Chris Nolan's ("Memento," "Dark Knight") highly-anticipated movie "Inception" has been deigned a "heist flick." It has been called a meditation on the "nature of reality." There is even a camp of "Inception"-haters who feel called to trumpet that "the Emperor has no clothes." I beg to differ with all. The theme of "Inception" is love and immortality. I found it terribly rich and satisfying. If I had to categorize it in any particular genre, I would say "psychological thriller." "Inception" is a platinum-plated, 21st-century "Twilight Zone" episode or Hitchcock gem.
The plot is basically this: high-tech thieves can steal information from people's brains while they're sleeping/dreaming. They are now being hired to IMPLANT information, i.e.: "inception." It has never been successfully accomplished before. Cobb (Leo DiCaprio) is the head of the team. The always-excellent Ellen Page ("Juno," "Whip It") plays a brilliant young student who accompanies him in more ways than one. She's the only one that knows his deep, dark personal secrets involving his dead wife that threaten to jeopardize not only the mission, but the lives of everyone on the team. Cobb's wife (Oscar-winner Marion Cotillard, "La Vie en Rose," "Public Enemy") and children (not dead) keep popping up in the virtual dreamworlds where most of "Inception" takes place. "Inception" fascinatingly incorporates brain science and the science of dreams. For more of the same, see the highly philosophical, realistically animated "Waking Life," which deals with phenomena like "lucid dreaming."
Do NOT get all caught up in trying to understand every miniscule piece of data in the movie when you watch it the first time. Chris Nolan has been thinking about "Inception" for YEARS, and my guess is that he's way smarter than most of us, and that it DOES makes perfect sense if YOU studied it for a few years,* so…just go with it. OK? Go with the general meta-plot. You will not be frustrated or lost.
"Inception" is not a cold, futuristic view of dystopia. The human element is strong and warm (think "sweet potato pie" in "I, Robot"). In one sense, it IS about the "nature of reality," but not in a confused Cartesian way. It's about the nature of reality in that we humans can CREATE realities of our own making and choosing, whether with technology or simply with our own imagination. But the catch is that humans don't really "create"—only God creates, because to "create" actually means "ex nihilo," out of nothing. Everything humans create is from something already existing that God created. God's Sacred Creation has its own nature, essence, rules—or simply and more to the point: there is a divine order to God's Sacred Creation. And this divine order is good. We are good co-creators with God insofar as we follow the divine order (physical, moral, spiritual, human), and we are rebels and sinners insofar as we bend God's Sacred Creation away from its own internal logic and ends to something intrinsically disordered or evil. The brilliant phenomenologist, Fr. Robert Sokolowski, SJ, says we should make a distinction (like, he would like to put an entry in all philosophical dictionaries/encyclopedias): PURPOSES are what man assigns to things (rightly or wrongly, primarily or secondarily), and ENDS are what God assigns. Hear, hear.
The way that "Inception" takes up the "nature of reality" is in the games we play, the lies we tell ourselves, the towers of denial we construct. For what? For love. To prolong our lives on this earth. To prolong love on this earth. And we can—all the while—know we are deceiving ourselves, but, as Theology of the Body expert, Fr. Thomas Loya says, we will do ANYTHING for love. It's the one thing we won't give up or live without. We will self-destruct before we relinquish love or even our chance at love. "As strong as death is love." –Song of Songs. And an oft-overloooked Beatles' song said it even better than "All You Need Is Love": "I don't care what they say, I won't stay in a world without love." –"World Without Love". We can all totally relate to Cobb's quandary, his choice to cling to vapors of love with his dead wife, or real paternal love with his very-much-alive children. This is such a fresh story-line that it amazes if you really let it seep into you. This is a bit of a SPOILER, but I am floored by the simple little line Cobb tells his chimeric wife: "We had our time together." Wow. Acceptance of our limits. Of the limits of life and time and flesh. Gratitude for every minute we DO have, that we DID have. And not greedily and selfishly grasping for more. This "human drama" is not just a tacked-on, something-for-everyone component of "Inception." I maintain it's the WHOLE enchilada.
We all want to and do create our own alternate worlds, don't we? What is this blog? What is my Facebook page, really? A place I can go to keep in touch with my out-of-touch-at-the-moment family, friends, sympathizers; and I can use it for news and good causes, but isn't it also a kind of escape? Doesn't it give me good feelings (better feelings than my "real life" is offering me) at this moment?
What needs to be understood from the get-go is that the rules of "Inception's" world are rather complex. There is much heady, wordy explication during Act One and Two, and even a smidge during Act Three. The easy stuff that we get (like one character's relationship with his father) is, unfortunately, beaten into our brains unnecessarily (I would rather have liked the three levels of sleep and how they were going to get out of them beaten into my brains). There's lots of cool, multiply-intercut action, chases, locations, fights, gunfights, etc., which toward the end could have been deeply edited (read: drastically cut down).
