Recently, Christopher Nolan, the director of ‘Inception’ finally spoke on the ambiguous ending of his film, which was a spinning top that wobbled a bit before cutting to black. For those who missed the movie, if it spun on indefinitely, it would mean that the protagonist Cobb was still trapped in a dream, as only dream tops would spin endlessly. If it stops, he would be in the real world.
This is what he said during a speech to a graduating class of Princeton University – ‘… generally someone says something along the lines of “chase your dreams,” but… I want you to chase your reality… I feel that over time, we started to view reality as the poor cousin to our dreams… Our dreams, our virtual realities, these abstractions that we enjoy and surround ourselves with – they are subsets of reality… The way the end of that film worked… Cobb – he was off with his kids, he was in his own subjective reality. He didn’t really care anymore, and that makes a statement: perhaps, all levels of reality are valid…’
Yet, to chase a dream is to attempt to make it reality, unless it is truly unachievable, which makes it truly ever just a dream. Perhaps the struggle with reality is in trying the realise what is really possible. It would be an existential nightmare at the end of this life to realise one had been striving futilely for the impossible! Yet, while practical goals are needed, they have to be credible too, while we paradoxically continue trying to outdo ourselves. This is where growth in wisdom and diligence comes in to living an ever more fruitful life. While subjective realities are relevant in this moment, offering conventional truths, to be fully awakened and thus blissfully liberated from all total delusions and semi-illusions once and for all, it is still crucial to realise the ultimate truth – before coming to the Middle Path with perfection of wisdom (Prajna Paramita).
Nolan continues – ‘The camera moves over the spinning top just before it appears to be wobbling, it was cut to black… I skip out of the back of the theater before people catch me, and there’s a very, very strong reaction from the audience: usually a bit of a groan. The point is, objectively, it matters to the audience in absolute terms: even though when I’m watching, it’s fiction, a sort of virtual reality. But the question of whether that’s a dream or whether it’s real is the question I’ve been asked most about any of the films I’ve made. It matters to people because that’s the point about reality. Reality matters.‘
Indeed, we often take the fictitious too seriously, to the extent of feeling puzzled and thus troubled over a movie’s conclusion. Is real life not more important? Then again, even a fictional movie mused over rationally and invested in emotionally can become deeply embedded within our real lives, as something to make sense of, to seek ‘enlightenment’ through. It does not matter whether it is real or not. What matters is that deep down, we all seek reality in its fullest all-rounded sense possible. In this sense, the greatest moral of ‘Inception’ is perhaps the truth that all truths matter, be they relative or absolute, and how they can wondrously and harmoniously relate to one another without conflict. This is what we shall realise when fully enlightened!