Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Inception: Myth behind the Myth!


For the next few weeks there is only one movie everyone is going to hear and talk about, INCEPTION. It’s being called a mind bending exercise, a movie that challenges our very beliefs of existence and creation, a movie that will remain with us in our subconscious even after we leave the cinema hall. Let’s try and look at some of the concepts from this movie and see if they really are that path breaking and mind bending, let me warn you in advance, this isn’t a review of the movie so don’t expect me to talk about technicalities or other creative aspects of the movie. It is just an attempt from me to find out the Myth behind the Myth of this movie.
  
The Human Mind

The human mind is the most complex of all organs in the body. Probably every single part of the body can be replaced with an alternative, but the human brain is unique and is irreplaceable.

Take the mind out of a man and you have no man left

Inception is based entirely on the mechanics and workings of the human mind. There are two critical functions of our mind, one is to store thoughts and the other is to create thoughts. Both have a beautiful interplay in creating the world that we perceive and exist in. There is an additional dimension that is also a part of our mind; it is the ability to dream.

Dreams

We all have dreams. It is that state of the mind when the conscious part of our existence merges with the subconscious. Our dreams are mostly based on a reality that is made up of people and places we know of and these dreams tend to do things unimaginable to the conscious mind usually containing hidden metaphors to our inner fears and aspirations.

Dreams make a man, a man who does not dream ceases to exist

Ever wondered, what if these dreams can be manipulated? What if someone has access to and can play tricks with the mind? Won’t it change the man himself? This point forms the premise of the movie, quite a fascinating thought. So how does one play havoc with someone else's dreams? According to the movie there are two ways in which that can be done, let’s examine them both.

Stealing & Planting thoughts

What if someone could eavesdrop into another person’s dreams and understand that persons deepest fears and secrets? Wouldn’t that be the ultimate weapon to possess, a weapon worthy enough for any army to destroy its enemies. Our protagonist in the movie seems to be an expert at doing this, stealing ideas from other people’s minds. But wait; he has an even better weapon than that.

For the subconscious mind, stealing hardly makes any difference to the ones who get stolen but instead, planting an idea into that same mind has more potential to play havoc. The idea when it grows into a full blown thought has a higher probability to turn into action and alter that person’s reality.

Both the above techniques of stealing and planting thoughts seem like science fiction. How far are we from this turning into reality or is it already happening? Is all this just a big Myth? Let’s dig deeper.

Quick question before we begin

Which is more difficult to change? The engine of a vehicle that is running, or the engine of a vehicle that is not running?

Obviously it is easier to replace the engine when the vehicle is not running. Similar is the case with the human mind. It is difficult to plant thoughts into a conscious mind which is like a running engine compared to a subconscious mind which is like an engine that is yet to start.

Inception talks of stealing and planting thoughts while this engine (the human brain) is at rest. Something similar to hypnotism, it is not a very tough task to accomplish on any unsuspecting person. But have you ever realized that in reality we are doing something far more complex than that, every single day and every moment of our existence? Confused? Let me explain further.

Reap & Sow

We gather ideas from various sources of knowledge like books, internet, people, etc and call it learning or inspiration. Every sentence we read every word we hear and every sight we see belongs to someone else and all that one is doing is stealing a bit of that information for oneself and we keep thinking that it belongs to us. We are basically reaping the benefits of someone else’s thoughts and efforts.

Same applies to the planting of ideas. Every single thing that we hear from the time we are little children up until our death is nothing but a process of sowing thoughts, be it by parents, teachers, friends, etc. In fact all our materialistic desires arise because someone else has planted their ideas into us. Look closely, all forms of advertising is but an attempt to sow seeds into us. Bigger the celebrity selling the product, better the chances of sowing the seeds deeper.

In this world, we are all thieves & owners at the same time, nothing is original

Just look at the way almost all of us believe in god, it’s an idea that is sown into our consciousness. Same applies to powerful people in a position to influence others thoughts. Even animals can do it to us these days. Take the case of the mystic octopus Pulpo Paul, all it did throughout the 2010 FIFA world cup was to sow thoughts into the minds of the players. It created an idea and the idea became so powerful that it started acting on the players’ minds which in turn influenced match results.

Pulpo Paul the mystic octopus is nothing but a great Inception artist

One can now very easily question the existence of originality. If every creation in the world is a manifestation of someone else’s thoughts then there is nothing original out there. Maybe even Christopher Nolan isn’t original enough in his thought process while making the movie. It’s a paradoxical situation. Let’s observe few more aspects of the movie and try to see how original a concept this is.

Architecture of the Dream World

The film describes the various rules of the dream world in great detail which in turn add dramatic substance to the twists and turns in the story; it talks of the following.

1. There are multiple levels of dreams within dreams.

2. If someone dies in a dream level, he or she might get lost forever in that level unless sent back by a kick to the previous level of the dream.

3. There is also a stage which is called the limbo where the dreamer can get stuck forever without even realising he is in a dream with very remote chances to escape.

4. Dream world consists of projections of people and the physical architecture is similar to a living organism that is formed by thoughts and memories of the dreamer.

Sounds a bit confusing for those who haven’t seen the movie and many who have seen the movie might agree that these are revolutionary ideas from a genius director. Almost sounds like philosophy. Let’s try and see if we have heard these things before.

Connecting the past

There is no better way to understand philosophy than to look at the age old teachings of our religions. If there is one religion that has done extensive study on the origins of this world and the mechanics of its functioning than it has to be Hinduism.

According to Hinduism the whole world is nothing but a manifestation of god’s thoughts

Even Christianity says God made humans in his own image; we are all projections of his mind. Does it ring a bell, are we all a part of god’s dream? Wait, there is more.

When a death occurs in our world, there are elaborate customs and rituals that are performed to appease the dead. It is said that the human soul lingers on and will continue to remain so unless liberated by elaborate ceremonies. It is akin to a state of limbo and the rituals are the equivalent of a kick. Without this kick the soul remains in limbo and cant progress to its next level of existence which is similar to our dream levels in the movie. How uncanny, is this life imitating art or art imitating life?

Also we have grown up hearing terms like Aatma and Parmatma. Our souls (Aatma) pass through various stages of existence only to merge finally with the original dreamer (Parmatma). We generally scoff at such talk while strangely it all seems to make sense when a good film maker presents the same concept in a far more stylised fictional way.

A myth suddenly seems no more a myth in its remixed format

All the questions that Inception raises and the answers to it are already there in our ancient texts and customs. It’s just that we are too blind to see the connection.

As a movie in terms of its treatment and execution Inception is a brilliant film and all credit should go to the director for attempting such a complex movie, but with regards to its concept which is more talked about, we are forgetting that it is a very clever copy of an Indian concept.

(This post has been developed out of discussions with and insights from Anuradha Mothali)

Cheers!!!

Kartik Dayanand Boddapati