A Reaction on Inception and the Science of Dreams
by Dea Villarosa
Four years after its release, and countless times later of watching it, the movie Inception still leaves my head like Cobb’s totem — spinning and spinning.
That’s why it remains one of my favorite movies to this day. Every time I watch it, I learn something new, and I always have debates with myself (and others) on what certain parts of the film mean.
This time around, since we did watch it in STS class, I looked at the film through the lens of science and technology. In this case, it’s about dream control. The film features shared dreaming, done through a device called the Portable Automated Somnacin Intravenous (PASIV) Device, which administers the sedative the dreamers need. Also featured is lucid dreaming, the seemingly paradoxical ability to be aware that one is dreaming and to exert some degree of control over the dream, eventually leading to a trained subconscious.
In terms of scientific basis of the film, I believe that Christopher Nolan, the director, may have been inspired by the theory of the collective unconscious proposed by psychologist Carl Jung. We see it manifested in concepts like the archetypes commonly seen in fiction, and I believe Nolan found another means of interpreting that theory through shared dreaming. Moreover, he combined elements of Sigmund Freud’s ideas regarding dreams as a manifestation of repressed emotions. Combining this with my insight from the previous lecture about science and art, I still find it amazing and beautiful how two seemingly opposite concepts can complement and inspire each other. Logic and reason provides a framework for innovation, and not being afraid to imagine and create actually fosters a healthy sense of curiosity for actual research to take place.
The next question to ask, then, is on possibilities: what can we possibly do with this technology? What should we be afraid of? Is it even possible to make this technology work in real life?
As documented in the film Dreams: Cinema of the Subconscious, which we viewed prior to Inception, shared dreaming, at least, may actually be possible. In the documentary, a man recounted a dream of him saving a person from a snake pit, while his mother dreamt that she was the one being saved. As for the technology itself, however, it remains to be seen. And as I’ve learned from other lectures in STS, there is a political dimension to technology, which means that if it were possible, the general public will not be able to receive the full benefit of it due to possible regulations and the need to keep certain intelligence confidential. After all, the film explored the darker, illegal side of the existence of this type of technology, as the team committed “corporate espionage.” However, it was mentioned that dream sharing could be used to prepare soldiers for battle, and as we saw, it ultimately became the means by which Cobb was finally able to come to terms with his personal issues.
In summary, the movie Inception beautifully fuses technology and the humanities to create what I believe will be known as a cinematic masterpiece for a long time. While I doubt that this is the first movie to explore the topic (collective unconscious, remember), in terms of execution and interpretation, I believe that Inception has inspired many to keep searching for answers to the unknown, whether it’s deep within ourselves or far beyond what the eye can see.
In the words of Mr. Eames, “you musn’t be afraid to dream a little bigger, darling.”