THEOLOGY OF THE BODY: (among lots of other juicy chunks) What is the most basic relationship—Father/Son or Husband/Wife? Both are taken up at length! My personal belief is that, in the divine order, the Father/Son relationship comes first and defines the Husband/Wife relationship. Am I talking Trinity relationships or human relationships? Yes. ;] It's all about the Father's approval: "This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased."
I had a conversation recently with a homeless (depressed/alcoholic) man I know. Dave is haunted by the memory of this father. His father used to beat up his mother. When Dave got to be 15, he finally beat up his father and told him if he ever touched his mother again he'd kill him. His father died two days later (not from the beating). Dave said he's carried this for 40 years. He feels bad because he said he really wanted to respect his father. I told him: "You were protecting your mother. You waited a long time to be able to do that. He was in the wrong. He's a guy. He can handle it. He's with God now. He understands what you did and he deserved it. He forgives you if you feel you need that. There's no hate in heaven." Then he told me that he raised his two boys, Kevin and Christopher with a lot of affection. His son Kevin died in Iraq two years ago. He got so depressed he told his wife he was going for a walk and never came back. (Dave was a UPS driver for 25 years--all the UPS guys around here know Dave. He lives under Wacker Drive now.) Pray for Dave, it seems he's getting better. I asked him if he needed anything: food, money; if he was going to a clinic or getting meds. He said: "No, I have a Bible." Sr. Michael and I prayed with him in the alley. A rat ran by while we were praying. Dave: "They're creatures of God, too." (And he's been bitten before.) Please pray for Dave and his family.
The Father is the SOURCE of all good things. There is a divine order even in the Trinity.
What's so important about planting this thought in this person's head? The stakes are controllling the WORLD's energy SOURCES. But what (or who) is the world's ultimate energy source? The Father (or masculine principle). What is the world/earth/resources? Mother Earth (or feminine principle). When humans are out of synch with one, we're out of synch with the other. Denigrate the Father, you denigrate the Mother. Denigrate the Mother, you denigrate the Father. The Father and Creation are intimately, intricately linked. The masculine and feminine principles rise and fall together.
When we (especially men) are out of synch with the Father, Creation gets ravaged. As Dr. Michael Waldstein points out, during the Scientific/Rationalist/Industrial Revolutions, Francis Bacon and others decided it was time to force nature to reveal her secrets so we could control, crush and manipulate her to our own designs.
"Francis Bacon—British lawyer, philosopher, served under Queen Elizabeth, took a leadership in persecution of Catholics, esp. priests. Chancellor of England under James II. The first book he wrote in conceiving reformation of knowledge: “The Masculine Offspring of Time: The Empire of Man over Things.” Spes Salvi #16-17—(VJP2G mostly examines Descartes, but Ratzinger does Bacon, too). Scientific method allows the “triumph of art over nature” (Bacon). A new correlation between science and praxis. Bacon wanted power over nature. We want technical control. This is also a theological application. “Subdue the earth”—but a disturbing step has been taken. It used to be expected that Jesus Christ would redeem the lost Paradise. But it’s no longer expected from faith, but from science and power. It’s not that faith is denied, it’s displaced onto the private level. We don’t have to wait for divine power, we take on progress for our culture and world. It SHAPES the present crisis of faith and hope. Now we have faith in progress, technological progress. Bacon understands this will be just the beginning. A new world will emerge: the empire of man. He predicted airplane, submarine. Bacon attempted a reformation of knowledge such that it would serve human power. Secularization has its roots in the desire for power over nature that doesn't respect or work with nature but over-against nature." (My notes from Dr. Waldstein's class at Theology of the Body Institute, June, 2010)
At the root, we don't trust God will provide enough for everyone, we aren't willing to DO with what is simply enough, we aren't willing to share. This drama lurks behind every drama. But the Father is the SOURCE of all LIFE, ENERGY and SUSTAINING OF LIFE. There IS enough for everyone and everything. Unless we cut ourselves off from Him, or cut others off.
People like to claim that the existence of "binaries" (masculine/feminine principles) is "dualistic." ("Dualism" is taken for granted to be an evil.) However, dualism does not mean automatically OPPOSITION. The human person is soul and body: a unity in duality. Human beings are male and female: a unity in duality. In God's plan, ALL DIFFERENCES ARE A CALL TO COMMUNION. Without differences, without "binaries," without "dualities," there is NO COMMUNION, NO INTIMACY, because there is no possibility for it. There is no "other." We are all exactly the same. Everything is the same. But it's not. Vive le difference!
Only ONE (very important) thing I didn't understand. The spinning totem top at the end. I have about five possible explanations in my head. Feedback, please!
*And you may just want to do that! There's enough there. And it's worthy.
