Inception: What is Your Reality?

Posted: April 17, 2012 by Josh Kwasny in Action, Sci-Fi, Thriller
Tags: , , , ,

Writer/Director Christopher Nolan has made some amazing films.  While we anxiously await the final installment of his rendition of the Batman saga, let’s take a moment to reflect on his 2010 hit, Inception, starring Leonardo DiCaprio.  Take a look back at the original trailer for the film.

Inception is a mind-bender to say the least.  DiCaprio plays Dominic Cobb – a professional thief, but not just any thief.  Cobb specializes in “extraction” – the process of stealing secrets from the subconscious mind.  Extraction involves entering into a person’s mind while he or she is dreaming, rummaging around for the needed info, and high tailing it back to reality before the person’s subconscious catches on.

If you don’t like to think while watching a movie and would rather choose to simply vegetate on the couch, I would suggest you avoid this film.  At the same time, here at Reel Thinking, it is our goal to be thinkers.  We want everyone to forgo simple entertainment, and watch movies with our brains turned on – filtering film through a biblical worldview.  Go on, give it a try!  If you are reading this, chances are that I am preaching to the choir or perhaps God has brought you here for such a time as this.

As the film unfolds we find out that Cobb is a complicated man.  Not only does his profession place him on the wrong side of the law, but we soon find that he has also been hiding a few skeletons in his own subconscious closet.  I want to avoid too many spoiler-like details, so I will simply say that Cobb is running from the law and is estranged from his young children.

Cobb and his team of dream-interlopers are offered a chance to clear Cobb’s name and restore him to his children.  They are asked to use their skills to perform “Inception” – the process of planting an idea in the subconscious.  This is far more dangerous than extraction, because you must travel much deeper into the subconscious and risk losing contact with reality altogether. (Getting all this? I know, it is crazy – just hang in there.)

In order to keep their hold on reality, they have developed a system by which they know if they are in a dream or reality.  They call it a totem. A totem is an object that acts differently in the dream world than in reality.  Cobb keeps a small metal top in his pocket as his totem.  In the real world, the top works as it is designed.  When he spins it in a dream, it never topples over.  It simply remains spinning.

Big spoiler: Movie ending!!  After completing his assignment, Cobb returns to his home where he sees his children in the back yard.  This is the moment he has literally been dreaming about – his heart’s desire – reunion with his children.  As the film ends, Cobb spins the top one last time and looks at his children…he wants to know if the moment is real or if he dreaming.  As the top spins on the table, the camera zooms in and the film ends.  Yep, that is the ending.  (I literally heard someone cry, “Noooo!” in the theater).

So…Did it topple?  Christopher Nolan wants you be the judge.  The film is designed to make you wonder – to determine your reality.  Nolan purposely ends the film with ambiguity in order for the audience to experience the film as Cobb experienced his life.

He writes, “There can’t be anything in the film that tells you one way or another because then the ambiguity at the end of the film would just be a mistake … It would represent a failure of the film to communicate something. But it’s not a mistake. I put that cut there at the end, imposing an ambiguity from outside the film. That always felt the right ending to me — it always felt like the appropriate ‘kick’ to me….The real point of the scene — and this is what I tell people — is that Cobb isn’t looking at the top. He’s looking at his kids. He’s left it behind. That’s the emotional significance of the thing.”

I recently watched this film with a group of high school students.  After the movie, I polled the group to see who thought is that to top fell over and who thought it kept spinning.  I also asked them the reasons they made their conclusion.  Many of the students believed that it toppled, but there remained a small contingency of nay-sayers.  So why did the majority think it toppled??  Because they want the happy ending…they wanted Cobb to succeed – to get back his children.  The skeptics and pessimists of the group were not convinced.  They held out that Cobb was still in dreamland.  What is your theory?

Films like Inception force us to deal with our own perception of reality.  We are challenged to ask ourselves if we live in the real world or exist in a “reality” of our own design.  Sadly, the fallen human condition pushes us toward the latter.  In order to “cope” with the reality of a broken world, we choose to believe lies.  Instead of believing that people are sinful and in need of a Savior, we claim that humans are essentially good and merely lack in self-confidence or perhaps only need only to believe in their potential to achieve their dreams.  I’m sorry, but according to the Bible, the top is still spinning in that world.

In the book of 1 John, we read, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us….If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us” (1 John 1: 8, 10).  According to the Creator of the Universe, reality is not what we make it.  Reality is what God reveals as truth.

It is true that this world is full of brokenness, sin, and death.  But that is not the whole story.  Look at the rest of the 1 John passage.

“This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.  If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin…If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1: 5-7, 9).

As Christians, we need not fear the difficult reality of a sinful world.  We need not choose to live in a dreamworld in order to avoid dealing with our own sin and the surrounding pain of others.  There is hope!  Jesus Christ entered into our reality to make us walk in the light – to see reality!

We can resonate with the story of Inception because it is a picture of the story of the Bible.  We too were estranged from our Father in Heaven because of sin – in need of a reunion with God.  In his death and resurrection, Jesus Christ points us to reality!  He is our totem – the assurance that by faith we are truly reunited with our Father!  Let us daily be reminded of that reality by, “looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2).

  1. brad says:

    thanks for this review! I have oned the movie for 18 months and never watched it. I know, i should be ashamed. EVERYONE has seen this movie. Now I definitely need to watch it. And maybe show it to my students?

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