In case anyone needs a bit of relief from the theological, ecclesiological and liturgical concerns that usually get aired on this blog, I thought I’d share my reaction to the film Inception which has been doing well at the box office over the last few weeks.

To put the bottom line first, the film is one more in a series going back farther than I’m likely to know in which the entertainment industry corrupts the morals of its consumers. I doubt that this has ever been a conscious intention, although there have been plenty of times when I’ve been sure that the writer of the screenplay must have known that he (please supply ‘or she’ as appropriate throughout) was parading his own lusts and covetousness before the audience, and I doubt that this was a conscious intention with Inception either, but of course that only means that the corruption is the more insidious for being less overt.

The film is based on the idea that it might be possible, using a variety of drugs and electronic gadgets, for a person to enter the mind of another person by becoming involved in his dreams, and while in the other person’s mind to ‘extract’ information that might otherwise have been kept private. The expert in this work is played by Leonardo DiCaprio, and it might just be possible to explain his comment at the beginning of the film that he wants to retire from it, and that the job around which the film revolves will be his last, as an acknowledgement that there is something questionable about the morality of snooping on others in this way. But if that was the purpose of the comment it was countered by the statement that this practice was developed and used by the US Government, and then overwhelmed by the apparently satisfactory ending provided for so many by the events in the film.

The second element whose morality is questionable is the fact that this last job is undertaken at the request of the owner of the second-largest energy company in the world (Ken Watanabe) who wants to destroy the first-largest and thinks that this technique will be an effective way of bringing it about. Not just industrial espionage, but industrial psy-ops; that can’t be legal, can it? But any question about that becomes moot, first because Watanabe warns that the largest energy company is on the verge of becoming an out of control super-power, and second because he is so cool, while Cillian Murphy, the young heir to the throne of the largest energy company whose dreams are going to be manipulated, is so un-cool, reeking of wealth, privilege, and superiority.

Then there’s the fact that DiCaprio takes the job in return for Watanabe’s promise to use his influence to get immigration officials to look the other way when DiCaprio, who is wanted for the murder of his wife, returns to the US, from which he has been on the run for a while. There is nothing at all which can be interpreted as questioning the morality of this, of course, and this question too becomes moot because the two little children from whom DiCaprio has been separated while on the run are so adorable (even when seen only from behind) and miss their Mummy and Daddy so much.

One of the things which adds to the drama is that this particular use of the technique is not extraction, the gathering of information from the unsuspecting dreamer, but ‘inception’, the planting of an idea in the victim’s mind which he will assume is his own when he has it in the waking state. Brainwashing, it would have been called once, but ‘inception’ is so much less offensive, just as the ‘insertion’ of troops into a battle is so much less offensive than an ‘attack’ on someone by them. There is much discussion about whether ‘inception’ is even possible, but DiCaprio assures them that it is, because he has done it. Only once, but he has done it. Where yet another element of questionable morality comes in is that DiCaprio’s experience with this was when he brainwashed his wife. He had been forced to do this when he was in her dream at the very deepest and most dangerous level (presumably perfecting his skills), and it was time to wake up. One of the features of the dream state is that if someone kills you in it, you wake up, and at this deepest level no other way of waking up will work, which means that both of them must appear to kill themselves, and he plants the idea in her mind that doing so will take them to a better life. This idea stays with her as an idea of her own after waking, and before too much longer she commits suicide. DiCaprio appears to regard this as a regrettable accident (he misses her very much, we are frequently assured), but other phrases came to my mind: reckless endangerment? Negligent homicide? Manslaughter? An investigation by the police is certainly in order, and his flight from them suggests that some of these phrases must have come to his mind, or at least the mind of the writer of the screenplay. But even this becomes a moot point, because there is something about the wife (Marion Cotillard) that is faintly off-putting (‘I took an immediate dislike to her,’ said one of the women in the party with whom I saw the film), especially in comparison with the ultra-feminine Ellen Page, DiCaprio’s only female co-worker on this job. And Cotillard’s name in the film is Mal, which ought to suggest ‘bad’ to anyone who’s made it through high school.

The film has plenty of good qualities, but I found all this disturbing enough to outweigh them. The New York Times review of the film said that it wouldn’t give anyone nightmares, but I woke up in the middle of the night thinking about it two or three times. Yet even the reviewer at Christian Spotlight on the Movies (http://www.christiananswers.net/spotlight/movies/2010/inception2010.html) saw only ‘unintended results’ from DiCaprio’s ‘inception’ of his wife, and seems to have thought that the worst of them was that she haunted DiCaprio’s own dreams and appeared in Murphy’s dream while DiCaprio and his team were present in a way that distracted DiCaprio so much that all of them were in danger of disappearing into ‘raw infinite subconscious’.

‘Flick Filosopher’ MaryAnn Johanson (http://www.flickfilosopher.com/blog/2010/07/071310inception_review.html) summed up my concerns when she observed that this was a movie about ideas, ‘and when I say this is a movie about “ideas,” I do mean ideas themselves: How ideas—just someone whispering something to you in the right way at the right time—can have a crude, subtle power like nothing else. How ideas can change us to our very core.’ One of the ideas whispered into the mind of the viewer of this film is that if people aren’t cool and attractive and those trying to take advantage of them are, the rules don’t apply. It is not only a description of ‘inception’, but an attempt to practice it on those of who us are not cool and attractive (present company excepted, of course). It does not seem to me to be anything a Christian, evangelical or otherwise, can be very happy to know people in our society are paying to see.

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