Ariadne in Inception

by Erin on January 25, 2012

Ariadne by John William Waterhouse, detail

Ariadne by John William Waterhouse, detail

Inception is a movie from 2010 that could probably be best characterized as science fiction. I am not planning on reviewing or even really summarizing the film here. Instead, I want to focus today on a character from Inception. A character with the evocative name Ariadne. Ah, that name sounds familiar, doesn’t it? We’ve been introduced to Ariadne before, in the pages of Greek mythology. With that in mind, I’d like to begin with a brief look at Ariadne in Inception.

When we meet Ariadne (played by Ellen Page), she is an architecture student. Dominic Cobb (Leonardo diCaprio) has her draw a maze or labyrinth on a sketch pad. It is a test. One which Ariadne passes, as she successfully creates a maze that cannot be solved immediately by Cobb. This is all an audition, and introduction. Ariadne is then assigned to the real task - to create the maze of the dream for an extremely powerful and important dreamer.

Ariadne is in some ways a guide for both Cobb and possibly the audience as well. She is sympathetic, level headed, and intelligent. In addition, Ariadne is also curious. She wonders why Cobb doesn’t design the labyrinth himself - he is after all a master, a virtuoso of dream making. Intrigued by this mystery, Ariadne decides to join Cobb in his lucid dreams and poke around his subconscious. Here, she finds some of the answers she seeks, and in this way the audience learns some relevant history as well.

I appreciated this contemporary interpretation especially since it was fun to compare and contrast it with the character of Ariadne from Greek mythology. Ariadne is quite a bit more passive in Classical myth. Wait, I am getting ahead of myself here. Let’s start with the story.

I’ve already written a bit about Ariadne here at Mythography. Here’s the TL;DR version of Ariadne’s tale. In Greek myth, Ariadne was a princess who lived on the island of Crete. It is here that she meets the hero Theseus. After Theseus is imprisoned in the labyrinth - ah, there’s that word again - Ariadne assists him in escaping and together they flee, with Theseus’s promises of marriage and happily ever after. This promise however is almost immediately broken by Theseus, who sails off into the sunset without his future bride. Ariadne is abandoned and alone. In some versions of the legend, the god Dionysos arrives and rescues Ariadne. So there really is a happily ever after to her tale.

As for the heroine of Inception? Well, you will have to watch the movie to see how her story ends.

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