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Lessons from the Silver Screen: Inception (Mit Spoilers) July 28, 2010

Posted by orualundone in Art, Death, Lies, Lifescripts, Loss, Movies, Truth.
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Inception is one of the best movies I’ve seen this year (the very best being Toy Story 3). It is original in plot with superb story-telling, impressive acting and scripting, and stunning visual effects. Not to mention it’s quite a mind-bender. But it made me think about more than just where the story was headed or the implications of the final scene. As I have mentioned, I love to explore spiritual themes in movies and this movie had several that caught my attention. A discussion, rife with spoilers after the jump.

Please note, I am assuming that anyone reading this has seen the movie, so I am not going to provide a super-detailed synopsis. That would be an insult to Mr. Nolan’s creation, and, frankly, exhausting. I will just outline the basic plot elements relevant to what I’m talking about.

The movie’s basic premise is that there is technology which allows dreams to be shared, constructed for other people, and entered into without the subject’s knowledge. And that using this technology one could go into another person’s mind through the dream and steal information. Or, if one is very clever and careful, plant an idea so deeply into their subconscious that they will believe to be their own creation. This is called “inception”.

Essentially, this is a reverse-heist movie with lots of twists. Cobb, our main character, is trying to get his life back after being accused of killing his wife. His goal is to implant an idea in the mind of his employer’s business rival in exchange for his criminal record being expunged, so that he can go home to the U.S. and be with his children. Inception is supposed to be an impossible task, but we learn that Cobb has done it before.

Previously while exploring a dream world, he and his wife had been trapped for what seemed like 50 years (but was actually only moments) in the very deepest dream level. In order to get back, he plants an idea in her subconscious to convince her that it isn’t real there and that they have to die in the dream world in order to return to their lives and their children. It works and they awaken in their home, young again, seemingly nothing changed.

But the idea he planted continues to grow “like a cancer in her mind”. Mal now is convinced that the real world is actually still a dream and their children are illusions. She thinks that they still have to kill themselves to get back home. Nothing he says, no evidence he gives is enough to make her believe they are really home. She becomes obsessed, and ultimately commits suicide and frames him for her murder thinking he then will be forced to join her and they will be together in the “real” world.

Oh, how familiar I am with inception. Satan is such a master at it.

“He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.”
John 8:44

And his lies are so clever, we think that they are our own ideas, that they are truth. Once they take hold they grow and grow until, if permitted, they consume and destroy us. And no evidence, no rational argument anyone gives us can talk us out of them. Even if we eventually come to accept the nature of them, that they aren’t true and come from the enemy, it is hard to disentangle them from our hearts and minds. They are like weeds; difficult to uproot and quick to grow back if even the smallest piece is left behind.

I know there are many false ideas over the years that I have allowed to flourish and grow. Lies that you believe create a new reality for you, like a dream world; they shape the way you see the world and you act on them as if they are true, but for other people they don’t exist. Some of these I have recognized and gotten free of; some I am still fighting. And I’m sure there are more that I still completely believe and have yet to recognize for what they are.

But I am starting to be able to tell when a lie is trying to worm its way into my mind and present itself as truth. I have been fighting one off this week, as it happens. I am not going to say what it is, because that only gives it power and makes it more real. But one sentence keeps popping into my head, randomly and repeatedly, that I know is a lie. It is an attractive lie, though. If I were to believe it and let it grow in my mind, it would make things so much easier. It would let me shift the blame for a difficult situation on to someone else. It would free me from responsibility from some of my own problems and give me justification to do what I do best – give up on the situation and the people involved and run away.

It’s so plausible, so convenient, so tempting. To believe it would be to create a reality in which things were as I wished them to be, at least at first. But I know that if I did embrace that false reality, it would ultimately lead to the destruction of some precious relationships, to resentment and bitterness on my part, and to neglect of my need to deal with my own flaws. But most importantly, it would lead to distance between myself and God. Which is exactly what Satan wants. That’s his entire goal – isolation and separation from God and from those who love us and bring us closer to God.

So how do we identify these lies, these false ideas?

“But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come.”
John 16:13

We have the Holy Spirit to speak truth to us. And the more time we spend in the presence of God, the more we allow the Holy Spirit to fill us, the more easily we are able to recognize these lies for what they are and reject them before they take hold and work their evil. When we are filled with the Spirit we are filled with truth and there is no room for lies to take hold.

“And it is the Spirit who bears witness, because the Spirit is the truth.”
1 John 5:6

Because, ultimately we know when something is false, deep inside. We know when we are lying to ourselves – even when we are not close to God, not filled with the Holy Spirit, we still know on some level. We can tell real from fake. As the memory of Cobb’s wife haunted his his mind, the false reality tortures us, even as we cling to it. The lies are so much easier to believe and easier to face, even if they make us miserable. Without the Holy Spirit we often can find neither the strength of will nor the desire in our hearts to break free of the lies, because we don’t have the truth to replace them with. The dream is always better if you don’t know what reality is.

At the end of the movie, Cobb confronts the memory of his wife that he has been holding onto in the dream world, in some vain hope of getting her back. He realizes he has bought into a lie, a false reality, just as much as she had before she killed herself.  No matter how much he might want it, she is not real. Mal is dead and can never come back to him. He has to walk away. The dream-Mal begs him to stay with her, claiming that this dream world with her in it is actually what’s real. But he tells her:

“I wish. I wish more than anything. But I can’t imagine you with all your complexity, all your perfection, all your imperfection. Look at you. You are just a shade of my real life. You’re the best I can do; but I’m sorry, you are just not good enough.”

It is only when he rejects the false reality that has been slowly destroying him, despite how attractive it seemed on the surface, that he is able to get his life back. To return to his children and family and country and be a whole person again.

We cannot live the full lives that God has for us until we reject the false realities. It is painful to do so, but it is the only way. They never satisfy, they are never good enough or whole enough. Our minds can never imagine anything as complex or amazing as what God has for us. And we know in our hearts when we are not in the truth, even if we don’t allow our consciousness to accept it.

Of course, the ending of the movie purposely leaves it ambiguous as to whether Cobb has truly returned to the real world or whether he has simply traded one attractive dream for another. Although the top wobbles, and I would like to think it falls, I also have to admit this is also something else we allow ourselves to be fooled by. When one dream world crumbles, if we are not being poured into by truth and filled by the Spirit, we will simply accept a new falsehood to replace the old.

“Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
John 8:32



1. Lies I Believe, Part 1: No Time « Orual Undone - July 29, 2010

[…] Posted by orualundone in Lies, Lifescripts, Personal, Prayer, Time. trackback Since writing about Inception, I’ve been thinking more and more about how insidious the lies that we’ve started to […]

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