Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Inception: Using Illusion to Dispel Illusion

"I am here to remind you this is a dream." When Leonardo DiCaprio spoke this line of dialogue near the end of the movie, Inception, I knew this was more than another shoot 'em up summer blockbuster. Beyond the chase scenes and explosions, beyond the clever story concept of making the mind the scene of the crime, Inception does something that few movies do. It uses illusion to dispel illusion.

As all magicians know, the illusion of pulling a rabbit out of a hat is easily accomplished by drawing the eyes of the audience to the sexy woman standing next to the hat. Inception performs its magic by keeping us focused on an intricate plot, flashy locations and great acting. But the movie takes an audacious step further. It lifts the veil of illusion to reveal a deeper magic. If we have the eyes to see it, the Inception's elaborate dream reveals the dreamer. It delights the mind by uncovering the awareness behind the mind. This is the greatest magic of all, performed by the wisest and most compassionate artists, spiritual teachers and healers among us.

The first clue in the film that this hat trick is afoot is the character of the architect. Her name is Ariadne, the name of the Greek princess who gave the hero, Theseus, a golden thread to guide him through the labyrinth. Architecture, the most solid of forms, is used to experience the mind's illusions. In the film, architecture folds back on itself, portraying consciousness weaving within itself to create form. Structures unexpectedly morph from one form to another in response to the characters' shifting dreams. Buildings crumble, reflecting their crumbling beliefs.

A subtle hint that the movie uses form to point beyond form is given in the Paris classroom where the Leonardo DiCaprio character seeks out the Michael Caine character. The chalkboard behind the desk is covered with drawings of the Pantheon in Rome. This 2,000 year old building is infamous for the shaft of sunlight streaming through the single circular opening at the apex of its dome. The occulus opens the confining mass of this ancient temple to the vast freedom of the sky and the animating power of the sun. It reminds us that the purpose of the structure is to reveal the vital reality behind the structure.

Like the Pantheon, the movie uses the illusions of story structure, acting and special effects to point beyond the illusions. It entertains in ways the take us beyond entertainment. Inception plants in our minds a rare wisdom: "I am here to remind you this is a dream."


  1. I just saw this movie last night and really enjoyed it.

  2. Good review Anthony. I've heard that this movie has a unique edge. You have confirmed that. I'll have to see it now!

    Have you read Richard Bach's Illusions?

  3. Coming fresh from this movie, the dreamSpace, Rome's Pantheon, and Paris reveries, your explorations here could not have struck a deeper chord. I am infinitely appreciating your profound depths, not only in this post, but in others as well. How wonderful to travel here with you--marvel and consider the Dream.

  4. Good review. Great insights and depth. Thank you.

  5. Last weekend I saw this movie and it was a fantastic one.