Inception deals with the limitations of our subjective stance – as creatures, not Creator – and even as Cobb’s team puts together dreams, architecting – creating – virtual dream worlds as best they can, we see that subjectivity still betrays them at various turns… from the littlest nuance of carpet fibers to what may be Cobb’s subconscious guilt manifest as Mal. It truly portrays a hopeless world where we are forced to admit:
Technically, we don’t really know ANYONE – only our subjective perception.
Our subjectivity may go much deeper – can we really be certain of ANYTHING?
Animals need to know how to respond to stimuli relative to their need to survive; they don’t need an accurate understanding of the world around them so much as the right response. For the materialist, there is simply no real defense to suggest that we have any accurate understanding of the world around us and our position in it so much as our need to perceive in such a way as to ensure our survival, minimize pain, and pursue happiness.
“Your world is not real!” – Mal
As to whether or not Cobb, or the viewer, can know if he’s in the “real” world at the end of the film, try this quote on for size. He’s got his totem, right? Yet Arthur explained it so: “See, only I know the balance and weight of this particular loaded die. That way when you look at your totem, you know beyond a doubt you’re not in SOMEONE ELSE’S dream.”
Read that again: someone else’s dream. The truth is, if Cobb got lost in his own mind limbo by film’s end, he could be drooling on an airplane as a vegetable whether or not that top stopped spinning. None of us reading can say objectively that we aren’t in the same place, imagining we’re reading an insightful blog post on an imaginary computer while someone is actually wiping the corner of our listless lips. And, ultimately, Inception asks the question: does it even matter?
“They come here to be woken up. Dream has become their reality! And who are you to say, otherwise?”
There are plenty of arguments to this question, but Inception provides us with a room full of people who have chosen happiness over reality. In the film, it’s depicted like a 21st century opium den, people willing to suppress the truth and engage fabricated bliss for the sake of personal happiness. It’s no different from Cypher in The Matrix, whose choice not only meant trading his own life for fleeting pleasures but harming those around him. Still, if life is the pursuit of personal liberty and happiness, where’s the harm? Where’s the harm for Cobb if he winds up lost in limbo living an imaginary “wonderful life” with his kids? Does it matter if it’s “real”. If we’re all subjective, and there’s nothing transcendent, and nothing to follow, this choice – conscious or subconscious – shouldn’t be something to worry about.
Still, Inception stresses the idea that there is a reality worth chasing, a truth worth fighting to wake up to, a worth and worthiness that is more than obtaining happiness but getting back to something lost. It’s not about finding happiness, it’s about getting back to and restoring relationship. And… if we’re subjective… to both truly know someone relationally and be certain of reality, we need the blessed assurance that we’ve connected to some kind of objectivity.
Even many spiritual worldviews that are monistic – God is all, all is God – means that even deity is subjective within itself. If there is no “architect” – designer, creator, director, storyteller – transcendent and objective over it’s creation. If there WERE, then someone COULD know reality – truth – and might even invite subjects into that vantage point. This is the blessed assurance of the Christian, that our transcendent creator, architect, sustainer, Savior has fully known us in relationship and shaken us awake from a slumber we have both chosen and been lured into and conned into believing. Unified by the Holy Spirit, we can truly know God and truly know each other.
“Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” – Ephesians 5:14
Thank God for that glorious, Spirit-filled “kick” that is indeed a sweet musical wake-up call, punctuated by a watery plunge.