Sunday, February 5, 2012

The Labyrinth of the Film INCEPTION

Besides reading books, I do watch films from time to time. Maybe it's a little unorthodox to write about one on a book blog, but there is a literary tie in, as you will see. If you haven't seen the film, I highly recommend watching it, and you should not read this post until you do so. You might want to watch it twice, because it's a little confusing at first. Let this serve as my SPOILER ALERT!

Inception retells the myth of the minotaur in the labyrinth, and discusses other themes as well. Here's a brief recap of the original legend:

The labyrinth on Crete was built to house the Minotaur, a half-bull, half-man monster which was born as a result of King Minos's greed, greed which prevented him from sacrificing a particular white bull to Poseidon, as he had originally promised. From this bull and a woman was born the Minotaur, (Mino from Minos + taur from taurus, the Greek word for bull) a half-human monster that, as a living reminder of King Minos' greed, devoured human sacrifices. The hero Theseus comes from across the sea to enter the labyrinth and slay the Minotaur, but he faces the problem of being able to find his way back out of the labyrinth. The king's daughter, Ariadne, gives Theseus a ball of thread that he unravels on his way to the center of the labyrinth; after slaying the Minotaur he follows the string to find his way back out.

In the film Inception, the protagonist, Cobb, is  unable to come to terms with his wife's death and let her go. This results in the birth of a shadow figure of his dead wife, Mallorie, in his subconscious. The Jungian idea of a person's shadow, those aspects of the subconscious which haven't been integrated, is a nice parallel to the Minotaur, as a person's shadow can be seen as part human and part inner beast, untamed by the civilizing aspect of personal consciousness. Each time Cobb attempts to enter his subconscious, his plans are thwarted and his companions are attacked by this violent shadow, born of his inability to sacrifice/let go. In the film Cobb must go deeper, deeper into the layers of dream mazes in order to confront and slay the monster, his own inner demon which his desire-to-hold-onto (greed) has created. Or, in Jungian terms, he must descend into the depths of his subconscious in order to integrate his shadow, which he has personified as Mallorie. This is especially difficult for him because the shadow appears to him as his deceased wife. (One's shadow may be composed of sacrosanct symbols that the individual is loathe to disturb.) As Cobb sleeps and descends to the realm of pure subconscious, he washes up from the ocean onto the shore of the dream world his subconscious has constructed, like Theseus sailing across the sea and landing on the shores of Crete, ready to brave the labyrinth and slay the Minotaur. The character Ariadne, like the Ariadne in the myth, helps the hero navigate the labyrinth and emerge victorious.  The totem which Cobb uses to ascertain whether he is awake or dreaming and to find his way out of a dream corresponds to the ball of thread, and slightly resembles a ball of thread as well. The fact that the top spins and the ball of string was spun from fiber is also a fun piece of wordplay.

The film questions whether our motives are composed of the pure cause and effect that we ascribe to them, or whether they stem from a deeper will in the subconscious, perhaps one that another person or being has placed there. From whence come the ideas that take hold within us? We, our left brains, our Interpreters, invent causes that may or may not have brought about the effects. Tesla believed that humans are meat machines, mere stimulus and response, and if all possible factors could be known, all outcomes could be accurately predicted. Like him, Kant saw the cause and effect, the phenomenality of time and space. Schopenhauer, on the other hand, saw the will in nature, the one consciousness that wills all things. Einstein says it another way, "A human can very well do what he wants, but cannot will what he wants." Ambiguity results when these two are integrated, as in Nietzsche's writings . For Nietzsche, the Apollonian individuating principle and the Dionysian energy of the will are balanced. Life eats life,and when ego dissolves and the dynamism of the will is experienced, rapture results. For Nietzsche, amor fati (the love of fate) is the goal. In other words, if you criticize one detail of your life, you've unraveled the whole thing (Joseph Campbell). This is depicted at the end of the film: from the time that Cobb and Saito awake on the plane, it is impossible to tell whether they are dreaming or not. At the end, when Cobb spins his totem but then walks away, the viewer sees that he has stopped analyzing and questioning his reality, and  has instead chosen to live it. This is the equivalent of Theseus setting down the ball of yarn and walking away. The reality Cobb chooses to live is that which he desires most: life with his children. Cobb has accepted and internalized his fate, but interestingly, he may have chosen that very fate as well by choosing not to recognize and leave a dream world.
     The film's end is ambiguous. So... has he embraced his fate, a reality that he could not control, or has he willed his own reality? How do you perceive the ending? Which idea has taken root in your own mind? I think that question, the question of our own perception and not that of Cobb's, is one of the most interesting aspects of the film.
     The other point of interest for me is the concept of shared dreaming. Is it possible for a group of people enter into another's dream? Can we gather in darkness and watch the images and narratives that another has constructed? Surely film is this shared dream-state.

p.s. Sometimes I, like Saito and Cobb, become lost in the labyrinth of my own thought world. Someday, you might have to send someone to bring me back. Or maybe I should just carry a ball of thread.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

great post, i stumbled across it by accident, but it was worth it :)