Is all that we see and all that we seem but a dream within a dream?
– Edgar Allen Poe
Romantic poets, surrealists, Freudians, Jungians, mystics of all stripes, and popular culture at least from the time of “Twilight Zone,” have questioned the solidity of the world of consensus reality, and in some cases, asserted the primacy of the dream. Twenty-six hundred years ago, in the Lankavatara Sutra, the Buddha said:
All things, external and internal,
are imputed by the mind,
Apart from the mind nothing else exists.
Now Inception bursts on the scene with a multi, multi, multi layered texture that makes The Matrix look like linear storytelling.
Once I heard author John Barth read his story, “The Menelaid,” a frame tale with characters from The Odyssey , that was eight – as in “”””””””eight”””””””” layers deep. It was something of an academic exercise but the key image that sticks was the main character meeting Proteus, the shape-changer, and afterwards, never being quite sure of the “reality” of his experience again.
Imagine that kind of concept playing through a two and a half hour action adventure epic that is five layers deep (is that right – the plane, the van, the hotel, the fortress, limbo – yep) with thrills and chills, surround sound, and computer generated stuff flying at you…whew.
There is absolutely no way I can say much about the content of the film itself after just one viewing – I’m still in the – “Oh wow, man,” phase, but one among many things that really interest me is the sophistication of current movie going audiences. We have come to accept, ponder, and even revel in multi-dimensional ambiguity that wasn’t part of movie going when I was young. Along with the recent success of a similar fractured reality novel The Time Traveler’s Wife (I’m not sure if the movie did as well), it’s clear that the age-old tradition of of linear storytelling, much as I love it, is only one of several options these days.