Inception: Freud on the Big Screen

John ArmstrongFilm

inception01 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.