Look around you. This feels real, doesn’t it? How do you know you’re not dreaming? Can you remember how the day began? What happens if you experience a falling sensation or you feel a push in your back? The next moment your eyes open. You’re lying in bed with your partner next to you who is trying to wake you up. Good morning.
Dreams and their interpretations have long been the subject of psychiatrists, spiritual healers and family pundits. Do they mean anything or are they just repressed feelings? Those confusing images need an explanation – just ask Pharoah and Joseph.
Inception, which opens today in cinemas nationwide, is a cerebral thriller which delves deep into the world of dreams. The director, Christopher Nolan, is one of the smartest working in Hollywood. His debut Memento (written by his brother) unravelled the effect of memories on our sense of self – can you trust what you remember? Inception (which he wrote himself) continues this theme. Only now he grapples with reality versus the dream world.
The ever reliable Leonardo Di Caprio plays Dom Cobb, a thief with some unique skills. He can slip into your mind while you sleep and extract your secrets. This makes him highly sought after in the world of corporate espionage and thus a man with many enemies. Cobb just wants to go home, of course. Hollywood heroes are almost always outcasts desperate to be left alone – from cowboys to sci-fi mercenaries all they want is a shed at the bottom of the garden, free of any bother. But in order to have that peace he needs to do one last thing which in this case involves the opposite of what he normally does. Instead of taking an idea he needs to plant one. That is called inception.
Cobb is accompanied by host of characters of which Ellen Page’s is the most enlightening. In a film already loaded with symbols and signifiers Page is Ariadne, an architect who helps Cobb build the worlds inside the dreams. And like her namesake she is crucial to helping Cobb navigate the labyrinth before him.
And so begins one very exciting ride. The plot is a maze of dreams within dreams, story strands which you need to keep together. Keeping spinning plates in the air would be easier. I’m not saying my brain hurt when I left the cinema, but this film is quite the opposite of a normal summer blockbuster. It will do well at the box office but not impressively so – it’s a little too abstract. It’s a more intellectual affair compared to Nolan’s previous film The Dark Knight.
Inception treads the same ground as The Matrix. What if you could escape the dreariness of the world around you and enter into an entirely different world – a better world? Would you notice after a while? Could you tell which was the real world? And would it matter? If you’re perfectly happy in the other world wouldn’t you want to stay there – wouldn’t you want that to be real? And like The Matrix everyone in Inception wears snazzy suits and sunglasses. Our alter-egos all shop at Armani it seems.
Tailored suits aside, Nolan wants us to examine our natural tendency to escape reality. The cause may be guilt or hurt or fear but we will try to avoid facing up to it or letting it go. Like the memories in Memento, the dreams in Inception merely keep alive feelings which eat away at our soul. By holding on, the truth never has a chance to set you free.
In that sense Inception combines Freud and Jung’s understanding of dreams. Jung saw dreams as a window into your subconscious – what Cobb sees in his mind is a vast world his subconscious fills. But as he probes deeper the repressed desires and impulses of what Freud calls the Id come pouring out. What he does with that I will leave you find out.
Inception is a smart film about dreams and reality. We know God has spoken to many people through dreams just as we know some dreams mean nothing (Ecclesiastes 5:3). But if a dream can provoke a truth then it should be acknowledged and not repressed. It’s worth watching Inception if you allow the latter to happen.
Now look around. Are you sure you’re awake?