Reflection: Unravelling My Mind on “Inception”
I had unreasonably high hopes for “Inception.” If it did not completely blow my mind, convincing me that my whole existence was a lie and that I was in fact a sandwich all along, or at the very least some man-sandwich hybrid (Manwich!), I would be disappointed. Everything about it compounded my anticipation and expectations to the point I was brewing in my own impatience. The cast is superb: Leonardo DiCaprio, Cillian Murphy, Michael Caine, Tom Hardy and the geek Moses himself Joseph Gordon-Levitt. It is directed and written by one of the most consistently interesting and magnificent artists of the modern cinematic age: Christopher Nolan. The trailer itself is worthy of an Oscar. It creates a dream world where the movie was flawless. And that bass sound…it pounded so deep and loud the entire German nation creamed their respective lederhosens (lederhosi?). After the credits rolled, I stumbled out of the theatre, my brain fried by the depth and complexity of the movie; later, I almost had a panic attack while eating a turkey, bacon club because the layers of the sandwich were just too much for me to deal with right then. I needed awhile to comprehend everything that happened.
It took me a few days to accept that “Inception” was institutionally flawed, revolutionary, and yet somehow a “classical” work of art. Flawed in that because of its great complexity—Nolan is literally constructing a whole new world for our puny American mind to comprehend—it has to constantly explain itself throughout the movie, which like a well crafted joke that is too complex or arcane and thus must be explained, is still a good joke but no one laughs (see cartoon below). But like all good stories, see Tolstoy’s War & Peace or McCarthy’s No Country For Old Men, “Inception” explores basic human themes within the most heightened points of reality and under the most dire of circumstances. It may be revolutionary in its imagination, action sequences and complexity—I’m sure the Hollywood execs worried that if the intellectual apex of a summer blockbuster exceeded two questionably racist robot characters fighting over Megan Fox’s tits, that we might become so confused and angry that we would forget how pants work and/or hurl infants at the screen in an attempt to appease the obviously angry moving picture gods—but that’s not what the movie’s about. It’s about loss, obsession, control, letting go, and most of all, it asks you to consider the great existential question, “what is reality?” Just as “Inception” isn’t about some guy kicking ass in zero gravity, though I think that was indeed the plot of “The Matrix: Reloaded,” this article isn’t about the movie; instead, this article concerns what this great movie made me ponder.
I had now to reconsider every bit of information that I held dear. The security systems of my consciousness needed to question every last minor datum I held true, that formed my reality, and ask “where did this come from,” as well as “why” and “who put it there.” After racking my brain for the genesis of every belief or accepted maxim, I found, like Cillian Murphy’s character, I could not remember how I had gotten there; it was something from “a half-remembered dream” and it seemed possible that I had not put these thoughts there at all. No, I’m not saying that our realities are the product of men who literally and maliciously attack our subconscious brains. Yeah sure a few of Hollywood’s hunkiest leading men have infiltrated my dreams before, carrying me away shirtless to a tropical paradise, making me question the next day’s morning wood, forcing me to take long-cold showers and buy my girlfriend some guilt diminishing jewelry, but nothing weird like implanting foreign concepts in my mind to break up my dad’s corporation. Rather, what I’m saying is, I’ve come to believe, that our reality is subjective and forces both familiarly domestic and strangely foreign have constructed it mostly without our conscious acknowledgment.
I started by examining my hatreds, those parasitic pieces of black tar that keep your feet firmly grounded in the mire. As I grew up a nerdy fat kid in southern Indiana and basically went to a place of education that could have been called “Cogito Ergo Fagito (I think therefore I am a faggot) High School,” it’s safe to say I have chips on my shoulder stacking so high, the gods would not be so cruel as to commit Sisyphus to his eternal deed. However, like many adult nerd/geeks, I had forgotten that high school was over and perhaps the old high school paradigm of thinking no longer served a purpose in my life. No longer am I a chubby, freckled freshman hating all the cheerleaders because they were “cool” and wouldn’t fuck me, but still thinking they were really hot so getting weird/confusing anger boners and running home to furiously masturbate to those I hated most; it was a confusing time, I don’t know if you ever masturbated spitefully, but it’s not even semen that comes out, it’s just that purple-hate goo from Ghostbusters II. Yet still when I’m doing comedy in front of a crowd made up of mostly physically fit young men in polos, my first thought is, “Oh shit, jocks…hope we don’t play basketball!” I realize now that I was holding onto dead weight; this piece of data—fear the good looking, physically fit guys and the popular, hot girls—which had once served me so faithfully on a daily basis, was now but a vestigial tail dragging on the ground behind me. I too had to let go, if for nothing more the sake of my own personal growth and sanity…except, still fuck Nick Viterisi…seriously fuck that guy…he was a dick to me then and he’s a dick now. What? I’m not a saint, I’m still going to make individual judgments and maybe bring him up at every single therapist session. This basic realization that I could no longer hold on to such archaic ire was the first step in losing my identity.
