made out of cardboard. It's wooden and therefore, pricey. Second, the publisher of this game doesn't really make anything else so they don't have a great distribution system; it's hard to find in stock. We have Pitchcar Mini instead of the larger version because the full-size track wouldn't fit on our table!

Nexus Ops

This game is different from all the rest on this list in that it is an American game. Nexus Ops is a corporate battle for resources on an alien planet that always seems to turn into an intense game of 'King of the Hill'. And did I mention it glows under black lights??? Seriously, that makes it awesome by any standards.

Why it's rare: Nexus Ops used to sell for practically nothin' at Toys R Us. But the stores didn't keep the game on shelves long enough for it to become popular. Now that the game has a huge cult following, it's out of print. I had to order it from Australia.

I hope this convinces you all to answer your phone the next time I call. ;)

Monday, September 13, 2010

Voodoo Who-do?

I finally convinced Cynthia to try out that Portland classic, Voodoo Doughnut. I don't think it's any coincidence that the doughnut shop is located right across the street from this sign:

If you're lucky enough to visit Voodoo when there's not a line around the entire block, you'll step into the building and feel like you've stepped into another realm. Seriously, it looks more like something out of a Lewis Carroll book than a kitchen inspected by the health department.

Merchandise and doughnut names that would make a politician blush are strewn across the store. Not exactly a place to take the family. But man, those are good doughnuts. Here's a pic of the best three we tried out...

(clockwise from left) Mango Tango, Voodoo Doll, and Maple Bacon Bar

Mango Tango is mango-filled with Tang powder on top. I couldn't believe how perfectly balanced the mango flavor was with a doughnut! Why aren't these suckers sold everywhere?

Voodoo Doll is aptly named. A doughnut shaped like a voodoo doll with bloody raspberry filling and a pretzel stick needle for good measure. It's a standard jelly-filled doughnut, but the raspberry jelly is really, really good. Strong flavor and sweet, just the way it should be.

Maple Bacon Bar. I've said it on this blog before and I'll prob'ly say it again: bacon is the candy bar of meats and it fits perfectly on a maple bar. Kind of like having a a pancake-bacon-doughnut breakfast in one easy package. By far my favorite Voodoo doughnut...perhaps my favorite doughnut anywhere. Just to rest your fears, the bacon isn't limp or fatty; it's perfectly crisp and dry. I wouldn't be surprised if they use pre-cooked bacon for it. 

They boys also tried a Double Bubble, TLC tried a Grape Ape and Neapolitan. I'm still trying to work up the courage to order a doughnut that looks delicious but has an unsavory name (that I won't mention) - the doughnut has Oreos with a peanut butter glaze.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Splish Splash

For Labor Day weekend, we drove to Kennewick, WA to visit the Jakemans. I haven't seen our ol' BYU Quad 5 buddies since graduation. Now a mere four hours away, our schedules finally aligned and we were able to visit for a long weekend of fun. Thanks for inviting us into your home and entertaining us, guys.

I was never able to get a photo of their whole family because their oldest kiddo, Calan, was too busy doing this...

Jordan is one creepy Sith.

Despite the fun we had catching up, during the weekend I was harshly reminded of the fact that water sports and I do not mix.

At a waterpark, I hurt my sinus (is that even possible?) on the water slides, made a fool of myself bodyboarding, and was even stung by a wasp...IN MY MOUTH!

I also cut up my toe bodyboarding, cut my thumb while kayaking on the Columbia, scratched up my back in the waterpark's lazy river (of all places), and my sunburn is quite severe.

Then, to complete the weekend, we went paddle boarding.

Personally, I think the whole paddle board idea is pretty cool. Kind of like driving a gondola or walking on water. And how hard could it be?

TLC stood up with ease...

David was paddle boarding with a child on board...

Rebekah paddle jeans...without the need for vision...and without her hearing aids.

So I, with my amazing physique, couldn't possibly fail.

Fail #1

Fail #2


The Columbia River is a cold, cold place, my friends. Cold and heartless.

More Jakeman Pics