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Inception in a World of Real and Unreal

July 28, 2010 3 comments

Leonardo DiCaprio in Inception

Richard Weaver wrote, “Ideas have consequences.” GK Chesterton once said (and I paraphrase), “There is a thought that brings all thought to an end.” Christopher Nolan’sInception” is a mind-bending trip through dream world upon dream world upon dream world, exploring the consequences of ideas and the power of ideas to bring our world(s) to an end.

Many of Nolan’s film wrestle with ideas about our perception, and the struggle to discern the real from the unreal. Both Batman films (Batman Begins and the Dark Knight) immerse us into a dark world where the hero (Batman) must face an ambiguous evil that disrupts the mind and turns the world upside down. In a strange way, it reminds me of 1 and 2 Kings. In his commentary on Kings, Leithart suggests that these books may really be considered wisdom books because they tell story after story where the ruler is thrust into ambiguous settings, and is called upon to make a decision.

The prime example is Solomon. Being forced to choose between two woman who both make claim to the same baby. Solomon needs wisdom to shed light in a situation where good and evil are not clearly in the light. Nolan’s films reveal characters thrust into those same murky places that confuse the mind. His characters need wisdom to know how to choose, how to act in the middle of the mess.

Ebert sees a connection between Inception and an earlier Nolan film, Memento. I agree. The story of Memento is told by a man with short term memory loss. His blind sight is our blind sight. At times, the film is disorienting as we try to make sense the story in his world. His body is covered in tattoos. Gradually, we realize that these tattoos are his memory. It is not until the end of the movie that we understand the story we’re in.

Memento tells a story backwards through bits and pieces of narrative, fleeting images, a body marked with memory. All these questions come alive in his newest film. Inception follows a man and his wife into a confusion of reality between waking and dreaming. As the lines blur, discernment about what is real and what is not fades.

There are multiple points through “Inception” when we the viewer almost lose our bearing. We are experiencing the chaotic struggle of the characters caught up in a world that intertwines fantasy with reality. While Inception delves inward toward a Jungian subconscious dream world, it explores themes that are just as real in our waking world.

The premise of the film rests on the idea that we can enter into another person’s dreams and learn ways to extract their secrets or even suggest new ideas. This is not the simple dream combat of Dreamscape from the early 80s. This dream tinkering requires a team of professionals: an architect to build the world, a druggist to control the dream state, a forger who is a master of becoming other people in dreams, a researcher who prepares the details, and of course the action man who steals the idea or in this film attempts to plant an idea.

All this inner exploring can be confusing. At one point, the viewers of the film are submerged in four different dream worlds occurring at the same time. All these worlds have been created through ideas. All these worlds have the power to  entrap, deceive and threaten life itself. These worlds are supposed to be about the inner world of dreams, but these inner worlds are not so very different from our outer world.

In the movie, they created symbolic worlds or worlds that carried and expressed meaning, even hidden meaning within a person’s soul. Our dream worlds are filled with all sorts of fascinating images and structures and people. Memory and meaning are blended in fantasy where it is difficult to discern what really real or true. But this isn’t just our dream world. In our waking world, we face the same challenge to discern the real from the unreal.

We live in a world where ideas give birth to homes, clothes, cars and entire cities. The power of a spoken idea is the power to set worlds in motion. As Weaver and Chesterton pointed out, ideas have real power, and some ideas can lead to the end of ideas, to the end of our world.

In this film, Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) is trying to plant an idea in a man’s mind through his dreams. He knows this can be done because he has done it before with disastrous effects. Cobb himself is a man tormented by the power of deception and guilt to twist the waking and dreaming mind into confusion and limbo.

In this film, we see how ideas can twist our perception and our ability to know the true from the false, the real from the unreal. We see how some ideas can lead to the distrust of every idea.

In his day Chesterton realized there were ideas being planted in people’s mind that would eventually spring up and cause men to question rationality itself. In other words, he saw the danger of some ideas that would lead us into such a state of confusion, we’d be trapped in a limbo.

These ideas were not planted through dreams because the real place of influence is not through our dreams but through our ears. Speech has the power to change the world. To create the world. False speech twists the world into a confusion between the real and the unreal.

Hitler built a world on speech that twisted the real and the unreal. This speech took form in bodies, buildings, books, tanks, and war. Augustine built a world on speech in submission to Christ. The words he speaks in “Confessions” and “The City of God” still resound and still take shape in lives, cities, and societies.

As a rhetorician, Augustine understood that speech touches to heart and the mind and the body. Classical rhetoric is about learning how to speak. Quintillion said that rhetoric is the “art of a good man speaking well.” Great rhetoric integrates the mind with the emotions and moves the body to act. What is often called rhetoric in our world today is simply a shell of what once was a great art, thus it is often seen as manipulative and dishonest.

