The movie Inception starts out with a premise that an idea is like a virus. Once it enters the mind, it cannot be eradicated. Inception is a process by which that idea is “suggested” subliminally through dreams. The process itself is complicated as it involves multiple people working together in a parallel dream state to control the events in the subject’s mind. The dreamer then wakes up with this bright idea and acts upon it in the real world without realizing that it has been implanted by someone else.
The theory of subliminal suggestion isn’t too far fetched. After all there are a lot of books and CD’s out there touting the positive effects that subliminal suggestion has in improving someone’s life. Whether it can be done the way it was in the movie was questionable, though, but it makes for a good plot. The result was a highly intelligent, thought-provoking thriller reminiscent of The Matrix.
But there is an underlying message in the movie – one so subtle that ordinary moviegoers would miss unless they pay close attention to certain clues embedded in certain scenes.
I guess you could say that I cheated a bit and knew what I had to look for. I’m a Sierra Club member and I received an invitation from them to attend the premiere of “Inception”. I’ve seen the trailer prior to my receipt of the invitation. As far as I could tell, the movie was about controlling someone’s dreams and had nothing to do with some environmental message. So what was in it for Sierra Club to highly promote it? Naturally, it made me curious, and vowed to pay close attention to whatever it was that Sierra Club wanted us to see. I didn’t read any reviews or write-ups in connection to the movie prior to my watching it so I didn’t really know exactly what to look for – just that it had to be something related to the environment.
In the first few minutes of the movie, Cobb (Leonardo di Caprio), infiltrated the dream of Saito (Ken Watanabe) to steal some information he has locked up in his mind. The whole thing, however, was a setup and Saito revealed that it was merely an audition for Cobb. Saito wanted to hire him to use inception to plant an idea into Robert Fischer (Cillian Murphy), the son of his corporate rival who, at that moment, was at his deathbed. Time was off the essence as Saito wanted the idea planted right after the death of his rival to stop Fischer’s massive monopoly from turning into a superpower. The monopoly? Energy.
And therein lies the subtle message. Inception was all about implanting the idea into Fischer’s mind that breaking up his energy monopoly will be best thing to do for the corporation. The task that Cobb and company faced is very complicated and involved going into a deeper state of 4 levels of dreams in order to bury any traces of subliminal suggestion. They only have 10 hours to complete the job and the risk of losing themselves in the dreams were great.
So what idea exactly did they plant in his mind? The clue was inside the safe. Towards the end, when Fischer opened the safe where his father apparently locked up another last will and testament that would supersede the first one, he found not just the will but also the pinwheel that he played with when he was a boy. The same pinwheel he was blowing on in the picture that his father kept at his bedside. That pinwheel was the idea suggestive of a windmill – the energy alternative that can break up the monopoly that big oil has on all of us. Wind – clean, renewable energy that’s currently available for us to tap into if only the energy conglomerates will catch on to the idea and develop it now rather that extending our addiction to oil further into the future.
And so Fischer woke up with this idea about the pinwheel mulling in his head along with an image of his dying dad saying that he was disappointed. The younger Fischer thought his dad said that he was disappointed in him but in his dream, his dad clarified that he meant he was disappointed that he died before seeing his son create something of himself.
The movie left us hanging about whether Fischer did venture into alternative energy. The ending showed Cobb’s totem was left spinning on the table leaving us with the question whether the team was truly successful with the inception or if it was still just part of the dream.
For many environmentalists, the ultimate dream is to have the big energy conglomerates fully embrace alternative energy and start weaning us from fossil fuels. This task, however, is proving to be a very difficult undertaking as we still are quite dependent on oil. Offshore drilling remains the preferred method of energy exploration and any government proposal to promote clean energy is opposed staunchly by senate members who are supported by big oil lobbyists. Inception dares to ask the question: How do we make the big energy conglomerates to start fully embracing alternative energy and make it appear to be their own great idea? What would it really take to break our dependence on fossil fuel? I’m quite sure the rhetoric of the movie is lost on the energy czars. Or maybe it wasn’t. They just don’t have that desire to break their stronghold that they have on us that keeps us dependent on fossil fuels. Maybe we do need someone like Cobb who was able to enter one’s dream and perform an inception.