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.