The Drawer of Dreams

Imagine this: you’re dodging bullets, running upside down through a hotel corridor while the fate of your friends and a multi-billion dollar corporation hangs in the balance. No, you’re not dreaming – oh wait, or maybe you are! This the essential plot of Inception, Christopher Nolan’s latest movie, which debuted mid-July as an action-packed blockbuster that messes with your mind (and if you see it in New York, considerably lightens your wallet!)

Yes, Inception came out almost a month ago, and yes I did have to pay $16 to watch it, but, all inconsequential facts aside, I had a conversation with a friend today that challenged me to rethink Ellen Page’s character, the architecture student Ariadne, who plays a pivotal part in the film. Ariadne originally enters the plot when Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) loses his favorite “architect” and needs to find someone who can create dream worlds in which he can stage his elaborate mind-heist and recover his sense of sanity.

Although Ariadne knows nothing about the dream-world other than what she learns from Cobb, she eventually discovers that her powers of design and creation are amplified and that the new world of dreams has a “physics engine” that allows her to snap streets, bend buildings, and eventually warp entire worlds. 

The plot thickens when Cobb’s late wife Mal begins to appear unexpectedly in the dream world and sabotage the plans of the main characters. The only character who seems to be able to understand what is going on is Ariadne, who acts as a sort of psychologist for Cobb as he struggles to understand and confess his feelings for his deceased wife.

An architect is the drawer of dreams.” ~ Grace McGarvie

The role that Page so expertly portrays in the film is more than just a novice architecture student. Her innocence to the political nature of the team’s venture allows her to focus on the social aspects of their quest. She coaxed Cobb through the loss of his wife and travels with him to the brink of “Purgatory” to help him understand that he must give up his wife and return to the real world.

This underscores the role of an architect (or even an architecture student) in today’s society. Not only must one be able to understand the constraints of the constructed environment, but they must also be able to play the part of mediator and counselor for the client of a project. This will not likely involve travelling through four layers of dreams to an uncertain world of infinite subconscious, but it certainly forecasts the need for architects and other design professionals to develop meaningful relationships with their clients in order to produce the best products and experiences possible.

This entire idea comes back to Social Analyst Grace McGarvie’s quote: “An architect is the drawer of dreams.” Yes, she in this case she certainly is, and she may be even more.

BONUS FEATURE: For anyone who really wants to have their mind messed with, consider that the entire movie is a dream and that Ariadne is, in fact, a counselor (or maybe even Cobb’s daughter) who has been with him in a long dream and who travels with him to meet his wife so that she can commit inception (the placement of an idea) with Cobb and have him return to the “real world”). Yes, it’s a crazy idea, but it is definitely worthy of some thought.