Steve the Builder:
I’m going to do something completely different and do a movie review, kind of. I’m not a big “movie goer” nor am I a “film watcher”. I’ve never taken a class on “films”. I’m not a Frederica Mathewes-Green nor a Bobby Maddex if you’re looking for serious comparative filmography here. I’m just another podcasting schmuck who had fifteen bucks to take his wife out and we saw “Inception”. And I want to talk about it. And I admit I had to google stuff about the producer, actors etc. just to know who I was talking about, but I’m not going to talk about any of that because its boring to me. I knew Leonardo because the last thing I saw him in was “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape” and he was great. I think he did a movie about a sinking ship somewhere in between that one and this one.
So, you already get the idea I don’t see many movies. But, what I do see… my taste runs a pretty wide gamut. For instance, I’ll admit I love Bruce Willis’ “Die Hard” series, though I think “The Last Boy Scout” was his best flick. “Sixth Sense”? Ummm… I see plot twists,… wasn’t impressed. I hate slasher flicks, I’ve never seen one. I love B-minus or C kung fu movies, though I really liked the film, “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”. I think “Bronco Billy” was Clint Eastwood’s best movie, though I haven’t seen anything by him since his great film “Unforgiven”. More recently, I loved “The Hurt Locker” and I think Mickey Rourke got robbed of an Oscar for “The Wrestler”. I’ve seen more than a few subtitled films, but I can’t remember any of their names. So while there’s a lot of movies I haven’t seen that I’d like to some day, movies aren’t a high priority for me. My kids bought me a DVD of a movie I really wanted to see for Christmas one year and it sat unopened for two years in the TV cabinet before I got around to watching it. All that to say, if you’re looking for someone who knows “film” I’m not your guy. But if you’re looking for an opinion about how a movie is a reflection of our culture, I have one and that’s what I’m going to tell you about.
Anyway, this year is a personal movie record year already. I’ve seen 4 movies and it is only August. It has gotten a lot of talk, I liked the trailer, it sounded like it could perhaps be a “Matrix like” culture defining movie so the wifey and I saw “Inception” last night (though I think maybe I saw Inception and she saw Leonardo…). I’ll get to the movie in a second but without giving anything away, I’ll say here that it will probably have one of the most discussed movie endings since Dave’s fetal return at the end of “2001: A Space Odyssey”.
OK, so “Inception”: basically “Inception” is about dreams, but not really. I’m not going to run down the plot line because you have to see the movie to know how ridiculous it would be to try to do that. Which is a warning label in itself for some people. If you’re looking for “boy meets girl, boy gets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back”, this isn’t your movie. If you loved “The Matrix” and like having your brain pummeled into a quivering mass of altered conciousness by silly, dense, pretentious dialogue that’s supposed to explain what you’re looking at, delivered by good looking people who are being chased and blowing things up in scenes edited for continuity by a schizophrenic, then you’ll love this.
The movie begins enigmatically, and as the movie progresses in its explorations into the dream world of human conciousness it adds layer upon layers and becomes more and more opaque, disjointed and finally virtually impossible to make sense of. By the end of the movie I was having flashbacks of sitting around in a park in 1969 with a bunch of artist friends of mine in high school smoking pot, drinking Strawberry Hill, and discussing “what is reality”. It took Nolan 200 million dollars to do what we accomplished with about 15 dollars worth of illicit substances. We didn’t crash cars, shoot people, blow things up, and none of us were as good looking as Leonardo (Cobb) and Ellen (Ariadne); although, we did move in slow motion, experience zero gravity and had paranoid thoughts that people were looking at us. The movie lasted about as long as our doobies, came to the same conclusions and made about as much sense as we did (that I can recall…). If Ariadne was sitting in on our discussions she’d have said the same thing she said to Cobb (which could have been the subtitle to the movie), “I just want to understand.” The biggest difference between us and the movie dialogue was, in the movie no one even once said, “Far out, man.”
OK, so because Nolan directed a blockbuster once before, he could get investors to let him ask the million dollar question 200 times over: What is real? Aside from a high school philosopher’s level of insight and keeping us from dwelling too long on any seemingly semi-coherent or possible actual real point by crashing cars, killing someone, jumping topics, showing us some really cool special effects trick or blowing something up, he does manage at the end of two and a half hours to introduce something of a bottom line question to our culture: If relativism is ultimately true and truth is what is true for you, then is reality really just all in our heads? And if it IS in our heads, then is everything just a projection of ourselves and in the end are we all just dreaming? That’s a good question if you’re on dope, but as the movie hints at, there’s this blip on the screen that’s called “reality”. The fact is, we have other people to deal with who have alternate realities from our own, and we cannot escape them. Whether we like it or not, we are in other people’s heads and they are in ours, whether it’s a dream or a nightmare.
So, “Inception” is about that point of meeting between two human beings who are living in their own heads (or trying to). Reality is, our thoughts and real reality are indeed influenced by our interactions with others. In Christianity this reality is called “communion”. It is real because we are created in the image of God in Trinity. The upside is it makes the possibility of love real, not just an illusion in our heads. But unfortunately there’s the downside that Nolan rightly portrays. We live in a world in which we cannot forsee much less control the consequences of how communion in its manipulative, fallen state will result in harm and devastation to another. And thus part of “reality” is plumbing the depths of both our own and other’s “sin” and through ever deeper communion healing the broken relationships we created by living in a dream in our own heads and trying to get someone else to buy it.
So, the romp through Nolan’s head was interesting and even fun, and at seven bucks for a matinee ticket, it was cheaper entertainment than our high school park outings even adjusted for inflation. Like most movies that tackle the definition of “reality” either with big or little budgets, it touches on the angst of what it means to be human, to love and have tragic relationships and make sense of what our life is. I’m considering adding it to my list of “catechetical movies” that I might put out some day. If I had to bottom line it from a “Christian perspective” the takeaway at the end is really the final 200 million dollar question for all humanity that Nolan might not even know he archetypically really asked: “If we risk our life to find Him who joined us in our dreams, died and yet is alive, will the Old Man make good on His promise to bring us home, and, is our redemption real or just another dream?”