--My mother fell asleep during the movie, but still managed to totally follow the whole thing. I think this is a compliment rather than an insult to Chris Nolan. I mean that she could follow.
--My nineteen-year-old niece says her friends are "obsessed" with "Inception."
--Guys: Please share with me why explosions are so important to you. Men are generally the architects/designers/craftsmen/artisans/builders of cities and buildings and cars and machines and other beautiful and vitally helpful things. Why do you take such great pleasure in destroying them?
--One of the ways I know a movie is good (at least in my book) is when my mind/will/heart starts scintillating in a bazillion different directions. And I take 13 pages of notes.
--"Inception" also made me FEEL, not just think--so much was about our longing for immortality, for things not to change, to prolong what is good AS WE KNOW IT.... Yikes. I think I'm dealing with a lot of the same issues that Cobb is.
--Some of the dialogue—especially in the beginning—sounds almost like clunky, laughable Guy Noir patter. And I don't think it was on purpose.
--Chris Nolan has carte-blanche in Hollywood. He can write his own ticket, his own budget and do whatever he wants. He shot "Inception" all over the world for $160 million.
--Chris Nolan is Catholic, attended Loyola High School in Chicago, and has four kids. It shows.
--The human brain/mind/dreams…the last frontier? It makes you wonder (with all these sophisticated MRI scans we can do today) if someday we really WILL be able to "read minds"! (Already, it seems, we can tell—with the brain scans—if someone is lying much better than with the old lie detector tests.)
--"Inception" reminded me of the underrated "Surrogates"—the sleeping pods (also "Avatar"—man, we are seeing more and more of these sleeping pods!), and the unreal people walking on the street interacting with the "real" people…. What??!! You haven't seen "Surrogates"?? Get thee to a Netflix queue! Presto!
--If you like "Inception," you must also watch "The Manchurian Candidate"—the original version AND the Denzel version.
--Interesting use of the repeated word "inspiration" rather than "insight." Perhaps Nolan does not know the technical/philosophical difference between these words. Or maybe he does. :]
--"It's more the FEEL of the dream than the VISUAL." Hmmmmmm…..
--"You could never understand. Are you a lover? A half of a whole?" (French accent)
--"You don't care where the train goes because you'll go there together…."
--"An idea is like a virus. Contagious. Resilient. The tiniest part of an idea can grow and destroy."
--"It's not just what you know. What do you FEEL? What do you BELIEVE?" (French accent)
--OK, what great movies DOESN'T Hans Zimmer score???
--Enter Ellen Page! The acting just got better….
--Leo DiCaprio's character has a GREAT FLAW. (Main characters are supposed to have a conspicuous flaw.)
--Didn't find the cinematography terribly mind-blowing or new (didn't Fred Astaire already dance on the ceiling?)—BUT I am such a fan of slo-mo that I loved, loved, loved, that ever-falling van.
--LIMBO—cool horror element. What could be worse than being stuck in an in-between place for an undetermined amount of time?
--No gore! No gratuitous violence! Hardly any graphic human-on-human violence!
--The freight train was also very cool as an objective correlative.
--Altered states of consciousness are no joke. I've heard of Catholic missionary priests/nuns who went to Eastern cultures and practiced esoteric forms of meditation and LOST IT, WENT OUT TO SEA IN THEIR MINDS FOR YEARS!!!
--We desperately seek immortality, but we ARE already. (Cf. Garden of Eden)
--Could have had a bigger pause when Cobb shoots his wife. That was kinda momentous.
--The difference between dreams/virtual constructions/memories—very cool. Remember: Never use memories when you're constructing a virtual environment. Got it?
--STUDY QUESTIONS: Who would you open YOUR mind to? What does it mean to be "at the mercy of your subject's prejudices"? How much life is "enough" for you? What kind of a life is "enough" for you? Is it possible for dreams/fantasies/virtual reality to become your reality? Would you ever even want that?
--The division between reality and virtual reality is pretty clear, not blurred, in "Inception," otherwise the film would have no merit (like making a crazy person your protagonist, because then nothing makes any sense because it doesn't have to). The only little weakness was when the old African man who runs a place where everyone comes to sleep/dream says: "They come to wake up—dreaming has become their reality. Who are we to say otherwise?" Um, we CAN say otherwise. Yeah. This was out of character with the rest of the movie which does NOT ask the question: "How can we know what's true?" It's more: "How can we know what's good?"
--There is a delicate respect for human dignity (Jesuit training?). Cobb has pause for an ethical consideration: "If we plant a seed in his mind, the idea will define him. It will change who he is."
--Who just LOVES Cillian Murphy's acting?? I DO! I DO!
--White and gray camouflage for the snow! Avalanches!
--I could just go on and on here, but my totem (a watch) just told me I must return to my real life.