Sunday, December 26, 2010

On the Danger of Ideas and Good Movies: Or, How Hell Is Ourselves, and 'Inception' Helps Prove We Need a Savior

In the past week or two I've been on vacation, and by doing so, I've seen a lot of films in rapid succession. A surprising number of them have been really thought-provoking. With any luck, I'll post a handful of them here in the next little while. There's a common thread that I'm seeing in all of them. It all goes back to my old theory about "involuntary Art", or instances of Christian themes and truths emerging in secular stories.

Without further ado, here's my take on Christopher Nolan's Inception. I tried not to give too many spoilers, by only referring sideways to things, but if you're touchy about it, I highly recommend watching it first, then you won't have to worry.

Sometimes I hate it when I watch movies that actually touch me. One of the blessings of being artistic is that you're sensitive to the messages and ideas that a story is trying to tell you. That is, you're not ignorant of the fact that the medium has power. The curse of it is that sometimes you go in expecting superficial entertainment and you get hit in the head. You kinda feel like King Claudius in Hamlet when your court jesters end up driving to your room to repent. Actually, come to think of it... it's *exactly* that circumstance that I'm talking about.

There have been a handful of times in my life that I can remember where a film has really affected me. Now, I'm not talking about the times when I just really liked a character and felt inspired. I'm talking about how the film confronted something in me, or struck a chord to such an extent that it freaked me out. The first was Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. The second was the PS2 video game Persona 3. The third was this evening, when I watched Inception.

I could go on explaining the personal circumstances of them, but that's not entirely my point here, and frankly I don't want to do it anyway. It's not comfortable and it isn't appropriate to do anyway. However, I do want to linger on Inception a bit and illustrate the bigger point that it shows.

The main character, through a truly vertiginous journey deeper and deeper into his subconscious, is shown his own fears. As it turns out, he's completely trapped by them. It takes another person to come and pull him out of it. That person in the film literally goes down into Hell with him and accompanies him while he confronts his own guilt so that he can come back to life. (Does this paradigm sound familiar to anyone? Hmm?)

I'd say this is another bright and shining example of Art showing up in art. Or maybe rephrasing it as Truth (with a capital T) showing up in fiction. Moreover, Truth showing up in a film that wasn't intended to be spiritual at all. Psychological? Sure; spiritual? No. This is a film where a simple and true theme was explored and as it came out, it resembled its prototype with stunning clarity. The movie has a gospel in it.

This gospel is illustrated by the main character's warning "A single thought has serious consequences. It can stick and grow, like a virus. It can settle and do all manner of damage once it's there." The story is all about what is real and what is illusion. It's about what ideas are our own, and what are suggested by external forces, and what do we do with them? It's about how we confront our own thoughts in the deepest recesses of our consciousness.

In the film, we get action and suspense and mystery, but we also see a truly tortured protagonist. We even see him, in both a literal and thematic sense, go to hell trapped there to live out a seeming eternity with only his subconsciousness. (Again, sound familiar?)

One of the other great parts of the movie is that it doesn't take the usual faux-artistic cop-out where they bring up questions but don't tell you answers. Inception demonstrates both ways to confront thoughts: The first is to avoid them in the first place... (the whole "don't go there" message.) The second is even more important. It's what we ought to do when we find ourselves trapped and weighed down by a single thought, which we may very well hate but we still harbor within us. The answer is, we can't do much of anything.

Wait, really? Yes. Really. Thoughts can be really harmful, destructive, and consuming. Even more, once they're let in, sometimes it's all but impossible to drive them out by yourself. But there's the answer, it's not by yourself at all.

It's through the help of another that we can be pulled back to sanity. In the movie, it's Ellen Page's character who helps DiCaprio's. In real life, it can be almost anyone who we let in, who we decide to trust. In spiritual terms, it's God Himself.

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