Beneath the multiple dream layers and visually-stunning gravity-bending action sequences of Inception lies one powerful truth – that our ideas, our thoughts, memories and beliefs, are the most powerful forces in our lives:
Cobb: I’m going to improvise. Listen, there’s something you should know about me… about inception. An idea is like a virus, resilient, highly contagious. The smallest seed of an idea can grow. It can grow to define or destroy you.
As the mental ballet of Inception unfolds, we learn that Cobb is speaking from experience – not only is he suffering from guilt over the death of his wife Mal, in Mal’s life, her beliefs about reality were both defining and destructive. Now Cobb’s guilt threatens to destroy not only his chances at reconciliation with his children but also the people he has brought together for this one last job:
Ariadne: You might have the rest of the team convinced to carry on with this job, but they don’t know the truth.
Cobb: Truth? What truth?
Ariadne: The truth that at any minute, you might bring a freight train through the wall. The truth that Mal is bursting through your subconscious. And the truth that as we go deeper into Fischer, we’re also going deeper into you. And… I’m not sure we’re gonna like what we find.
For all the dream layers within Inception then, the movie connects well with our reality. Much of what we do and say comes from deep deep down, a place past the concerns of the immediate and short-term; a place we may not often visit, for fear of what might be, or what is, down there in the subconscious. And these affect the experiences and interactions of our conscious choices.
One of the questions which arises in the final scene is whether the top continues spinning or whether it begins to fall, indicating whether the final scene was on our level of reality. Cobb says earlier that “we all yearn for reconciliation, for catharsis” and at this point, Cobb has achieved the reconciliation that he sought. It no longer matters in the context of the film. We must look at what is real for him – after all, what is real when we are watching the movie?
Though it is an interesting question to puzzle over, Inception is not about what is real (unlike The Matrix), but the reality of the intangible and subjective – we really do live through guilt, through feelings, emotions and thought processes, and these realities bear themselves out in a yearning for restoration and reconciliation. Living through memories, regrets, opportunities lost. Not tangible but no less real. A similar thing could be said of lust or hatred. Not tangible, but no less real experiences and desires, though we could argue about whether these things objectively indicate the state of ourselves. Indeed, the tagline for the movie is “Your mind is the scene of the crime.”, so at least from a marketing angle there is some moral question at stake!
Christianity then would say we come to need cartharsis – purging and cleansing – because we are first and foremost not reconciled to God – to the God whose mind conceived our reality, our world, long before we came to be. In the Gospel, the death and resurrection of Jesus cleanses us (1 Corinthians 6:11, Titus 3:5-6), and gives us a new identity, when it is received when one takes ‘a leap of faith‘:
17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. 18 All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself…19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them… (2 Corinthians 5:17, 18a, 19)
Like Cobb, we all have stuff we regret, but in Christ, they need no longer define or destroy us.