After seeing the recent blockbuster film phenom, Inception, and thinking about it and talking with my son, I am writing a serious critical essay on it. All comments about art, which sometimes includes movies, should take the core of the art and put it into the larger canvas of the world, to see if anything holds up. If it does, praise it. If it doesn’t, learn.
While millions of kids (younger than my youngest) and adults (of varying levels of maturity) loved the movie for portraying complicated ways we could get inside the minds of others, did it occur to them that we already have such ways? They are commonplace, mundane, unavoidably real. And yet, as we seek (as a society) ways of avoiding each other, the commonplace ways we have of getting into each other’s heads may be endangered.
I am talking about talk. Talk is a phenomenon that matches pretty well this film’s depiction of reality-manipulation. All the fantastic, dramatic, mind-blowing and graphically cool things that the movie Inception proposed as available only to a tiny cult of dream-ninjas are in fact available for a song to every man, woman and child. All these men, women and children have to do – to reach the deep layers of insight and contrivance that Leonardo DiCaprio reaches – is learn how to talk and have conversations.
We already have deeply layered logics and traditions of pretense, hypotheticals and extraction of information that may or may not be “known” consciously by others. In many languages, and in the costumes of many cultures, in many specializations, we can converse about what is inside the heads of others, with the amazing result that it changes our head. Conversation, if pursued with discipline, can lead us in collaborative mental paths that reach back into history and even prehistory. We have the words of the wisest men, and the greatest fools. We have the advice of the best and the worst fathers to the most noble and most pitiful sons. We have volumes of verbal art from Shakespeare to Bob Dylan, from Beowolf to Ptah-Hotep. Each of these bodies of artfully constructed word-play is at least as fun as this silly movie, and far more related to the world we live in. We have a way – in our tongue and ear – of exploring the dazzling complexity of interwoven concepts and sharing of lives. This ‘way’ is called communication.
But many of us have no life of communication, and so it seems ‘new’ and ‘strange’. Dream-melding is a mythically magical potentiality for those of us netted like dolphins in a fish net, for those of us with one eye gouged out by individuality, for those of us gutted by advertising or somnambulated by shopping. So making a movie about mental contact with others seems absolutely unreal.
Better than the hollywoodish inventions of the silly and expensive movie Inception, we have many face-to-face options for implanting ideas. The dramas, essays, explorations, communications, games, play, art, debate, and poetry that are ancient human tools for getting inside each other’s minds work really well. And most do not insist on gratuitous car chases, explosions or automatic weapons.
There is more depth, more challenge, and more mind reading in a conversation over a game of chess than you will ever find in a movie. Even one as complicated and fun as Inception.
Of course, you could – depending on your ability to think via conversation – talk about the movie critically with someone whose opinions you care about, which could be a lot better than the movie.