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.