Imagine a world where dreams can be invaded like a burglar intrudes into a home. Your thoughts, fears, and emotions lay exposed. Your innermost subconscious is raided by thieves seeking to steal your plans and ideas—for a price. If you can imagine such a place, then you have entered the world of the film “Inception.” Written and directed by Christopher Nolan (of Dark Knight and Memento fame), this film is some parts action thriller and others psychological exploration.
Leonardo DiCaprio plays Cobb, a man skilled at entering dreams and extracting what whoever is paying him desires to know. Yet more than anything Cobb desires to return to his two young children, neither of whom he can visit because he is suspected of murdering his wife. Cobb is offered a chance to return to them if he can complete one more, audacious job. Instead of infiltrating dreams to find out ideas already there, he is asked to do inception: planting an idea in the mind of the dreamer. Though this is claimed to be impossible, Cobb takes the job with the hope of seeing his children again. Putting together a team to work with him, Cobb embarks on an intense journey into another man’s subconscious dream-world, one that includes gunfights, paradoxes, and dreams-within-dreams.
“Inception” continues to showcase Nolan’s exceptional skills as a filmmaker. Witty, intense, emotional, thoughtful—this movie deftly combines car chases and explosions with deep investigations into the dreaming human subconscious. Nolan creates multiple dream worlds with surprising depth and consistency. The consistency and detail make such a far-out concept increasingly believable as the story unfolds, leaving you remembering afterward how many of its rules align with your own dreaming experiences.
With great art, Nolan presents numerous themes that should only multiply and deepen with repeated viewings. Idolatry is held up for ruthless examination. The world of dreams presents the possibility of human desire restrained by little more than the imagination. One can create homes, cities, and entire lives in accordance with one’s own wishes. Rejecting God’s world, these human dreamers seek an even more complete separation from God and entrenchment in their own man-made Edens. Such worlds soon become preferable to the real world. In fact, for many these become their reality.
The idol-making subconscious has an even darker side. Cobb is haunted by the death of his wife and secretly harbors deep guilt regarding it. He tries to keep his wife alive in the prison of his self-conscious. In the attempt, his efforts mixed with his guilt turn her into little more than a destructive monster. Such creations lay bare the dehumanizing effects of selfishness. How often do we re-create others into our desired image within the confines of our mind? Such re-creations can take the form of unspoken expectations or fantasies played out and secretly preferred over the real, God-created person. In doing so, we trade the created image of God for that made in our own likeness.
Cobbs’ guilt further exposes the depths of bondage to which sin can force its captive. He is haunted and losing his grip on reality. His created world soon begins to define and change him. In other words, the freedom that dreams give has turned into slavery. Ultimately, Cobb is a being in need of forgiveness. But forgiveness seems to require atonement and redemption, neither of which seems possible. All he really has is necessity and forgetfulness.
The film also confronts technology’s affect on the lines between public and private. Today Twitter accounts, Myspace, and Facebook trumpet our every thought and movement. Cameras watch us in stores, restaurants, gas stations, schools, even parking lots. For the famous, the paparazzi or reality shows peal off additional layers of privacy. Yet one place still seems inviolable—the mind. Our thoughts if we choose can remain our own, unshared and unknown to the rest of the world. But is it inviolable for no other reason than it is impenetrable? If technology could reach the inner recesses of thought, would it, too, be endangered by theft and held up for public ridicule?
In the end, “Inception” shows the depths of human desperation and depravity. Seeking not just to control but to create our own world, the results are often despair and regret. The film is keenly aware of the danger we present both to other others as well as ourselves. In its unflinching portrayal of these issues, the movie raises filmmaking to the level of true, thoughtful, lasting art. Nolan has taken summer blockbusters and given them an intellectual and beautiful quality otherwise unheard of in a season of mindless action and stale sequels.