Inception and LonelinessFilm — By J.F. Arnold on November 2, 2012 at 7:00 am
Inception‘s popularity may or may not last. It is far too soon to tell whether the sci-fi flick will live up to its similarly-talked-about-brother The Matrix in longevity. When the film came out, it seemed to me that everyone was asking the wrong questions. If you’ve not yet seen Inception, now is the time to move on: the rest of this post will have spoilers, and I do not intend to tag them. You’ve been warned. Consequently, if you’d like a read about a more recent movie, check out Mere Orthodoxy’s discussion of the new 007 movie, which I intend to see as soon as I am able.
The ‘big question’ from Inception comes from the final moment of the film. As Cobb spins his top, and then is called away by his children, the camera zooms in on his now-ignored toy and cuts to black before we can see whether or not it falls. Aside from the weirdness of the stated ability of the totems (which, at least for Cobb’s, would only function to tell him if he was in his own dream, and could not distinguish between the real world and someone else’s dream), I found this ending fitting, though not for the reasons a lot of people seem to have. While some get hung up on the question of whether or not Cobb is in reality or in a dream (his or someone else’s), the question feels unimportant. In fact, Cobb flat out ignores it, at that moment. After all, the film has given us reason to think about it (the film deceives us multiple times, suggesting we should be questioning reality), but Cobb moves away from these questions when presented with what he perceives as the ultimate good, his children.
It’s significant that the film’s answer to the question of what happens to the top is simply to roll credits. This is no accident: the answer the question of reality is to enjoy your children, to seek goodness, and to live your life, whatever it may be. I actually found the message to be relatively straight forward, in that sense.
But one point that I’ve not seen anyone write on is the loneliness that Cobb faces throughout the film. The Cartesian doubt tends to take over discussions of Inception rather quickly, but Cobb spends the entire film alone, essentially. It isn’t a physical isolation (probably, since he could be dreaming), but an emotional one. It’s clear that no one really knows everything about him, and he actively seeks to keep people from that knowledge. Cobb is also a miserable character; we pity him, we are concerned for his well being, and we instantly wonder how he got to be the way he is. We know something is wrong, and we are quick to attempt to decipher it. We all have a need for community, and the stark lack of one in Cobb’s life is jarring.
In fact, Cobb’s problems are only solved when he not only trusts others, but relies on them. When they follow him as deeply as they can possibly go, it is only then that Cobb figures things out, gets it together, and ends up able to see his kids again (note: even if he is still dreaming at the end of the film, he still allows himself to see his children, which should count as progress regardless).
Friendship, community, fellowship: pick your term, and I’ll tell you it is necessary. Even our natural, emotional reactions to Cobb function as evidence for this fact.
Of course, community is dangerous. What got Cobb into trouble in the first place? That’s right, letting someone else into the deepest recesses of his soul. He and his wife retreated from all others, and lived in (literally) a world of their own creation. This eventually drove her mad, and drove him to be an emotional hermit; both are terrible, of course, but neither is a necessary result of close fellowship. Friendship can lead to good things, but it cannot take over us so completely that it becomes a god. The best relationships are those in which we see Christ, because ultimately only Christ can satisfy the deep needs of our souls. Our job is to present Christ to our friends and family, and indeed to all people; let’s not forget to see Christ in others, either.