As I watched Inception, I thought about the power of speech. I thought about how wrong ideas can cloud out ability to perceive our world. Our perception can be distorted by anger, hurt, pride, and self ambition. False words can cloud our ability to see what is really real. But I also thought about the power of true speech to rebuild a world that is crumbling.

Paul writes to a people in Corinth who are being seduced by an idea that suggests the physical world is unimportant and only the spiritual is of value. He sees the danger in this idea. He proclaims true speech over false speech. He challenges the distorting power of false ideas with the true idea. He proclaims gospel (good news). He proclaims resurrection: the bodily resurrection of Christ and the bodily resurrection of His people.

In so doing, he reaffirms a real world. A real material world that really matters. His words still resound in people who need the wisdom of God to make wise decisions, speak wise words and act wisely in a world that confuses the real and unreal, the significant and the trivial, the true and the false.
Categories: Film Tags: , , ,

Sunshine Cleaning, Pearl Diver, I’ve Loved You For So Long

February 2, 2010 1 comment
Elsa Zylberstein and Kristin Scott Thomas in I've Love You For So Long

Elsa Zylberstein and Kristin Scott Thomas in I've Love You For So Long

In the last few months, I’ve watched three films that explore the relationship between sisters who are coping with a death in the background. I’ve Loved You For So Long, Pearl Diver and Sunshine Cleaning all tells bittersweet stories of relationship, love and profound loss. Often when I watch a film, I look at the film against a backdrop of another film to help highlight contrasts and similarities of the varying stories.

I’ve Loved You For So Long is a French that begins with one sister being released from prison. Shot in muted colors the cinematography captures the inward grief of the Juliette Fontaine. Played superbly by Kristen Scott Thomas, Juliette exemplifies a life turned in upon itself. Her face reads grief, emptiness, isolation, and the colors and images reinforce this overshadowing sadness that closes her heart to life. This aching ex-convict rebuilds her life in the midst of the lives of her sister’s family, including a husband, a child, and mute grandfather.

In the conversations with her sister, we discover a deeply strained relationship across many years. We discover that the parents considered Juliette as dead and no longer even spoke of her. We discover the reason for her imprisonment: murder. She killed her child. This memory haunts every conversation, every relationship, every place. She walks in a world of death. Even though all her relationships are strained, we watch as a mute grandfather and a little child bring her back to life and unveil the secret her child’s murder. I won’t disclose the ending, but the story resolves in a deeply poignant way that reinforces the beauty of human life.

Pearl Diver also depicts two sisters reuniting after years of separation. Prison does not separate them, but a murder does. The murder of their Mennonite mother sends the young girls along two very different paths in life. Hannah Eberly leaves the Mennonite faith of her youth, becomes a writer, and appears to life an adult life of struggle, haunted by painful memories of her youth. Rebecca Miller, the older sister, embraces the faith and lifestyle of her Mennonite upbringing, and spends her adult life seeking for a pardon of the man who is convicted of killing her mom. Hannah consistently opposes her sisters actions and fights for his imprisonment to the end of his life.

Rebecca’s daughter nearly dies after falling into farming equipment. This tragic accident reunites the sisters, and flames shared memories of childhood. As they seek to help Rebecca’s daughter find treatment for the wound in her head, they must also face the wound in their own heads. Hannah writes a novel that exposes the brutal murder of her mother, as Rebecca responds in horror that ancient secrets are coming to light, she enters into the light of remembering. Once again, I won’t unravel the mystery of the mother’s murder, but in right remembering, there is healing for all.

Last weekend, I watched Sunshine Cleaning, a tale of two sisters cleaning up crime scenes while remembering the bloody scene of their own mother’s suicide. In this tragicomic tale, both sisters are scarred by the death. Neither is married, both are used by men (and the film follow a popular Hollywood trend of showing men exploit both women sexually), and both women are struggling to survive–financially as well as emotionally. They embark upon a new path of crime scene clean-up. While the film has a few light moments, the tragic overwhelms the comic, and the sunshine vanishes in a cloud of unresolved pain. While this sad tale is true for many people, I think it fails to draw upon the power of narrative and memory to find resolution. The characters live in the cloud of their mother’s death but they never really face the memory and they never find resolution. As the film ends, I have no reason to expect that they won’t continue to be used and exploited by men.

This trio of films highlights the power of shared memories and stories that envelope all our relationships. We might not face the grieve of murders, but we all have memories that haunt us our relationships and our vision of the world. The films reveal the power of memories and the power to retell our stories and recast our memories. The first two films in particular shine light light into the potential power of telling our stories to one another and listening to one another.

As I think about the sad and beautiful longing in these films for right relationships and better worlds, I think the role of the Holy Spirit in the Gospels. Jesus tells his disciples that one reason the Spirit comes is to help them remember. In fact, Hans Urs Von Balthasar goes so far as to say that “retrospective remembering and anamnesis (loss of forgetfulness) constitutes the basis of understanding anything.” He talks about how the disciples could not see Jesus when he was in front of them. But in remembering, they could finally see him by the power of the Spirit as the Son of God.