Realizing that I had to let go of this high school based paradigm additionally meant that I also had to leave those old tribal titles of “nerd” or “geek” behind. I was now without an identity, no ethos to call home. What identity marker was I to fall back on? I’m white, so I have no racial community to support me; as comedian Bill Burr once said, “there is no brotherhood amongst white people.” More specific than race, I don’t have any ties to an ethnic community because I’m about 1/16th everything. I have no religion because as a young kid I made the mistake of actually reading the Bible and it’s crazy stories instead of just sitting quietly and minding my business until I got those sweet-ass chocolate Jesus eggs—I actually assumed Jesus was some sort of reptile until I was about 8 because of the eggs and because of the band “The Jesus Lizard.” Then I found it, that piece of knowledge that was the semi-conscious root of all my major identity crises.
Upon digging deep enough into the darkest rundown provinces of my ego, which I had long ago abandoned with the hopes of forgetting, much like our Detroit, I brushed off the cobwebs and I found that a conversation I had with my parents in the 5th grade, though seemingly minor in its initial effects, implanted an idea deep in the very essence of my being that drastically changed my reality forever. When I was 10 or 11, I learned that I was a “sperm donor kid”—a child who is born when the biological mother is artificially inseminated because, in this instance, my non-biological father, or “pater,” had already had two children and got “fixed” in anticipation that he was done having kids until, surprise his wife turned out to be a lesbian so he got divorced and then years later married my mother, who wanted children of her own. I remember the day my parents set me down to tell me the news. We all went downstairs to the wooden table in the kitchen for a talk. This was a place where bad things happened. We sat on the couch to eat dinner, play board games and have light-hearted fun. Sitting at the table was where my cousin had cancer and my dog needed to be put down; it was a place where life coughed up blood on your virginal-white baby shoes. My legs bowed under the extreme pressure of a child’s naïve trepidation as I walked down the stairs.
My parents acted like there was something important we had to discuss and immediately I knew my suspicions were correct, they had indeed bugged the entire house and now I was going to go to jail for looking at my Dad’s Playboys everyday before they got home from work. I actually breathed a sigh of relief that it was only that all I knew about my biology and where I came from was false and not that my parents knew I liked boobs…big boobs. I wondered why they waited so long to tell me, or at least, why now. My mom told me she got the impetus a couple days prior when she was driving me to school and a man on the radio was talking about how these zoo whales wouldn’t mate in captivity so they artificially inseminated the female whale and successfully had an offspring. I imagine now that she told me this because my mother thought a happy whale story would help me accept my artificial conception as a miraculous thing, but my bleak mind equated my existence like this: I’m here because depressed whales don’t fuck.
I don’t remember if I cried or if my parents did, but I do remember that I did not immediately notice any shift in my state of mind or understand how this piece of information drastically changed my life. Not knowing my biological father didn’t bug me because I have always and will always consider the man that raised me to be my real father. Though he most definitely loved me, and I him, during the aforementioned conversation he did awkwardly keep stressing the point that I cost $18,00 to make and once in awhile, when I would get in trouble or do something stupid, I could see a look in his eyes of, “Jesus, $18,000, I could have bought a boat and retired to the sea!” This was not my issue. Rather my problem with being an artificially made child was exactly that, I felt “artificial.” I felt like a machine that had been built in some kind of cold, modern industrial factory and this notion instilled in me a feeling of alienation from humanity and all its connections. This was the feeling, which I could not pin down until recently, that semi-conscious knowledge, which made true connection/identification with groups, ideas and people near impossible; it was what made me the aloof, calculating and distant person I was during my formative years. Now I realize that I was not so much a nerd/geek as I was just a member of the larger collective of outcasts, which I like to refer to as, “The Land of Misfit Toys.” A seed, an idea, of my inhumanity, planted deep within me had skewed my path to this land not because I belonged there, but because I couldn’t belong anywhere else.
This could have been my father…if I wasn’t born he could have been a sexy, smooth black man with a boat.
I am still what most people would call a miserable prick, albeit less of a miserable prick than I used to be. I spend most of my time inside my head creating dream worlds, not where I am some hero that saves the day, but where coffee driven paranoia finds me putting my fears and insecurities on other people to play out in some sort of masochistic theatre; like the other day when I began yelling at another student in class because earlier he had said I was stupid, only to remember that that never really happened, and now I was just a crazy guy yelling at someone about a conversation that only ever took place in my head. I despise most people my own age and most certainly still have trouble feeling any connection to the average person. I’m getting better though because I have a woman that loves me and she gets me out of my own head and tricks me into thinking I can be alright sometimes. I’ve begun to talk about my life on stage and instead of using comedy as a defensive mechanism to keep people at a distance, I’m using it to bring people into my world whether they want to or not. My point is this, Nolan, if nothing else—and trust me there’s plenty “else” to the movie—makes us question the very basis of the reality we sometimes mistake for as objective and self-evident. “Inception” makes one ponder if every day ideas are unknowingly implanted in our minds that drastically shape our reality. In a way, he echoes the Socratic maxim, “the unexamined life is not worth living,” by asking you to examine the things you hold dearest in life, your understanding of the world, and to perhaps expel all illegitimate knowledge that no longer has basis. It’s an interesting concept and the scary part is you’ll never really know for sure how or why the very ideas that came to define your world came to be there…so I decided to “take a leap of faith” and destroy it all.