The Origins of Reality

Jude Harrington submits his second guest post for Thinking Cinematic where he discusses, Inception (2010).


While the 2010 summer blockbuster Inception dazzled the minds of many viewers as they tried to keep track of layers upon layers of reality, for one viewer it left him wanting more.  Inception attempts to play with the idea that “an idea” is a living, breathing entity and the best way for “an idea” to take hold is when it comes from the deepest level of our subconscious.  Also, what is crucial is our ownership of this idea; hence the reason Robert Fischer (Cillian Murphy) must arrive at the idea on his own.

What makes this a hard pill for me to swallow (yes, a reference to another “dream movie”) is that I don’t see reality in the same way this film asks the audience to see reality.  Inception is taking a look at reality from the perspective of Immanuel Kant’s transcendental idealism.  The link will give more details but in short Kant says that an object itself is unknowable and we only can know an object’s appearances.  For example, I cannot truly know my iPad because I only know how it appears to me based on my interactions with my iPad.  I use this example because the iPad can do far more than what I use it for so while the example may not be perfect I think it will suffice for the time being.

So, if we take a look at Inception the question Christopher Nolan asks the audience to ponder at the end of the film is, is what we saw a dream or reality?  Or, can we really know what really happened or is what happened just what we perceive it to be?  For me, I think that while we do act as perceiver in encountering an object we can actually know, if not all at least something, of the object itself.  (Big surprise I’m Aristotelian!)  In the context of Inception I think that we can or Cobb can know reality and not just his perception of it.  In another words, all of this to say that I was not impressed with the “twist” at the end since I believe that we can know something of reality itself, and the world around us, through our experiences.  If we couldn’t then we nor Cobb could be sure that when the totem did fall (or didn’t) it wasn’t just his projection or his perceived appearance of it rather than the object itself.

To wrap up my philosophical ramblings, I think that while the film was excellent from a technical perspective it prompted no feelings of awe and wonder or any since of confusion as to if it was real or not.  In the end it was a straightforward action film with very little deeper meaning because it didn’t tap into how I think most people believe they experience reality.

-Jude Harrington


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