Thursday, September 23, 2010

inception film review: dreaming of atonement theology

Here’s my most recent film review, on the movie Inception, for Touchstone magazine. (The review for next month is Mike Riddell’s Insatiable Moon, which is due out in New Zealand cinemas October 7.) I was chatting about my monthly film review’s with Jonny Baker on the train to Durham. For me, it is such a good discipline, having to write a short piece every month that seeks to honour both the art of enjoying film and the disciplines of thinking theologically.

A quick check (most are here on the blog archive) and this month is the 5 year anniversary! That’s 55 reviews, and at 500 words each, nearly 30,000 words. Almost a book! It just needs an overarching argument. Oh, and a publisher!

Anyhow, here’s my review of Inception
Most movies work in a linear fashion. Time passes minute by minute. Inception offers us a strikingly different conception, a timeline in which dreams nestle within dreams. It is a plot-line similar to a set of Russian matryoshka dolls, multiple dreams, each nestling within another yet another dream.

Confused? Then you will love Inception.

The movie is a compelling mix of Oceans 11 meets The Matrix. A highly skilled thief, Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio), earns a living breaking into people’s dreams in order to extract important information. When a heist goes wrong, Cobb is offered redemption. His task becomes to plant, rather than extract. His target is Robert Michael Fische (Cillian Murphy) heir to a multibillion-dollar oil company. His goal is inception, to conceive in Fische’s dreams the idea that upon his father’s death he should dismantle the family fortune.

Confused? Then you will love Inception.

Cobb assembles his team. Yusuf (Dileep Rao) will send Fishe to sleep. Ariadne (Ellen Page) will create the dream worlds which Fishe will make his own, filling them with his own subconscious memories. Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) will enter this dream world in order to connect Fische with Eames (Tom Hardy), who disguised as Peter Browning (Tom Berenger), a Fische family friend, will plant the inception.

However, dreams and the human subconscious prove unpredictable. Cobb is repressing his own personal nightmare, the death of his wife Mal (Marion Cotillard). It is a past that keeps finding ways to intrude, unpredictably, into the dreamworlds with-in which Cobb works.

Which is all very Freudian isn’t it? Dreams exist as attempts by an unpredictable unconscious to resolve inner conflict.

Director Christopher Nolan has made a string of movies – Prestige (2006), Batman Begins (2005), Memento (2000) and Dark Knight (2008) – that probe the human subconscious. Inception is no exception. To sleep is simply to slide into the pain, guilt and grief of one’s past.

Inception is a rewarding movie, brilliantly conceived and creatively executed. It has plot, intriguingly randomised through the nestling of multiple dreams. These sleep scenes allow for mind-bending special effects and the interweaving of concurrent narratives. It has emotion, best seen as Cobb finds the courage to finally farewell his dying wife.

All it lacks is character development. The movie, long at 2 hours 28 minutes, dedicates more time to teasing the audience with yet another dream sequence than it does to developing characters.

Inception leaves the viewer pondering their dream worlds. Which provoked some lively table talk. Does Christian redemption include human nightmares and one’s subconscious past?

A colleague said yes. Absolutely. And told a story of personal change in their subconscious as a result of Christian healing prayer.

Which made sense of one of the great theologians of the church, Gregory of Nanzianzen. He famously declared that “the unassumed is the unredeemed.” In plain English, the redeeming work of Christ includes the totality of human brokenness, from our dreams to our nightmares, from our past to our present.

Which might just make for a faith worth falling asleep over.

Posted by steve at 05:21 PM | Comments (2)


  1. Hi Steve saw Inception a few weeks ago now and yes its a great film with many facets to explore. I can’t wait till it comes out on DVD and have a chance to watch it a few times and pick up some its deeper themes. The one thing I was disappointed about was the amount of violence. I think there is plenty of subconscious issues that could have been explored with this film with out the violence. I guess the money to back films speaks loudly. What do we hold on to not allowing to die well and us to move on with wholeness? Where do we discover redemption? Is it through violence and taking from others or do we discover redemption through other means? It is interesting and note worthy in the film that part of the redemption comes through the healing of relationship. “Love God & love our neighbour as our selves?” cheers enjoy the rest of the trip

    Comment by Geoff — September 23, 2010 @ 6:07 pm

  2. Hi Geoff, I suspect we’re both uneasy about the same thing – what you call violence is perhaps where I was going with the last few paras, the way the subconscious in Inception is such a place of malovelence.


    Comment by steve — September 23, 2010 @ 8:51 pm

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URL

Leave a comment