Just because something is about dreams doesn’t mean that it’s surreal. Because of the nature of what it is, it’s difficult to categorize what makes Surrealism a distinct genre like Fantasy or Science Fiction or romance or Romance or Action– because really, it can be all of those things. Take Jean Cocteau’s Le Belle et la Bete, a romantic Fantasy based on a fairy tale that is also a surrealist film. It is markedly different from Satoshi Kon’s Paprika, which is a Science-Fiction/Action film that is also a surrealist film. It’s not a genre of exclusion either– usually, if something is surreal, it’s easy to tell that it’s Surrealism. It’s not a medium either, because everything from film to painting to television to poetry can be surreal.
But Inception is not Surrealism.
I watched three additional films, in addition to the subject film, in order to help me judge what genre Inception is. One was Ocean’s Eleven (2001), which seems self-explanatory as I intend to judge Inception as a heist film vice a Surrealist film. The other two films were Kon’s Paprika and Dziga Vertov’s Man with a Movie Camera— both of which were compared to Inception in this video essay by Kyle Kallgren. Paprika in particular is often compared to Inception due to similar premises. I’m going to use a few points from his videos, while also going more into depth with some of them.