Our friends seem to be divided between those who think that Inception (2010) is a great ground-breaking movie, and those who think that it is at best an average movie. We belong to the second category and hope that those in the first category will forgive us. We stand with reviewers like Andrew O’ Hehir of Salon who thinks that Inception is a “clunky overblown disappointment . . . a joyless, awkwardly constructed mess.”
Leonardo DiCaprio looked as though he was still on Shutter Island (2010). At times I felt I was watching four movies simultaneously, none of which were particularly outstanding. (In the movie, people were functioning in dreams within dreams, four levels of dreams altogether.) Level 1 dream action seemed to be lifted from a Bourne movie, level 2 was a slice from some Ocean’s Eleven episode, level 3 was a throw back to a James Bond movie from the seventies, and level 4 brought you into The Outer Limits. The fact that the levels were happening simultaneously in a dream state didn’t do much for me. It only made me miss the Matrix (1999), a less pretentious movie, but one that worked.
Watchers of Inception respond to the movie in a number of ways. At one level, it is an action movie, and we identify with the protagonists wanting them to succeed in their mission of planting a false idea in the mind of the Cillian Murphy character. At another level, we are teased into pondering if the movie is all it appears to be. Christopher Nolan, the director, invites us to do so by ending the movie on an ambiguous note. Does the spinning top drop? Based on the story, if it drops it proves that what we have seen on screen is “real.” If it does not, then the DiCaprio character is in a dream and we have to wonder if the whole movie portrays one long elaborate dream. Cyberspace is abuzz with numerous theories, all supported with “evidence” like: “In the final scenes, doesn’t Cobb’s children look exactly the same as in his dream? Surely that proves they are in a dream.” to “No, no they look a bit older and their shoes are different.” Good grief, we will be debating this until the cows come home, or until the director publishes a definitive book on the movie and makes even more money.
What particularly troubled us was the mission of the protagonists in the story. They had to plant an idea, a false memory in the mind of their mark. Are we the only one to find this whole idea ethically repugnant? The story line tries to make us sympathetic to the mission by implying, through Saito (the Ken Watanabe character), that if Robert Fisher (the Cillian Murphy character) does not break up the super powerful corporation he inherits from his father, the corporation would have an untouchable dangerous monopoly. And of course we also badly want Cobb (DiCaprio) to succeed so that he can go home to America and be reunited with his children. But should we be cheering a mission to plant a false memory?
Memory is very important in the Christian faith. When instituting the Lord’s Supper, Jesus tells us that we are to celebrate holy communion in remembrance of Him (Luke 22:19). The Christian faith is predicated on true memory, remembering things that really happened. In this we are following the Old Testament saints who were constantly exhorted to remember how the Lord rescued them from Pharaoh and the Red Sea. Our faith and life, our present commitment to Jesus, is built on things that really happened in the past.
Frederick Buechner points us to the special power of memory. First, he tells us that it is in remembering our past that we see the hand of God and learn afresh about the work of God in our lives.
It is the Lord, it is God who has been with us through all our days and years whether we knew it or not . . . with us in our best moments and in our worst moments, to heal us with his wonders, to wound us healingly with his judgments, to bless us in hidden ways though more often than not we have forgotten his name. (A Room Called Remember, San Francisco, CA: Harper & Row, 1984, 10)
And in remembering that God has been at work in our lives, we find hope for the future.
. . . because we remember, we have this high and holy hope: that what he has begun in us, and our world, he will in unimaginable ways bring to fullness and fruition. (A Room Called Remember, 12)
Buechner gives us another reason to treasure memory. It is in remembering what has happened to us that we can learn from our own lives.
In fact I am inclined to believe that God’s chief purpose in giving us memory is to enable us to go back in time so that if we didn’t play (our) roles right the first time round, we can still have another go at it now . . . The sad things that happened long ago will always remain part of who we are just as the glad and gracious things will too, but instead of being a burden of guilt, recrimination, and regret that makes us constantly stumble as we go, even the saddest things can become, once we have made peace with them, a source of wisdom and strength for the journey that still lies ahead. (Telling Secrets, San Francisco, CA: HarperSanFrancisco, 1991, 32-33)
Indeed if we truly believe that ” . . . all things work together for good for those who love God . . . (Romans 8:28 NET)” we need to remember the things that happened to us so that we can see what God does with them.
Memory then is a precious gift of God. Guided by Scripture, memory allows us to see the hand of God in our lives and allows us to learn from our lives. For those who do not know Christ, memory can speak of an emptiness that makes sense of the gospel. We should be on our guard against any attempt to manipulate memory. So while Inception is an average movie, one worth watching once at least, I am deeply concerned that we do not get so distracted in cheering on the team, and/or in guessing what Nolan is up to, that we don’t see the point of the story — planting a false memory — for what it is, a grave assault on our humanity. I am sure that technology will give us the ability to do this if it hasn’t already done so. And we don’t really need special technology to plant false memories. Everyday, spin doctors all around the world are rewriting history for their paymasters. We must remember the importance of remembering.