In this section of the Colossus Movie Guide for Inception, we talk about the themes that help us understand the film and what we take away from that.
Important themes of Inception
Grief, Guilt, and Catharsis
Inception is superficially a heist film, but the main character journey is about Dom Cobb’s relationship with grief. He feels responsible for the death of his wife, Mal. Cobb incepted her with the idea that her reality was only a dream and that led her to taking her own life. Cobb’s interactions with his subconscious manifestation of Mal are a defamiliarized way of showing someone processing grief and guilt. This reimagined Mal continuously punishes Cobb because he’s unable to forgive himself.
Cobb’s anguish dovetails with the target of the heist, Robert Fischer, as Fischer is reeling after the passing of his father. Fischer and his father were never close. Their distant relationship caused Fischer to spend much of his life seeking his father’s approval. Now that the father has passed, it’s impossible for Fischer to, in reality, ever bridge the gap. So he’s left reeling from the unresolved emotions.
For the film’s heist to work, Cobb and his team design a dream sequence that leads to Fischer confronting his father. It just so happens to also lead Cobb to confronting himself about Mal’s death. Both men end up working through their grief and guilt. Cobb lets Mal go, absolving himself. And Fischer comes to believe his father did care about him, which allows Fischer to, finally, live his life for himself.
Ultimately, the heist is symbolism for the process of someone confronting their pain and unlocking catharsis.
Reality vs Dreams
Portions of Inception take place in the real world, while a majority of the film occurs in dream sequences. While the two worlds are distinct, they aren’t completely disconnected. We see how if, in the real world, a dreamer plunges into water, the dream fills with water. Or how experiences that occur in the dream can stay with someone when they wake up. The very end of Inception focuses on the spinning top, a totem that’s supposed to spin forever in a dream but eventually fall over in reality. The camera zooms on the top and tension builds as the viewer realizes that maybe Cobb’s return home was just a dream. But then the movie ends.
As at odds as reality and dreams can initially seem in Inception, the movie makes a point to end that spinning top in order to show a convergence of dream and reality. What Cobb’s experiencing in that moment is a dream come true. He’s spent years wanting to return home to his kids. It’s all he wanted. And it’s finally happened. Dream and reality can, at times such as this, feel one and the same.
Of course, there is antithesis. Cobb’s reality had become a bit of a nightmare. His wife was gone. He couldn’t see his kids. All he did was work a pretty dangerous job. When he was in the dreams, his subconscious continually interfered. Mostly through Mal. The dream reflected those negative qualities of Cobb’s reality. Just like his reality, at the end, reflects something that seemed only possible in dreams.
What are your thoughts?
Are there more themes you think should be part of the Colossus Movie Guide for Inception? Leave your comments below and we’ll consider updating the guide.
Write a response