What is it about dreams that fascinates us? Is it the fact that, for many people, dreaming is a totally unconscious process where we don’t actively have to decide? Is it maybe the surreal imagery and situations? Or is it our interest in the unknown? Whatever the reasons are, dreams are something fascinating. Christopher Nolan’s Inception is proof of this.
The movie takes us on a journey through the unexplored territories of the human unconscious. Most importantly, it forces us to ask the question, ‘what is real?’.
Dreaming is the central concept of the movie Inception. Therefore, it is not surprising that it has some of the most astonishing special effects when it comes to replicating what a dream-like world might look like. In this fictional world, reality bends, always maintaining its fundamentals in place.
However, special effects aren’t what makes this movie great. Neither is its cast, which is great, by the way. Although having actors onboard like Leonardo DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and Ellen Page is surely an eye-catcher, the real attractiveness of Nolan’s Inception lies in the way it suggests dreams work.
Like reality, dreams need some rules to go by. Just because they differ to what we consider being awake, or real, does not mean dreams do not have their own logic. The idea of how dreams work is, in my opinion, Nolan’s real triumph with Inception.
Journey Into the Unknown
Dreams have been a puzzle throughout most of humanity’s existence. Early civilizations discussed what the substance of dreams was. Even today, with all our technology at hand, there is lots to figure out when it comes to dreams. Who knows if we will ever be able to understand what they really are.
Although probably not very scientific, science fiction can help us do this. Movies like Inception can inspire us to consider things we wouldn’t usually think of. The idea of being able to be in a dream within a dream is very interesting, for example. So is the possibility of meeting with other people in a dream. Needless to say of questions like, ‘what happens if you die in a dream?’, ‘are dreams real?’, and ‘can dreams help us overcome our fears?’.
No matter what the answers to these are, the process of laying out the possibilities and their implications is an exercise in imagination itself. One in which contradictions can easily pop up anywhere. This is not a surprise. It is very hard to come up with a coherent explanation of how dreams work in a movie.
Luckily, Inception avoids those traps. I’m not saying everything in the movie makes sense. But if you look at the big picture, you’ll notice that it is a solid world of dreams, with some important functioning rules. Inception’s dream world is, in other words, a plausible version of how dreams function and what their future might be if we find the right technology to move between dreams and reality. But if we want to really test out the movie’s idea, we need to go beyond simple questions. And that leads us to ask us the most important question in the movie: ‘what is real?’.
The film revolves around one central and important thought: the possibility to insert an idea into someone’s mind. Just imagine the possibilities if this were real. It would be awesome to just be able to change your mind at will. Long hours at the psychologist would surely end.
However, this also poses major risks. What if someone wanted to do you harm and planted an evil idea into your mind? The bridging between reality and the dream world sounds scary when framed in those terms.
In a way, the possibility of connecting these two worlds resembles the idea of lucid dreaming. This refers to the practice of being conscious, or as some might say, ‘awake’, during the act of dreaming. This has been a scientifically documented phenomenon, but there isn’t much to say in terms of what is indeed real. Aside from the research subject’s data from brain measurements and body scans, what is happening at the level of consciousness? Are people really in control of their minds while dreaming? How does this all work? There are many more mysteries than answers in the world of lucid dreaming.
One reasonable explanation for the solidness of dreams, and one the movie seems very fond of, is that our unconscious holds everything together. There is no need to worry while we are awake within a dream, as our unconscious will make sure that everything is carefully knit together so that a dream seems like a dream, or even better, like reality itself.
Dream Your Life away
So, if dreams have some logic to them, are they real? Based on the end of the movie, it seems that Nolan has some important thoughts on this. At the risk of falling into a relativist paradox, he tells us that there is something really profound about thinking of this important matter.
We might need to rethink what ‘reality’ means. After all, that different levels of reality have different and unique forms of being valid does not mean that one is better than the other. They just are, and that’s probably something to say of dreams too.