The popular film Inception, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, is a complex and engaging pop-culture romp through Freudian dream theory and the metaphysical view of life and even life after death. The story line is not perfect but the entertainment value is very high, at least as far as summer films go. Newsweek correctly said:
Leonardo DiCaprio and friends are ninjas of the subconscious, dashing through the landscape of other people’s dreams, in Christopher Nolan’s Inception. This endlessly fascinating swirl of a film could have come only from Nolan, who blends the cerebral twistiness of Memento (his thriller that moves backward in time) with the spectacular action of his Batman megahit, The Dark Knight.
That last sentence, and the reference to The Dark Knight (a favorite of mine), made me want to see Inception on opening day, something I rarely do. I enjoyed a rest from research and writing and was enmeshed in an alternative world with a good deal of pleasure. (Alternative worlds are a great theme and we should engage them as Christians with insightful interest since our culture seems to love them right now!)
Inception casts DiCaprio as a thief-for-hire named Cobb. He messes with sleeping minds, stealing people’s secret thoughts in the process. But there is more, much more. Cobb has a team that works to construct the dream worlds that they will then enter through their own dreams. In this dream world streets rise up and become walls. And that’s just for beginners. Time is about ten times slower than in the real world, just to use one example.
This is a special effects film, big budget style. You may struggle trying to follow the plot as Cobb tries to plant a new idea in a man’s brain. But the really big goal is far greater. Stealing other people’s thoughts is relatively easy in Inception. The real trick is to add thoughts to the subconscious of others. And doing this is a dangerous operation. The story suggests that getting into a dream within a dream is possible but going down multiple levels into a dream within a dream within a dream, well that is virtually impossible. Enter Cobb who plans to do it and believes he can. So the film goes, unfolding at a quick pace over two-plus hours. As I said the special effects are Hollywood at its best, if you like them. And Cobb’s vision and single goal will keep you interested until the very (slightly surprising) end.
Newsweek said Inception:
Is the most sophisticated[film] in a year of splashy screen events about parallel worlds, in which characters enter alternate realities and return with some solution to personal and often global problems. Cobb’s dangerous assignment is meant to save the world from an energy conglomerate. Avatar’s hero goes to Pandora, falls for its nature-loving people, and learns to value the environment. The characters on Lost travel sideways to other times and places in what seems an attempt to escape the island, but turns out to be a way to save their own souls. Even Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland transforms Lewis Carroll’s story into a journey of self-discovery fit for the 21st century. The movie’s Alice is a 19-year-old who returns from Wonderland realizing she doesn’t have to marry the smug gentleman her family selected; she can head out to sea and open a trade route to China instead.
The Newsweek film critic also saw numerous connections in Inception with ongoing culture shaping events and widely popular opinions. I think the critic has to be right but I admit I only saw some of these at first. I frankly enjoyed the ride. I found Avatar a bit of a disappointment, given the immense hype. Maybe I didn’t expect Inception to be this much fun but it was. If you like this kind of blockbuster movie then this may be the best choice for one summer flick if you do not get out to the movies much.
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John, you and I are old enough to remember the Mission Impossible TV series (forget the movies, which had little to do with the TV shows). About 2/3 of the way through Inception I realized I was watching the ultimate Mission Impossible episode.
If you think of the basic outline of every MI episode, you’ll see the parallels. The MI team leader got an assignment that almost always involved getting some powerful person (often a third world dictator) to behave in a way or make a decision that he normally would not make. A team was carefully assembled, each member with a specialized skill. The team holds brainstorming sessions in which an elaborate ruse is constructed, usually involving construction of detailed sets and personal disguises. The target is chloroformed and wakes up in the constructed world, where the team puts on an elaborate psychodrama that inevitably leads the target to make the desired choice, thinking it to be his own.
Inception simply takes this into the dream world and ups the special effects budget.
By the way, if you have a full-size IMAX screen in your city, this is one movie worth paying the extra to see there.
I saw the movie in IMAX and enjoyed the additional ‘humph’ but frankly thought it was ridiculously loud. You talk about being ‘old enough’ but I must just be getting old.
Anyway, I was disturbed by one particular aspect of the film which I wonder if anyone else picked up on. It’s the notion that suffering (or pain, or even feelings of endless loneliness like in ‘limbo’) are worse than death. Early int he film we learn that dying in a dream simply means ‘you wake up.’ Agents will regularly ‘kill’ themselves to ‘wake up.’ A threat to cause pain (shooting someone in the leg for example) is a far worse threat than death. Later in the film, a whole team, some even new to the adventure, are willing to truly sacrifice their lives (real killers are chasing them in the real world) just to attempt the dreaming inception. They risk school, careers, money, and their very lives to attempt the inception…but once inside, each of them gets incredibly ticked off because why? If they fail they might end up in ‘limbo’ to twiddle their thumbs for what might be decades or even hundreds of years. The loneliness and boredom could make their minds go to ‘mush.’ The fear of THAT is simply too much and they begin to argue and rebel.
If that’s a not a disturbing sign of the times I’m not sure what is. People willing to throw away everything they have for an experience (attempting the inception), but when faced with possible ‘boredom’ or ‘limbo’ or simply our own sub-conscious…that’s too much to bear…that’s unacceptable. I’ll risk my life, I’ll risk my family, I’ll even risk other people’s lives and families so that I can ‘experience’ the challenge and excitement of INCEPTION (or whatever), but I won’t do it if it might mean being subjected to decades of boredom.
John mentioned Avatar. Projecting oneself into a different body with different abilities in a different culture. We had The Matrix. I wish I had more time to contemplate this, but there is something here that is deeply troubling to me. A pattern of stories where heroes are no longer simply ordinary people who face extraordinary odds and survive, but instead sacrifice everything they consider ‘ordinary’ to permanently become part of something new/different/extraordinary.
It’s late and I’m sure there is more here to explore but I need to leave it at that. Hopefully, someone reading my comments will have some sense of what I’m trying to get at. I’m not sure I do.
Oh, and Newsweek totally got it wrong, giving far too much credit to the notion that our “characters enter alternate realities and return with some solution to personal and often global problems.” Cobb does NOT attempt “to save the world from an energy conglomerate.” He frankly couldn’t care less about “the world.”
He risks his life and the lives of a half dozen others for one selfish self centered reason…to get back a piece of his past lost to him…the ability to ‘see’ the faces of children again. That might seem noble, but in the context of the movie…it’s terribly selfish. No mention is ever given to whether his children should see him. It’s just assumed to be good because deep down we all know that the mind thief, manipulator, and uber-con man must be a good person….he’s sad that he misses his children.
THIS, I think, is part of the pattern I’m starting to see which disturbs me. I just wish I had more time to explore it.
I recently saw Inception, and also was reading from Pascal’s Pensees the following: “…apart from faith, nobody knows for certain whether he is awake or asleep, for while we are asleep we are firmly convinced that we are as wide awake as we are now. We dream that we see space, shapes, and movements. We sense time passing as we measure it. In fact, we behave exactly in the same way as we do in our awakened consciousness. Half of our life, on our own admission, is spent in sleep in which we have no idea of truth, for all our feelings are mere illusions. Indeed, who knows if the other half of life, when we think we are awake, is not another form of sleep that is little different from the first from which we awake when we think we are asleep? Who can doubt that if we dreamed in the company of others and our dreams happened to agree, which is common enough, and then if we were alone when we awakened, should we not think that things had been turned upside-down?” (131)