Christopher Nolan’s masterpiece, Inception, is a rich and accurate portrait of the actual power of cinema. Inception revolves around the fabrication of dreams and toes the line between these dreams and reality—essentially leading the audience to continually question whether or not the characters are dreaming, or if they are actually in reality. This essentially becomes the audience’s main goal throughout the film, and enticingly enthralls viewers to be invested in this pursuit through powerful character development.
This two-and-a-half hour movie continually highlights the importance of whether or not the characters are in reality, yet Nolan decides to end all of this narrative tension with an ambiguous ending that leaves the viewer questioning why it even matters if the character is in reality in the first place. Message boards, YouTube videos, blogs, and film classes alike have nitpicked the minutia of the film to its core, trying to figure out whether or not Cobb was, in fact, dreaming at the end of the film. The irony is that no matter what crazy, illogical theory someone may have for solving the riddle, there is no substantial evidence to prove whether Cobb was really dreaming or not. This whole pursuit was intended to bring to light the film’s parallel between dreams and movies. In the film, Cobb says that you never quite remember the beginning of a dream, you always end up somewhere in the middle.
This premise is displayed abundantly throughout film—cuts back and forth in time and from different locations proves that that the film isn’t actually reality, but we subconsciously allow these narrative ellipsis because they work similar to how our dreams are constructed. So based off of that premise, how do we even know if Cobb is really in a dream or in reality throughout the entire film? That is the beauty of Inception—we don’t. Nolan is essentially calling films a shared dream state, where impossible things happen and complete other worlds are created for us.
Both dreams and film affect us deep in our subconscious, and Nolan draws this correlation between the two through the story arc of the film. Cobb is attempting to plant an idea in someone’s mind, so he does it through dreams—but if, to Nolan, dreams and films are one and the same, doesn’t that mean that if someone wants to plant an idea in your mind, one that you believe you originally thought of, film would be the best medium for that? The act of Inception is labeled as tricky, to say the least, because true inspiration is supposedly impossible to do, as Arthur says in the film ,our subconscious can always trace the source of the inspiration.
But what if the film Inception planted an idea in the audience’s minds, true inspiration, without them being able to trace the source back to the film?
If that were true, then it would certainly plant the idea that reality is subjective, based off of the whole progression of the film, and how the audience only knows if a character is in reality if it is explicitly stated. Relativism, as a moral belief, has been closely related to postmodern society, which has been a part of America since the early 20th century. But the interesting thing is that relativism is becoming more and more prominent in America since Obama took office, changing the political landscape from conservative Republican to liberal Democrat, encouraging citizens to get along with one another instead of opposing each other. Right around that same time, in 2010, Inception was released and was subtly planting the idea of relativism, which has been on the rise ever since, due to a “tolerant” and “non-violent” domestic policy that nourished this world view. This now brings us back to the present, where American citizens, in a large part, are proud supporters of individuality and non-conformity, which are not inherently evil, but twist it into a passive aggressive form of promoting a reduction of critical thinking. What I mean by this can be put simply as such—no one challenges another’s belief because it is considered “intolerant” due to the widespread relativism that has crept into American society, shunning anyone who tries change someone’s opinion of their reality.
So is it possible that Inception paradoxically planted true inspiration into the audience’s minds that their reality was subjective, and that this inception has influenced the rise of moral and ethical relativism seen in America today? Was it just lucky timing with the political landscape of America to make such a supposed impact on the American people? There may not be concrete evidence to support the inception of Inception, but the correlation is undoubtedly strong and cannot be ignored.