Why “INCEPTION” scares us?

If, as the last blog said, Sci-fi movies and Horror films start with a fundamental, catastrophic loss of control, and an underlying guilt from the past responsible for that loss, then how does one of this summer’s most successful Sci-Fi film, INCEPTION, fit in.


             INCEPTION deals with dreams and entering dreams to plant an idea in someone’s deep subconscious to get them to do what you want them to do.   There is perhaps no arena where there is less control than we have of our dreams.  We seem to be at the mercy of our subconscious minds.   Sometimes dreams are logical, sometimes they are not.  They seem to be made up of scraps of our daily lives put together randomly or put together in a way that plays out unresolved conflicts in our conscious lives.   Some like Carl Jung believe that dreams reveal our deepest psyche.  Other scientists who have studied and tried to correlate dreams scientifically find that dreams are little more than random thoughts from our daily lives.  In any case, we all seem to be at the mercy of what dreams we face each night.  And most of us can barely even remember our dreams even though we try.

             But in INCEPTION it goes even further than that.   They speak of “shared dreams” where the person sharing the dream is the one in control of the subconscious world of the dreamer.  So here not only are you at the mercy of your subconscious but also at the mercy of others sharing the dream who may control it – like the person hypnotized is at the mercy of the hypnotist.  But the one sharing the dream also is barely in control because the subconscious mind of the dreamer can use the entire dream world to attack the one sharing/manipulating the dream if an unauthorized invasion of the dreamer is discovered.   And beyond that they not only go to the first level of dreaming but to the third level of dreaming (a dream within a dream within a dream).  At this level the dream state is said to be very unstable, maybe impossible to return from.  And near the end they go four levels down where supposedly only the living dead reside.  And so there is almost a total loss of control of the environment.

             And it comes out that if you die in a dream, you don’t wake up, but in fact you will pass forever into a limbo state where you never wake up – between life and death.  The loss of control becomes complete and the hero is enslaved in a purgatory world forever.  This is a classic sci-fi/horror scenario where the hero has or soon will totally lose control.  And it scares the begibbers out of us.   


             In Sci-fi and horror, usually the hero finds that he has entered this nightmarish situation because of some past sin.  It was perhaps an innocent mistake but in the past, but he opened a Pandora’s box and now there is a price to pay.  INCEPTION plays to this as well.  We find the Leonardo DiCaprio character, Cobb, has in fact arrived at this situation because he crossed the forbidden zone and planted an idea in his wife’s (Mal’s) mind when she was deep within a dream that she had to die to be free. 

             He may have done it to snap her out of the dream state, thinking that if she died in a dream she would just wake up, but it backfired and when she did awake, believed she needed to die to be free, and she eventually took her own life.  And now the only place he can reunite with her is at a deep level of dreaming where she wants to trap him to spend eternity with her, rather than returning to the real world to care for his children.  He crossed the forbidden line, he opened Pandora’s box and now it is impossible to put the furies back in the box.  And the situation is made all the worse because Cobb (Leo) realizes that he caused it and residing forever in a dream limbo world may be his unending penalty. 


              At the heart of most all films the hero is a some level seeking redemption from his or her past errors.  This is especially true in sci-fi and horror because they deal so directly with judgment for past sins.  But how can you ever find redemption for being responsible for your wife’s suicide.  This is especially true when she is stalking you in the dream world to get you to stay there with her forever to pay for your past error.  

             WARNING:  END SPOILER IS COMING, IF YOU DON’T WANT TO KNOW, STOP READING NOW.  In INCEPTION the resolution for this is not entirely satisfying.   He simply realizes that as much as he loves his wife and feels responsible for her death, this person in the dream is only a figment of his imagination and not his wife.  And then another dreamer plants a thought in his mind that he needs to return to the real world – and voila – he is back.  And suddenly we realize that Leo was the “mark” in the dream world and not the one running the con.  And so he is “saved” by a realization and a Deus ex machine device (essentially a trick – and not a result of his own personal growth).   The problem is that underlying guilt is never really dealt with.   But the ending does have a huge TWIST, and this is another one of the elements of Sci-fi and Horror that we will look into next time that again leads to a sense of loss of control. 

             Also next time we will continue to look for a more satisfying resolution of the GUILT that underlies all Sci-fi and Horror films.  Stay tuned for delving into TWILIGHT and PREDATORS.

What Basic Need Do Sci-fi & Horror Tap?

