Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Inception (2010)

     I hope you don't think it's too cliched to make my first review about one of 2010's most popular movies. But I figure it's a good start, because you've probably seen it. And I also want to start off with this because Christopher Nolan, to me, is an outstanding filmmaker not only because of his quick writing and editing, but because he hides Christian themes inside most of his films.

     In the futuristic "Inception," Leonardo DiCaprio plays Dom Cobb, an engineer who steals confidential information with others like Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) by using equipment to put people to sleep and thus going through their dreams. As Cobb puts it, "it's not strictly-speaking legal," but it's such an important task to be done that if an assignment fails, Cobb's and Arthur's life could be at risk. But one day, they're hired by Saito (Ken Watanabe) to go into the dreams of the son (Cillian Murphy) of an ailing entrepreneur (the late Pete Postlethwaite) and make him decide to give up the empire that his father started building for total energy dominance. To do this, Cobb and Arthur hire others to go with them into the dream (make that dreams, for they end up going into four layers of dreaming... it's complicated), including a young architect named Ariadne (Ellen Page), a forger (someone who can pretend to be someone else in a dream) named Eames (an outstanding Tom Hardy), and a chemist who makes the sedatives that put the dreamers to sleep named Yusuf (Dileep Rao).

     But Cobb has a little problem. A while back, he and his wife Mal (Marion Cotillard) were experimenting with the concept of dreams within dreams, and they ended up in "limbo", unconstructed dream space. There, they could create anything they wanted. But Cobb knew that this wasn't their real life, so in limbo, he and Mal killed themselves in order to wake up and come back to reality. When awake, however, Mal was not convinced that she really was back in reality--she thought she was still in a dream, as if Cobb and their two children were "projections", people created in a dream by the dreamer's subconscious. So one night, Mal kills herself, but not before accusing Cobb of killing her first. Therefore, Cobb has to flee the United States where they lived, and ever since, he has been trying to find jobs to buy his way back home. However, even though Mal is dead, she haunts his subconscious--whenever Cobb and Arthur are doing a job, Mal shows up and often sabotages the operation. But on the mission with Robert Fischer (Murphy), Cobb realizes he has to let her go. Thus, the mission succeeds, and Cobb goes home.

     Or does he? See, the whole controversy surrounding the film's ending is one question: Is Cobb dreaming, or is he not? Because Cobb ends up going back into limbo, where his wife is, confronting her and then saving two men that died in a dream that ended up down there. However, everybody else wakes up from the dream before Cobb does, and if Cobb comes back to reality, it happens off-screen. Then the film ends with Cobb spinning a top on his kitchen table, then he goes off to see his children, and it keeps spinning. Now, in a dream, the top would spin forever, but in real life, of course, it would fall. But the film cuts to black before the top gets a chance to fall, and the audience has to figure out for themselves whether this is all a dream. But that's where the point of the movie comes in: what is the audience going to believe?

     Writer/director Christopher Nolan has successfully made a drama about faith cleverly disguised as a futuristic action movie. I mean, read part of this conversation between Cobb and Saito when Cobb is offered the job:

COBB: If I were to do this job--if I even could do it, I'd need a guarantee. How do I know you can deliver?

SAITO: You don't! But I can. So, do you want to take a leap of faith, or do you want to become an old man, filled with regret, waiting to die alone?

     Look, Cobb, Saito is saying. Do you want to do this mission that is almost impossible, and have a chance to go back to your children? Or do you want to give up and keep chasing after a way home? Because I have the power to send you back to America safely. Isn't that what God sometimes says to us? We can be challenged to do something that could risk everything: our friendships, our job, our reputation. But if we don't do it, we'll regret it in the end. Cobb knows this, and so he accomplishes inception, and goes back home.

     Now, when he goes home, his future is uncertain. The viewer thinks, Is this real life or is it a dream? And I've had friends watch the movie over and over for details that will tell them specifically how the film ends. But at one point in the film, Mal tells Cobb: "You keep telling yourself what you know. But what do you believe?" And after watching the film, I realized: I need to take a leap of faith. From the start, I thought Cobb went home in real life, but there are so many details in this movie that could prove otherwise.

     But here's my opinion. Cobb and Mal have been in limbo before. And they got back to reality before. So why can't Cobb do it again? Maybe you've heard the story of Jesus feeding a crowd of thousands with five loaves of bread and two fish. But did you know there were other times that he did it in the Gospels? In Matthew 14, Jesus feeds five thousand men, much to the surprise of his disciples; yet in Matthew 15, He feeds four thousand men, and the disciples are still surprised. Jesus did a miracle twice, and they couldn't believe He could do it. But He did! This is the same thing: if Cobb could get out of limbo, why can't he do it again? Ariadne was convinced at the end of the film that Cobb could get out, and if we all had her faith, we would all be convinced that Cobb would be saved.

     There's another passage of Scripture that this leads into: Philippians 1:21-24. There, Paul is in prison but he writes that whether he lives or dies, it's a win-win scenario. If Paul were to die, he would be with God in Heaven, which is "better by far"; and if he lives, he could stay on Earth and do ministry. This is the same concept! Even if Cobb is still in a dream, it's ultimately a win-win scenario! If he's in real life, he's going to be with his family safely in America, and if he's in a dream, one day's he going to wake up (wherever that is), but Mal will still be gone from his subconscious, and he'll be able to find another way back to America. (Unless he goes to jail or something, which could be possible. But oh well. Mal's gone.)

     My prayer for you, the reader, is that you would find a time this year to take a leap of faith, wherever you are in your life. You may be reading this as a Christian, maybe a non-Christian. But I hope you will not just look for specific details to direct your life, but that you would find a conviction in your heart that gives you that direction. And for me, that's Jesus.

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