Remembering plays a vital role in the Old and New Testament. The ancient Hebrews forget who they are while serving in slavery to Pharaoh. But God remembers them. In resurrecting them, he will tell them again and again to “remember.”  They are to re-member, re-hearse, re-tell the stories of deliverance, the stories of creation, the stories of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

In the New Testament, Jesus teaches his disciples to remember by the power of His Spirit. But this remembering is not simply looking back, but it is re-telling or re-calling past events in light of Christ. The disciples on the Road to Emmaus learn how to remember the Old Testament stories in light of Christ. In so doing, they realize all the events of the Old Testament are pointing to Jesus.

I would suggest that all three films have tapped into the pain of forgetfulness in human relationships and human communities. We’ve forgotten who we are. We’ve forgotten what binds us together. We’ve remembered wrongly and in ways that will further divide and not unite. The first two films reveal that remembering often constitutes relearning our history through a new light. But the last film shows our tendency to face painful memory and turn away without resolve. I fear so much in our world call us to distraction as a means for dealing with our pains, our struggles, our brokenness. Distractions offers no lasting hope. But deep memory, especially memory in light of the healing power of the Holy Sprit can restore and heal old relationships. We may still struggle , we may still limp, but we move toward hope in light of Christ.

iPhone – the Mini Movie Theatre

October 6, 2008 Leave a comment

Jeremy shows an easy way to turn your place ride into a mini-movie theatre, using an iPhone and a magazine.

Categories: lifehacks Tags: , ,

Reviewing Flixster

November 11, 2006 3 comments

Every week I sign up for a new social networking site just to explore their features and see what’s out there. With so many socialnet sites, I lose track of what I’ve joined, and I usually never do much with many of them. I signed up with Flixster on Wednesday and wasn’t sure if I’d use it much or not. Flixster may turn out to be a useful site. It is definitely like Netflix’s Friends feature combined with MySpace. The nice thing is that users can simply rate movies; they don’t have to sign up for a rental plan. This makes it easy to build a larger friends database and connect with a variety of people who like movies. And for someone like me who prefers to hear movie recommendations from other people, I find this very appealing.

If Netflix was smart, they’d follow Flixster lead and offer an expanded version of the Friends feature with no requirement to join. Of course, once people enter into a network and come to visit their movie page, it would be easier to encourage them to sign up for a plan, download a film or buy a film.

Flixster – Movie matchups

November 8, 2006 Leave a comment

I am testing out Flixster, a socnet site for sharing movie recommendations with friends. It has some interesting integration potential with MySpace and your address book, but I am not sure if it has any advantages over Netflix yet. We’ll see.

My Copyright Muse

October 25, 2006 Leave a comment

With excited anticipation that Hollywood was responding to the customer centric worldview, I posted news about My Movie Muse last July. After three months, I am disappointed to say that so far this supposed panel of movie goers has had little opportunity to offer real opinions on the content of films or the current film-making industry.

Instead, this has primarily turned out to be My Copyright Muse, giving us lessons (disguised as surveys) about why downloading movies illegally is so naughty. Oh well, so much for thinking and communicating with real people from Hollywood. Their surveys are just as two dimensional as an old Western set.

Get the Firefox of Media Players

October 20, 2006 1 comment

Built on a from Mozilla cross-platform, Songbird offers a great media alternative for pc, mac and linux alike. I’m testing the .2 preview today, and take a test drive yourself.

songbird.jpg

(via Make)

Update: I’m lovin’ it!!! It’s a music player and a browser: not to mention a media search center, social networking portal and a floor wax!

Categories: Uncategorized Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Netflix to Give Away $1 Million Dollars

October 2, 2006 Leave a comment

NYT announced today that Netflix is offering a $1 million dollar prize for the person who can improve their recommendation system by at least 10 percent. To help potential winners, they’re making available “to the public 100 million of its customers’ movie ratings, a database the company says is the largest of its kind ever released.”

I think this is pretty cool. It is more of the consumer generated content trend where companies look outside their walls to the public for help in creating solutions.

Let the Downloads Begin!

September 8, 2006 4 comments

Amazon Unbox Video Downloads unveils today with a variety of movies and TV shows available for download. Unfortunately their not DVD burnable but the quality is supposed to be good. By the end of the year, there should be a wide variety of downloading services and all our movie access options will expand.

(Via NYT)

Itunes Movie Downloads

September 5, 2006 Leave a comment

Business Week reports today that Itunes will soon start downloading feature length films, and Walmart is fighting tooth and nail to hinder it. Looks like we’ve got us an old-fashioned “grudge match.” May the best behemoth win!

(Via TechCrunch)

Categories: Uncategorized Tags: , , ,
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