            As someone has said “It is not about motion pictures, it is about emotion pictures.”   Good films, and I believe Midnight Reckoning (www.Midnight Reckoning.com ) is one of those, don’t just have visual, razzle-dazzle and powerful music, but they seek to tap deeply into our human psyche to awaken what psychiatrists tell us are our deepest needs:  love, recognition, security, new experience, freedom from guilt.   Drama’s and romances deal with love.  Action and crime stories revolve around strong urgent goals and are often driven by the human need for recognition.  Adventure and comedies satisfy our need for new and funny experiences.  Sometimes science-fiction takes us to new worlds and we get a ride on a really cool space ship. 

             But in a much deeper way both recent sci-fi feature movies and television (like the  Twilight Zone  Series,  Lost Season One,  the Memento   movie ) and recent horror films (like Close Encounters of the Fourth Kind, the Quarantine  movie, and the Paranormal Activity movie)  deal with our deepest fears and insecurities and the guilt which may lie behind them.   We will seek to examine the principles that horror and sci-fi feature movies use to surface our deepest fears, and perhaps suggest some ways to gain SECURITY and FREEDOM FROM GUILT that psychiatrists say we deeply need.

             It’s interesting that in film festivals that science-fiction and horror (and fantasy) are grouped together.  On one level they seem to be vastly different but on closer examination both deal with one of the deepest fears that we all have:



             It is this loss of control that taps into our deepest fear of losing the security of our familiar surroundings, or even worse having our familiar surroundings suddenly seem unfamiliar.  And not only that but we encounter people or beings that are totally unfamiliar to us and which we have no way to predict their behavior.  In horror it is some monster: human, alien, supernatural which we can’t understand and which therefore we can’t control that not only threatens our life, but our very own control over our own freedom and our very own will to act not only in this life or the next. 

             In Sci-fi it is or tyrants or monsters who control all powerful machines that threaten to undo any last shred of freedom that we have in our lives. 

             In Horror it is an organic or spiritual monster, in Sci-Fi it is a mechanistic one.  I once heard that the apparent difference between advanced technology and advanced magic is almost indistinguishable.  The technician gains omnipotence over nature by high mechanized control (the Death Star in Star Wars ), or the magician gains it by highly spiritualized control (Lord Voldemord in Harry Potter ).   Usually in good horror stories it is not enough that one be an ax murderer, but they be a demonically possessed ax murderer.   The Antagonist is possessed with extreme superhuman powers and could crush us at any moment, and so we are not just outmatched, but powerless. 

             In our daily lives this is a deeply buried fear that we all have.  We settle into a normal routine.  Things in life seem predictable and then suddenly a 9-11 hits, and the very floor under our feet is pulled out from beneath us, and we stare mesmerized at the TV watching the plane crash into the Twin Tower over and over again, maybe hoping that if we watch it one more time it will turn out differently.  We knew it could happen all along, like our own death, but just not today.  Not when the stock market’s doing well, not when crime statistics are down, not when I’ve  just passed my physical, not when I have a dinner party tonight, not when my life seems so predictable.  And yet it happens, and suddenly we feel very small, very powerless. 

             So what is the solution to the utter and complete loss of control in our lives.  That may be why we go to see Sci-fi and horror films – to see the answers they provide… in the next blog.

 (feel free to post this article on any site, but please only post the entire article including the following copyright.   Thanks.  ©2010 by Derrick Warfel )  Watch for the next installment which will be posted about week from now – AFTER MIDNIGHT.    BACK TO MIDNIGHT RECKONING

Why a Blog on Sci-Fi and Horror in Movies?

My journey writing,  directing, and producing the feature film “Midnight Reckoning”  ( www.midnightreckoning.com ) which will be coming out theatrically and on DVD this Fall has forced me to examine these film genres and why the psychological factors in the human psyche are so attracted to these topics. 

As a writer-director I’m mesmerized by the techniques that sci-fi and horror  filmmakers use to capture an audiences attention, and perhaps you are as well.  I will be examining the tricks of the trade that some of the best use to rivet you to the screen. 

But even more than that, I’m caught up with what it is about the human make-up that causes us to seek for answers that sci-fi and horror pose in our daily lives.  What is it about the soul of man resonates when these topics emerge?  And what answers may we find that will eventually satisfy this deep seated curiosity? 

Please join with me over the next several months as I take apart what makes sci-fi, horror, and particularly “Twilight Zone” type stories so powerfully affect us.  And follow my progress as I work non-stop to bring  my own “thinking person’s”  sci-fi thriller to theaters and DVD this Fall and attempt to reach people who are searching for these answers.   BACK TO WEBSITE