Inception - you are your own worst enemy
***note that if you haven't seen Inception, but plan to, you may want to avoid this write-up as i made no effort to avoid spoilers***
there are a lot of twists and turns in inception. as far as i'm concerned, there's no question that it's brilliantly written and executed. when i watch most movies, especially dramas, i first look for what the writer or even the director is trying to say. is it obvious? are there multiple elements that combine to form the message? are there multiple intended messages? but sometimes i also think about a message that could be extrapolated from the film that may not have been intended. in some cases it's possible that the filmmakers were aware of it, or maybe intended it, but it's buried a lot deeper and takes some time to dig out.
in the case of Inception, within the last 30 minutes or so it occured to me that there may be some important things being said about guilt. for a long time i've felt like guilt was never a good thing. i've felt like guilt is a road block to truly making progress in an area of one's life. i've also noticed that guilt is not a motivator of change. it's too easy to dwell on guilt and allow it too much attention. it seems to me that the problem dom cobb has throughout Inception is a good example of this.
even though in his heart dom knows his wife's death isn't his fault, he can't help but allow the last events of their time together linger in his mind. he has this nagging feeling that some very well-intentioned actions on his part are the cause of his wife losing control, losing her grip on reality, and their kids losing their mother. because of her mental state, his wife becomes convinced that reality isn't real and kills herself. then, his last remaining memory of her is that she set up her death to look as though he killed her and his guilt has convinced him that she's right. i don't think i would blame cobb for feeling terrible. i would likely feel the same. but what ends up happening is that his image of his wife haunts him for years after. not only that, but because of his feelings of guilt and the remaining efforts of a woman who is basically insane, his subconcious projections of his wife (in dreams) are antagonistic. she's mad at him and wants him to fulfill his promise to spend the rest of eternity with her. it gets to the point where dom refuses to take an active role in building the dreams that him and his crew use to do their work because he knows that if he's involved his dead wife will sabotage every effort they make. but in spite of that his projections of his wife still manage to find their way in.
basically, dom's guilty feelings cause him to think "you can't move on. you never can." dom's guilt is a prison for him. there are some very extensive scenes in the movie that allude to this, and to the fact that he just can't let his wife go. he even starts to think that his wife was right and that his projections are real. he's deeply saddened by his feelings of fault. but the character of ariadne conveys to dom, in every way she can think of, that all of his guilt is counter-productive. not only does it endanger his friends and the work they do with him, because his work fails to produce results he's no closer to the one goal he has left: seeing his children. cobb had to run from the united states because his wife's last efforts to make him look like a killer worked and now he's desperately searching to make the problem go away. and he knows that he can't do that without making a lot of money.
i think all this can serve as a parable about guilt. i've spoken to people who feel strongly that guilt can be a tool God uses to move us. i think it's possible God allows guilt for a time, but i can't see Him ever actively using it. it seems that guilt only destroys and imprisons those who carry it. guilt drives us only to keep our eyes on the past and not look forward. it is conviction that drives us. conviction comes from an acknowledgement of guilt, but prompts us to change. instead of being trapped by guilt for as long as we hang on to it, we can own the truth of our conviction and strive to move forward. in Inception, it's not until dom finally faces his projections of his wife and acknowledges that he was actually trying to help her before she went insane, and that he doesn't need those images anymore, that he's finally able to move on. i think that's a truth that comes from this film organically, whether intended or not, and applies to all of us.