Food for Thought in Inception

Inception is one of those films worth your money to see on the big screen. The filming and special effects were exhilarating, together with an equally mind-bending plot. Rather than analyze the technicalities of the film, summarise its plot, or unveil a series of spoilers, however, I intend to highlight a few of the main themes in the film and explore how we might address these themes as Christians.

Inception is all about dreams. In fact, the film is about entering into dreams in order to carry out heists, either extracting secrets or planting secrets or ideas: an inception. The film presents dreams as the realm of memories and the subconscious, a place where you can experience the past and be motivated to do something in future. And of course, a major premise of Inception is that these dreams can be entered, their architecture can be altered, and their impact can be influenced. This film has already incited a lot of conversation about dreams, but are we as Christians ready to engage in these conversations? The Bible witnesses to God speaking through dreams, people interpreting dreams, and the course of events changing because of dreams. But does this still happen today? Inception focuses on people entering dreams and planting ideas there, but what about God, or even the Devil? If this does happen, should we be seeking to remember and interpret dreams more actively? I cannot attempt to answer these questions now, but I think this is an issue Christians need to be talking about, and feel free to start a discussion in the comments.

Another important theme in Inception is that in order for an idea to take root in your mind, it has to be your own. The film presents ideas as having great power, something that can completely take over your mind and your whole life. Holding firmly enough to an idea can even lead you to take your own life. Christianity is a network of ideas revolving around one central idea–the gospel–that Jesus is Lord of the universe and the Savior of the world. Of course, Christians believe this is not just an idea, but a description of the way things really are, a summary of history and reality at its very core. Many skeptics have suggested that people who believe in this idea are duped, that the gospel has been placed in our minds by a complex act of inception. But Christians assert that this idea is true, and that we do not have to commit intellectual suicide to trust in Jesus. But I am afraid that too many Christians just accept the gospel because it has been passed down to them or because it “seems” like a good idea. As a result, when difficulties arise and doubts creep in, the gospel is abandoned or least domesticated in favor of some other idea that is claimed to be better news. Christians need to encourage each other, therefore, to own the gospel and all of its far-reaching implications, realising that difficulties and doubts are essential for making our faith stronger. Paradoxically, I believe the Holy Spirit did implant his Word into my mind and heart by a gracious act of inception, but I still have the responsibility to respond to this Word and make it my own.

Finally, Inception deals with the role of the subconscious (although almost all psychologists and psychotherapists prefer to term unconscious), not just in dreams, but all the time: the part of your brain over which you have no control. Unfortunately, most Christians I have talked to about this issue try to avoid it completely, thinking that the sub/unconscious is the realm of evil. But Christians, like everyone else, make use of the sub/unconscious in order to build habits and to navigate life. And as such, it is a realm that the Spirit can transform. Samuel Wells, in his book Improvisation: The Drama of Christian Ethics, write wise words on this issue: “The unconscious is not to be feared as a dark realm of dangerous instinct and forbidden desire. It is instead to be trusted as a gift of God that can, like all other aspects of the baptized person, be transformed and conformed to the service of God…It is open, as are other aspects of the person, to self-deception and sin, to a failure of the Christian imagination; but the practices of the church, reconciliation, penitence, sharing peace and admonition, are there to safeguard the unconscious as much as any other aspect.” (68)

The issues raised in Inception are immense, and Christopher Nolan accomplished an impressive cinematic feat to capture all of this on film. Many reviews have pointed out its strengths and weaknesses in terms of acting, directing, and producing, which would take another post to address, but I hope this short reflection has shown how Inception gives food for thought that Christians should take time to digest.


  • Wesley Vander Lugt is the former editor of Transpositions. He earned his PhD at the Institute for Theology, Imagination, and the Arts (ITIA), where his research focused on the dynamic interplay between formation and performance in the theodrama. Currently, he is lead pastor at Warehouse 242 and Adjunct Professor in Christianity and the Arts at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in Charlotte, NC

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  1. says: Ben

    Another issue in the movie that you didn’t mention was how bad memories of mistakes can cripple your life. There’s probably something in there related to being unable to fix our own sin problem.

  2. says: Wes

    Yes, there is definitely a theme of being haunted and crippled by memories. Being transformed as a Christian is a matter of finding healing from some memories and cultivating others. The best book on this subject is one by Miroslav Volf called The End of Memory.

  3. says: James

    This movie stirred some thoughts in my head that apply to the christian life, I think. Though this movie blurs the line between the Real and the imaginary, it depicts a way for the characters to remember what the Real is. They use a trinket that reminds them of the truth. In the same way, we as christians sometimes have doubts about the Real (God) and must have reminders (God’s word, Christ’s life, the testimony of loved and respected ones) that point us back to the Real.

  4. says: Clarence

    I’m not Christian, i’m just try to find some themes for inception (not very helpful). Not trolling here but your dreams and thoughts are yours, no one else is involved.

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